Don’t miss the rooftop sculpture terrace with breathtaking views of the Opera House

Heading to the biennale? Then make sure that you pencil in some of these fabulous galleries, says Kate Cody

Think Australia’s harbour city is all about the golden sands and glistening bodies of water? Well you wouldn’t be far wrong, but that’s not to say Sydney’s only draw is her stunning natural beauty. Though sister city Melbourne might have you believe differently, this looker also has some serious cultural cred, featuring a bevy of arty enclaves from big-name galleries to contemporary collaborative spaces. So when the warm days dwindle and Bondi loses its (sun)shine, it’s time to explore Sydney’s creative side. Grab your black drapey dress, darling…

For an overview of Aussie art, there is, of course, no better place to start than the Art Gallery Of New South Wales. Behind a grand columned facade, the collections cover everything from masterful 20th-century canvases by Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, to contemporary pieces from the creme of current indigenous talent, as well as bits by international big names including Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley. Don’t miss the standout Asian wing, which is worth a wander for the architecture alone, then lunch at locavore Chiswick at the Gallery.

*** Local Caption *** These galleries are where Australian paintings and sculpture from the 19th century and pre-modernist works from the early 20th century are displayed. It’s where you will find paintings by artists such as John Glover, WC Piguenit, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin, and sculptures by Bertram Mackennal.
Art Gallery of New South Wales

Rather keep it mod? No worries, just mosey over to quayside stunner the Museum of Contemporary Art with a permanent collection of on-the-pulse Oz and international, plus blockbuster exhibits by artists such as Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono and Grayson Perry. Get the most from your visit by downloading the free MCA app pre-arrival and don’t miss the rooftop sculpture terrace with breathtaking views of the Opera House.

Now you’ve ticked off the big guns, go for some indie action. Once a warehouse squat for struggling creatives, brick box Art Space still keeps its underground edge with interdisciplinary, experimental installations from up-and-coming talents like Tracey Moffat, Mikala Dwyer, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell.

Or wing it west to the former Eveleigh Railway Yards and Carriageworks, where a gargantuan 19th-century industrial depot now showcases an ever-changing array of exhibitions covering visual arts, dance, performance and film. The collab shows with Melbourne-based Anna Schwartz Gallery draw serious collectors, or at the Saturday morning Farmers Market you can furrow your brow at the prime fresh produce.

With your belly full and the basics under your belt, push those boundaries even further at Paddington’s Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. The brief of this private enterprise is to showcase global and local ‘visual practitioners’ with a bent towards innovation and technology. Programmes might feature film, intriguing installations or large-scale site-specific sculpture, plus there’s a peaceful zen garden – in case the enveloping, time-shifting Michael Subotzky moving image experience becomes a bit too much.

Equally immersive but entirely different is the Brett Whiteley Studio. Once the home and workplace of the bad boy artist (who died of a heroin overdose in 1992 aged 53), today the space remains as an homage to the avant garde Archibald winner. A changing array of canvases, sketches and sculptures adorn a small showcase space, but equally enthralling is his turpentine-redolent studio, which stands just as he left it – cluttered with unfinished paintings, graffiti, easels and ephemera. You could almost believe he just stepped out for a coffee.

White Rabbit interior 2
White Rabbit Collection

Finally, the latest star of Sydney’s art scene is Chippendale’s new standout Sino wonderland White Rabbit Collection. Spread over four storeys of a former Rolls Royce service station, Judith Neilson’s mass stash of impressive and important 21st-century Chinese paintings, sculpture and installations (representing more than 400 emerging and established artists) is truly one of Oz’s best art experiences. Just like the perfectly-displayed post-millennial pieces, it’s best to go against the flow – start at the top and work your way to the ground floor – then stop for dumplings and a chrysanthemum brew in the tranquil teahouse. That’s art hour done, Alice.

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