The gallery is as individual as the country of Australia itself. Housing every style from 16th-century landscape to the latest fad-with-no-name, this Sydney museum offers something for every taste.
One of three major public galleries but the only one in Sydney, the building itself is worth a long visit. Classical Greek columns festooned with cloth drapes advertising the latest exhibits remind visitors of a small version of the Metropolitan in New York.
Opened in 1884, but redone at the turn of the 20th century in the classical tradition, every angle says ‘art museum’. The modern additions are well-integrated thanks not only to the design but also to the subtle blend of gray concrete and sandstone. The exhibition space was more than doubled in 1971. The latest major addition was the Captain Cook Bicentenary Wing, completed in 1988.
The Australian Collection offers a wide representative sample of works from the country’s European-ancestry natives. Sculptors and painters both have worked here, with such artists as Roberts and McCubbin among the collection. Roberts’ 1894 The Golden Fleece and McCubbin’s 1896 On The Wallaby Track are on display.
The Captain Cook wing houses work from the 20th century, also with a strong emphasis on Australian artists.
On the third level, the Yiribana gallery displays works from Australia’s Aboriginal artists, with a wide selection of craft objects produced over many centuries. More modern Aboriginal artists’ works are housed in the 20th-century Australian wing. The museum also holds several works representing Torres Strait Islander art.
Reflecting its Pacific location, the museum has an outstanding Asian collection on the ground floor and in an area below it.
Chinese and Japanese art both ancient and modern forms part of the collection. But parts of India and Southeast Asia are also represented. Divided by geographical region, the displays allow visitors to easily find any distinct areas of interest.
The Western Collection is small but holds many items of interest to lovers of 16th century Italian and Dutch, 19th century Victorian, and others. The Australian Heidelberg school is well represented, with several impressionistic landscapes from the period. There are also more modern works on display, including contemporary Australians.
Outside, the grounds offer several delightful areas for a picnic. On those excessively hot days for which Sydney is famous you can lunch in the 2nd-floor cafe inside. On the top floor is a pricey restaurant for those who want to sample the museum’s best.
The museum offers a variety of new programs. One month, modern photography will be the highlight, the next, visitors may catch a musical performance of a modern Aboriginal performer. One can even spot the occasional tour guide directing children through the collection dressed as a fruit bat.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is as eclectic and interesting as the country hosting it and is located a short walk across from the Royal Botanic Gardens, not far from the Sydney Opera House.