From major establishments to small independently run initiatives, Sydney’s gallery scene is dynamic and diverse. Permanent and visiting exhibitions give you the chance to explore the work of up-and-coming artists one day, and take a deep dive into some of the world’s most applauded classic and contemporary creatives the next. An exciting roster of annual arts festivals seals the deal.
It’s hard to beat the location of the Museum of Contemporary Art, sitting pretty at Circular Quay overlooking the Sydney Opera House and just a few steps from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The innovative space celebrates the work of both international and Australian artists, and also hosts education programs and online exhibitions – head to the rooftop cafe to refuel with unbroken views over the water. You’re welcome.
Arguably Sydney’s most notable public exhibition space, the Art Gallery of New South Wales showcases significant works by international and local artists, including one of the world's largest permanent exhibitions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. This is also the home turf of one of the country's most important annual art events, the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, which spotlights outstanding portrait, landscape and subject or genre artists.
In 2022 the gallery expanded with the newly opened Sydney Modern Project. Housed in a sustainably designed new campus overlooking Sydney Harbour and connected by a public art garden to the historic gallery, the space features contemporary exhibitions by leading Australian and international artists in site-specific art spaces, including a column-free gallery and a gallery for time-based art.
In Chippendale, White Rabbit Gallery displays what has become one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art, a short stroll from the bustling streets of Chinatown. The space – once a Rolls-Royce service depot in the 1940s – is owned by Judith Neilson, who was inspired after her first trips to Beijing in the late 1990s by the creative energy of the works she saw there. Each year there are two new exhibitions, with the gallery closed in between.
Nearby in Redfern, Carriageworks is the largest and most significant contemporary multi-arts centre of its kind in Australia. Reflecting the diverse communities of urban Sydney, the artist-led program is ambitious, radical and always inclusive. Visit before or after the weekly on-site farmers’ market.
Brett Whiteley Studio is one of Sydney’s best-kept art secrets. As its name suggests, one of Australia's most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Brett Whiteley, lived and worked here from 1988 to 1992. Glimpse his private world through a selection of sketchbooks, photographs, music collections and personal memorabilia, before exploring the surrounding suburb of Surry Hills.
On the banks of the Georges River, you will find Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, a cultural facility offering a wide range of exhibitions, events and educational programs spread across six galleries, two theatres and a large main hall. Gallery admission is always free, as are many of the programs.
If you find yourself exploring the edges of Greater Sydney, make a beeline for the fantastic Campbelltown Arts Centre. Boasting more than 70,000 visitors per year, discover gallery spaces, workshops, a performance studio, large outdoor amphitheatre and, of course, the well-known Arts Centre Cafe. A tranquil Japanese Teahouse and Garden, a Bicentennial gift to the people of Campbelltown by sister city Koshigaya, sits adjacent and makes for a relaxing afternoon walk.
The Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo prides itself on having a contemporary focus on arts, science, innovation and design. The former power station opened as a museum in 1988, and has since become one of the largest and most dynamic in Australia. Inside you’ll find a series of permanent and temporary exhibitions, many with a focus on fashion and design – the museum houses a 500,000-strong collection of works by big names such as Florence Broadhurst, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen, as well as John Utzon’s original designs for the Sydney Opera House.
Meanwhile in Darlinghurst, The Artery Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery specialises in art from remote Aboriginal communities, working with both emerging and established creatives and art centres and specialising in ethical and affordable Aboriginal artworks. If you can’t visit in person, the website is an integral part of the business and is updated daily.
The Sydney International Arts Series was created in 2010 by Destination NSW in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales to bring the world’s most outstanding exhibitions exclusively to Sydney. Since then, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia has presented exhibitions by major international artists Doug Aitken, Cornelia Parker, Pipilotti Rist, Tatsuo Miyajima, Grayson Perry, Anish Kapoor, Yoko Ono and David Goldblatt in partnership with SIAS.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.