We’ve delved into the Emerald City’s diverse array of contemporary art galleries ahead of Sydney Contemporary 2023.
As the Emerald City prepares to welcome the art world to Sydney Contemporary 2023, we’ve delved into the city’s beating heart: its diverse array of art galleries.
Each gallery encapsulates innovation, showcasing artists who redefine the canvas. The seven galleries we’ve selected represent different important facets of Sydney’s artistic landscape, including public non-profit, Pan-Asian, artist-led and -owned, commercial, gallery and art broker, community-led, and last, but certainly not least, dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Most of them mix multiple of these aspects together – the great thing about art is that it’s never just one thing; rather, it’s a multifaceted examination of society and ourselves.
Then again, sometimes we just want to look at something that makes us put our hands on our chins, tilt our heads to the side, and say ‘hmmmm’ in a knowing way. Art is a tool for learning, for expression and revolution, for communication, and sometimes for poorly depicting cats.
All that aside, finding a work that truly speaks to you, that moves you and never quite leaves you, is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. Check if you’re eligible for the Westpac Concierge service to find several fine galleries not on our list.
Explore contemporary art at these art galleries in Sydney
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
Best for: an introduction to Australia’s contemporary art scene
For all of you folks keen on soaking up the best of contemporary Australian art, the MCA is your go-to spot. This non-profit museum showcases some of our most celebrated artists, including a significant chunk from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Get up close and personal with pieces by Judith Wright, John Mawurndjul, Susan Marawarr, and Simryn Gill, just to name-drop a few. As Australia’s only public art institution solely dedicated to contemporary art, the MCA strives to make art accessible to everyone. It walks the talk with its varied programmes – from workshops for all ages and the Bella Program for those under 18 with disability or access requirements to family-fun programmes and artists-led classes. Check out the packed schedule – there’s sure to be something that sparks your interest!
📍 140 George St, The Rocks NSW 2000
White Rabbit Gallery
Best for: exploring the world of Chinese contemporary art
Founded by philanthropist Judith Neilson back in ‘09, White Rabbit Gallery has grown into one of the largest and most consequential collections of Chinese contemporary art in the world. Spanning close to 3,000 multidisciplinary works by almost 750 artists, the collection continues to grow as Neilson still makes trips to China and Taiwan to seek out new and exciting creators.
White Rabbit Gallery isn’t just about art; it’s about peeling back China’s layers – history, culture, politics, and identity. For example, the 2023 exhibition I Am The People brought together 28 artists, including Huang Xiaoliang, Yang Zhenzhong, and Chen Wei, to present their perspectives on the future of class in China. Oh, and here’s the kicker – it’s all funded by Judith Neilson herself, with no admission fees for visitors. Fancy a guided tour for an in depth look at the works on display? You’re in luck, they run twice daily.
📍 30 Balfour St, Chippendale NSW 2008
Best for: experimental artist-led exhibitions
In an unassuming, slightly run-down-looking face-brick building in Woolloomooloo, you’ll find Firstdraft, a gallery created by artists for artists. Here, emerging talents are given the freedom, expert guidance, and space, to carve out their niche in the contemporary art scene. If you’re seeking the art of tomorrow or aiming to woo a date with art-savvy charm, Firstdraft is your answer.
As it’s funded by donations and support from government cultural grants, Firstdraft enables artists, not markets, to define its programmes. Exhibitions are filled through an open and equitable call-out programme, experimentation and pushing established boundaries are heartily encouraged, and mentorship and educational programmes are run to ensure that the upcoming generation keeps the fires of rebellious creativity burning.
📍 13/17 Riley St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
Roselyn Oxley9 Gallery
Best for: established Australian names and international artists
You’ve definitely come across these names before, maybe right here in this very article – Tracey Moffatt, David Noonan, Fiona Hall, Patricia Piccinni, Bill Hensen, and Dale Frank. They’re the cream of Australia’s contemporary art crop. Those names have all, at one time or another, been on the walls at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. This gallery also puts on diverse and dynamic exhibitions by international luminaries, such as Tracey Ermin, Yayoi Kusama, Pierre et Gilles, and Tatzu Nishi. If you’re the type to worry that such a respected venue might be a little too stuffy for your taste, never fear.
Its most recent exhibition was called Jacob took seven minutes before he could piss – a solo show by Dale Frank featuring colourful swirling pigments in epoxy and resin on Perspex. Each piece had names such as ‘Laura, 24yo, is a sweet caring live in carer at TLC Assisted Living in Mordialloc but some staff are concerned she has become obsessed with assisting Roger, 60yo, ex Demons footballer, bathing him intently every morning and helping him in the shower every evening, providing afternoon full body Thai style massages, playing and singing along with the Mariah Carey Merry Christmas album in his private room as he falls asleep’.
📍 8 Soudan Ln, Paddington NSW 2021
Best for: emerging art collectors looking for emerging artists
Viewing exquisite works of art inspires many feelings: awe, joy, contemplation, ennui, or the urge to start building up your own art collection. Jerico Contemporary is an ideal starting point for new collectors, or for established buyers looking for works by up-and-coming and mid-career artists. Taking the step from admirer to owner can be daunting as art valuations are informed by market demands, so you want to be sure you’re getting advice from experts who understand the industry and its trends.
Gallery director Jerico Tracy honed her expertise at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Shapiro Auctioneers, and Christie’s in London, and leads the gallery’s consultancy service that includes providing advice on acquisitions, negotiating sales, and how to grow and manage your collection. This gallery is committed to pairing new talent with new collectors, forging relationships that could last their entire careers.
📍 94 Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
Best for: community-centred cultural expression
For centuries, art has been a way to uplift, communicate, and educate, which is why centres such as Blacktown Arts are an incredibly important part of the scene. Situated in one of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs, this mutidisciplinary art hub embraces and reflects that. It presents a series of award-winning curated exhibitions, performances, and workshops throughout the year that centre the works of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, while also exploring what newer cultures have brought to the area.
Together with the Blacktown City Council, the centre provides funding, educational programmes, activities, and resources to people who, without this help, may never have been able to let their talents shine. The Elders in Residence series allows young creatives to learn from seasoned First Nations artists and makers, while the rotating exhibitions highlight everything from reflections on materiality in art and making practices – with a focus on female artists – to a celebration of Arabic culture, and a show centred around bread and its role in the lives of migrants.
This is where to go if you want to see Sydney’s art at its most dynamic, diverse, and inspirational.
📍 78 Flushcombe Road, Blacktown NSW
Cooee Art Leven
Best for: ethical access to indigenous art
As a hub for activism, including the fight for Aboriginal civil rights, Redfern, an area that has seen its community face and conquer much adversity, is the perfect home for Cooee Art Leven, the city’s longest-running indigenous fine art gallery. This gallery has been working ethically and sustainably to represent and support Aboriginal artists since its inception in 1981.
Amid a history marked by cultural reclamation, Cooee Art Leven has nurtured meaningful connections with diverse communities, fostering trust and collaboration. Boasting in excess of 3,000 works by more than 150 artists, the collection is staggeringly varied, including both artefacts such as bark paintings and early desert boards, as well as, notably for this article, a large collection of contemporary paintings, sculptures, and limited-edition fine art prints.
New exhibitions are presented monthly – a massive undertaking as planning and rehanging a new show can often take months – so the gallery can highlight new and established artists through reflective solo shows and curated thematic group exhibitions. To provide further insight into its exhibition programme, the gallery hosts public programmes such as artist talks and workshops.
📍 17 Thurlow St, Redfern NSW 2016