The minimalist guide to art in Sydney

Yang Xin Original

‘Original’ (detail) by Yang Xin, 2015. As seen at White Rabbit Gallery.

Visiting a big city like Sydney or even living here can be overwhelming at times. Too much to see. Too much to do. Where do you start? And how do you begin to see all the art?

Unless you live in Sydney and don’t work much you won’t be able to see all the art. That’s my view anyway. There’s simply too much going on. It’s the same in any big city but I’m devoting this post to Sydney. So I’ve created a minimalist guide to art to get you through your visit. In case there’s any confusion this is not a guide to minimalist art, but a minimalist guide to experiencing art in Sydney. A way of making sense of all the options that will prevent you from feeling swamped with art choices.

If you want to control some of that art noise my tip is to use the following strategies:

  1. Pick 3 of the big players. By this I mean simplify your visit by choosing to visit 3 of the biggest art/design museums or galleries. You can find a list of museums in Sydney here. It’s fairly comprehensive but not exhaustive. It’s also not entirely accurate. You’ll also find that it includes big, small and everything in between. The biggest players in terms of art/design on that list are: Art Gallery of NSW; Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (the Powerhouse Museum in particular for art/design – ignore information in that list that says it’s only about science), and Carriageworks (performance art mostly but not entirely, and does not appear on that list). I know I’ve given you 4 choices but pick 3.
  1. Alternatively pick 3 of the smaller players. Going small has a different kind of feel. You can linger longer over the art work and not feel rushed. You’ll have time to eat in a café nearby, and in doing so get to explore the local neighbourhood. Again using that list you might like to hone in on visiting: White Rabbit Gallery; The Australian Design Centre (which appears on that list as Object); and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF).
  1. Pick 1 city and 2 regionals. For example, on the edge of Sydney is Penrith Regional Gallery; or catch the train up to the mountains and visit the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba. Or head south on the train to the Wollongong Art Gallery and catch glimpses of the ocean from the heights of the gorgeous escarpment as you go. Or try the much loved Campbelltown Arts Centre.
  1. Go indie. I know this probably isn’t the best word to describe what I mean but go off-the-beaten-track with your art visits. One of the best art experiences I’ve had in Manhattan was when I was unexpectedly invited to an opening at a tiny little gallery in the Lower East Side. I can’t even recall the name of the space but it was small and a wee bit hidden away. Definitely off-the-beaten-art-track. What made it fun was the work – a very immersive installation piece that took up the entire gallery. The opening night vibe was also really upbeat and inclusive. In Sydney places of this kind might be 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art; Artspace in Woolloomoloo; or Utopia Art Sydney in Waterloo. If you’re happy to cross the bridge you could check out NORTH Contemporary Art. You might like to take a look at this list of the top 5 inner west art galleries. Or visit a gallery attached to a university like UNSW Gallery in Paddington or the National Art School Gallery where you’ll quite likely see amazing experimental art work from emerging and/or established artists. Look for information about openings of exhibitions and head for those to get an extra special art buzz.
  1. Participate in Art & About.
  1. Consider visiting Sydney during a festival. For example, Sydney Design recently happened and captured an enormous range of events for design loving folk. This year’s Sydney Architecture Festival finishes today – they’ve put together a great program! Or turn up to Beams for a night of light. Or Vivid for a whole festival length program of light, music and ideas. There’s Sydney Contemporary in spring and Sydney Festival in the steamy summer months. And of course, every 2 years there’s the Sydney Biennale. Or come during the Sydney Fringe Festival.

Phew. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said it can be overwhelming. And I’ve definitely missed things in this minimalist guide. But that’s the point; I’m trying to help you focus. And don’t get too caught up in the schedule. Be spontaneous and keep your eyes and ears peeled for pop-up events and street art happenings. Enjoy!