Home Business The Art Gallery of NSW plans to change its name

The Art Gallery of NSW plans to change its name


“Jonathan is an exceptional artist who has dared to think as big as we have with our Sydney Modern Project,” Brand said. “Innovative tasks of this scale and ambition are by their very nature complex and challenging, particularly when they intersect with other architectural and landscape elements.”


“My vision for our expansion was to provide a seamless experience of art, architecture and landscape, and when this work is presented to the public next year, that is what we will achieve together.”

Thousands of visitors are expected to flock to see the gallery’s new SANAA-designed building when it opens on December 3, with the gallery opening a first-in-a-row free timed entry ballot. Three giant bronze figures by Kiwi artist Francis Upritchard have been installed in the Welcome Plaza building.

A vibrant floral sculpture by Yayoi Kusama from Japan now sits atop Sydney Modern’s roof terrace, visible from Woolloomooloo.

In the underground gallery of tanks, Adrián Villar Rojas is in the final stages of installing his science fiction flight, End of imagination.

Aerial photographs show the spiraling superstructure rising up for Jones’ living landscape, reminiscent of the natural terrain the First Fliters may have encountered when they landed on the shores of Gadigal Land in Sydney Harbour.

An aerial view of Sydney Modern shows the spiraling foundations of the Art Garden rising up the land bridge across the Eastern Distributor to the rear of Sydney Modern’s Welcome Plaza.

Plantings will reference the gallery’s collection, including early botanical drawings by Joseph Litzett and contemporary works by Gordon Bennett, while grasses will be interspersed with seasonally cool cultural burns.

Hattie Perkins, the gallery’s former chief curator of Indigenous art for 13 years, predicts the commission will be one of the most important and unique works to enter the gallery’s collection.

“A key part of that is revitalizing the artwork and this ongoing program of conversations, encounters, not just cool burns, but commissions related to cultural practices in the landscape – political, environmental, social – building on the existing collection. It’s not just sitting there gathering dust, it’s a continuous, living work of art, which is so different from the way museums work. This work will grow and transform.”

Jones was invited to develop his concept about five years ago when Gustafson was creating her cohesive landscape plan for the entire site. Perkins says the artist and Gustafsson had “completely different ways of working, thinking and interacting with the local context”.

“Jonathan came up with this extremely exciting idea, this concept of connecting these two buildings, the old and the new, in a direct but also beautifully nuanced way, and it’s a revelation of what First Nations means. To his credit, he worked a lot with Gustafsson’s team trying to find a harmonic footprint, but Gustafsson, I understand, was very resistant to the idea.”

Asked if this was the case, Gustafsson said: “Working on major public infrastructure projects can be challenging, but that’s part of the creative process when you’re working with a large and expert team of collaborators, including architects and artists. The implementation of this project will provide greater access to the outstanding cultural experience that the Art Gallery offers visitors in one of the most beautiful urban locations in the world.”

In 2019, the original retail cost of Jones’ commission was much higher than expected, and the artist and his fabricator were asked to modify the order to bring it within the “realized” budget.

Yayoi Kusama Flowers Blooming in Space.

Yayoi Kusama Flowers Blooming in Space.credit:Steven Sievert

Neither a sculpture nor a monument, the final cost of $14 million is said to be related to the size and design of the artistic landscape, as well as the quality and durability of the materials required for the site, which will be open day and night to the public. It will be built entirely by Australian workers from mainly Australian or local materials, and will include its own sound and lighting system.

There was further friction over the proposed use of cool cultural burns central to Jones’ concept. The final detailed design was not given the green light by the gallery trust until mid-2021. It received planning approval in January this year, too late for the project to be completed on time.

Perkins, who is also a member of the gallery’s Indigenous Advisory Group, said gallery representatives had tried to mediate, but some felt they had not been heard and that the project was “indecent”.

A Sydney bureaucrat with knowledge of the commission’s complicated history describes it as caught between the “magnificence” of Jones’ vision and the director’s attempt to manage costs.

Another acknowledged that lengthy negotiations over the commission’s footprint had led to a rift between Brand and Jones, but that Brand should be given credit for securing the funds to see the scale and ambition of the commission.

A Sydney Indigenous leader said: “This project will continue and Jonathan Jones will create the most extraordinary space for cultural practice in Sydney. This resilience is a testament to his practice and commitment. But at what cost should we fight for this recognition? I doubt if an international artist would be treated in the same way as an indigenous Australian artist.’

A design plan for a contemporary art garden in Sydney.

A design plan for a contemporary art garden in Sydney.credit:Designed by DCG

The gallery says the vision for Sydney Modern recognizes the uniqueness of its location in Gadigal Country and the multi-layered nature of its history, as well as a deep respect for Indigenous history, knowledge and practice.

A key aspect of the gallery expansion will be exceptional exhibitions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art displayed in the dedicated Yiribana Gallery, the first area visitors will encounter upon entering the new building.

Mixed media commission by Wiradjuri artist Carla Dicken To see or not to see is installed in the alcove above the front door of the original building, left empty by the cancellation of the original 1913 commission by Dora Olfsen.

As for the potential names of the buildings, the gallery said it is consulting with the community and that the timing of the announcement will be determined once those discussions are complete.

Private donations were raised to cover the costs of the Art Garden and the commission’s first three years of public programming, including festivals and ceremonies. A fundraiser is underway to fund government programs “so they can continue indefinitely.”

One Sydney art director credits the gallery for taking on Jones’ project.

“All institutions have a responsibility to reflect on how they work with First Nation staff, and this may be an opportunity for institutions to rethink their ethical frameworks in a way that encourages real collaboration and structural change,” they said.

“Everything is not easy, but institutions must be open to responsibility. In the case of commissions for a new institution there will be difficulties and problems which need not be fatal. Crises can be a catalyst for transformation. Sometimes the most lasting knowledge comes from real obstacles and challenges.”

A thoroughly modern, very Sydney story: today is a good weekend.

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