Good art is adventurous. It challenges, provokes. It’s fine to look at something pretty – that’s what Pinterest is for. But when you’re walking around a gallery you want to be moved.
Luckily, there are plenty of galleries in this country up to the task. We’ve rounded up five of the most forward-thinking galleries in Australia. Now it’s your job to visit them.
TarraWarra Museum of Art – VIC
You’d be hard-pressed to find a gallery in a better location. Yes, MONA in Hobart has the trip up the river and all, but TarraWarra is wedged between the blue-green hills of the Yarra Valley and nestled in a working winery estate. It’s a spectacular building in a spectacular place. But what’s inside is pretty special too.
TarraWarra was the very first privately funded public art gallery. Founded in 2003 by Eva and Marc Besen, who’ve been passionate art collectors since the 1950s, the gallery’s specific focus is to show works from the mid 20th century to today.
The collection that forms the heart of this gallery is the Besens’ own private stash, which includes works by some of the country’s most significant artists: Arthur Boyd, Rosalie Gascoigne, Jeffrey Smart, John Brack, Brett Whiteley, Fred Williams, Susan Norrie, John Olsen and Dale Hickey.
It also draws on the wider world of contemporary art. At present, the sixth TarraWarra Biennale is taking place, with 24 of Australia’s most exciting artists on display, including Vicki Couzens, Claire Lambe, Michelle Ussher, Mike Parr, Kusum Normoyle, Hiromi Tango and Rob McLeish.
There’s also Valhalla, a major new sculptural installation by Callum Morton permanently installed at the foot of the gallery. Initially a jarring, incongruous addition to the picturesque grounds – a shot-out and vandalised building amidst the gentle grassy slopes – what’s inside is entirely unexpected. Hit the road and find out for yourself.
TarraWarra Museum of Art
313 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville
White Rabbit – NSW
The White Rabbit gallery is in a former Rolls Royce service depot in the backstreets of Chippendale. It also happens to house one of the most extensive collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world.
Representing almost two decades of collecting by founder Judith Neilson, White Rabbit Gallery is devoted exclusively to Chinese works created after 2000. Spread over four floors in a lavish, $10 million three-year redesign, the gallery draws from a collection of more than 2500 artworks and 500 artists. Being essentially a private collection, the gallery changes twice a year, with a full rehang of the space.
Neilson became enamoured with China’s art scene in the late ’90s when an encounter with artist Wang Zhiyuan blew her mind. She started buying up all the innovative Chinese artworks she could get her hands on, and White Rabbit is the result. Its latest show, The Sleeper Awakens, features ultra-original modern artists Sun Xun, Wang Ningde and Liu Xiaodong. It was so popular it extended its season.
There’s also a top-shelf tea shop downstairs, where you can sample rare teas from Taiwan and mainland China, and have a handmade dumpling or two.
White Rabbit Gallery
30 Balfour Street, Chippendale
Institute of Modern Art – QLD
GOMA is fantastic. But it’s not the only rodeo in Brisbane. Once described by Lonely Planet as “GOMA’s naughty little cousin” the Institute of Modern Art in Fortitude Valley is devoted to risk-taking, cutting-edge art.
Founded in 1975, The Institute was one of the first Australian galleries to take an entirely contemporary, non-collecting approach. Its curators have always favoured commissioning new works by both internationals and Australians, putting an emphasis on underrepresented artists. Over the course of 40 years, it has presented more than 500 exhibitions and supported over 2000 practitioners.
The gallery was updated in 2014 with a slick new design by Berlin-based “collaborative agency” Studio Miessen, who brought a hot-pink flavour to the post-industrial line. There’s also a top-notch bookstore in the lobby that specialises in art books.
Go to GoMA. But, like many of the adventurous artists on show there, stop in at the IMA first.
Institute Of Modern Art
Ground Floor, Judith Wright Centre, 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley
Tandanya – SA
Often cited as the leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural organisation in the country, Tandanya is undoubtedly the most established. First opened in 1989, the gallery and performance space is housed in the impressive power station on Grenfell Street, which was decommissioned in 1918.
Owned an operated exclusively by First Nations people, tandanya means “red kangaroo place” in the local Kaurna language, denoting the site’s long connection to ancient Red Kangaroo Ceremony.
Alongside traditional practices, Tandanya regularly hosts an ambitious program of visual and performing arts, workshops, artist and curator talks, forums, cultural presentations, and film screenings. This year there was an exhibition by contemporary painter Tony Wilson, and a series of personalised encounters with people of cultural significance – part of a program to develop ties within the community.
It’s also a great place to invest in local artworks, through sales in both the exhibition spaces and the gallery shop.
253 Grenfell Street, Adelaide
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts – WA
Founded in 1989 – but with roots back to the radical arts scene of the 1970s – The Perth Institute for Contemporary Arts has long been one of the most adventurous institutions in Western Australia.
Part of that spirit has been PICA’s willingness to push the boundaries of what can safely be considered “art”. Alongside paint on canvas, curators have routinely included the visual arts, dance, music and performance, alongside contemporary and interdisciplinary variants.
It also extends to the kind of artists you’ll see on show at PICA. This year there’s already been a mid-year retrospective from Lebanese-born Australian Khaled Sabsabi; the country’s first solo show from acclaimed Argentinian artist Amalia Pica exploring the potential of inter-species communication; and a triple bill of solo works from a broad collective of dancers, artists, musicians and poets under the banner of Burrbgaja Yalirra.
Later this year, group exhibition HyperPrometheus sees a range of international artists display work that challenges ideas of life and death, reanimation, future life, synthetic biology and the technological non-human to honour the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
51 James Street, Perth
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