There's a game they play at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) when the Sydney International Art Series rolls into town called "the famous names game". So far the MCA has had Anish (Kapoor), Yoko (Ono) and Grayson (Perry). Then they had Pipilotti. Who?

MCA director Liz-Anne McGregor says Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist was a risk for the museum, with concerns Rist's wasn't a name that carried enough resonance outside the art world. They needn't have worried: the exhibition brought in a record 110,000 visitors.

With its uplifting imagery, colourful installations and music videos, it also became a magnet for users of social media. "It was really down to one thing," says McGregor, "the power of Instagram.

So what's next year's plan? "Black and white photography that's highly political," she laughs, introducing the next installment in the summer series: a retrospective of acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt.

Regarded as one of our greatest living photographers, Goldblatt has been documenting the history, people, politics and landscape of South Africa for six decades, including turning an unflinching lens on the rise and fall of apartheid.

"He's incisive, consistent and has a persistent eye when it comes to documenting injustice, persecution and oppression," says MCA curator Rachel Kent who travelled widely with Goldblatt in preparation for the exhibition.

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There certainly won't be any concerns about fame or infamy up the hill at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) come October, though, when it hosts the likes of Monet, Cezanne, Gaugain, Matisse, Picasso and Kandinsky - artist whose reputations are such that first names aren't needed at all.

Modern Masters from the Hermitage will see 65 works from the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg travel to Sydney. The collection draws together works painted between the 1880s and the end of World War Two from artists who drove the 20th century avant-garde. Two years in the making, the exhibition will be curated by Mikhail Dedinkin, deputy of the Hermitage's western European fine arts department.

AGNSW exhibition curator Peter Raissis says the exhibition will explore the "seismic shift" from the dominant naturalistic style to the abstract, with a diverse spread of artists united by their burning desire to innovate. His personal favourites include Monet's Poppy Fields (1890); Gauguin's The Month of Mary (1899) from the artist's second trip to Tahiti, considered "the high point of his artistry"; Picasso's Woman With a Fan (1908), "a perfect example of Cubism"; and Kandinsky's "sublime painting" Landscape (1913).

"There's always a huge difficulty in getting works by such famous artists and of this calibre to the other side of the world, especially when it's a matter of those works coming off display, they're not just in storage," Raissis says. "There has to exist a lot of goodwill and respect for that to happen."

Started in 2010, the Sydney International Summer Art Series is a collaboration between the two galleries and Destination NSW. In launching the series, NSW arts minister Don Harwin said the summer blockbusters have already generated more than $134 million in tourism and attracted more than 1.8 million gallery visitors.

Modern Masters From the Hermitage is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from October 13, 2018 until March 3, 2019.

David Goldblatt is at the Museum of Contemporary Art from October 19, 2018 until March 3, 2019.