Sydney Festival
Since 1977, Sydney Festival has been synonymous with summer in Sydney. The 2020 incarnation might even be extra fun because it coincides with the scaling back of the lockout laws (due to take effect January 14). Celebrate the return of Sydney’s nightlife with this three-week festival of art, music, theatre and the largest bulk of new commissions that Sydney will see all year.

If you’re into aerial performances, live music, video animation and carnival treats, head to Campbelltown Arts Centre for She Conjured the Clouds. It’s a kinetic, kaleidoscopic extravaganza courtesy of Sydney-based artist Justene Williams. Keep an eye out for a Yellow Wiggle.

Carriageworks will transform into an iridescent rainbow, with colour magician Rebecca Baumann planning to drape more than 100 metres of the historic venue’s glass surfaces in shimmering dichroic film. While you’re there, check out Daniel Boyd’s latest collaboration with genre-shifting musical duo Canyons, and an exploration of auras by artist Kate Mitchell. Reko Rennie has also transformed the space into a site of protest and poetry to mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s landing at Botany Bay and the beginning of modern-day, white Australia.

If you’ve ever dreamt of what it would be like to lose yourself in a luminescent air dome, you’ll have your chance with Dodecalis Luminarium in Darling Harbour. Spread across two galleries, don’t miss Wansolwara: One Salt Water, a rich exhibition that brings together 20 Pacific artists, writers and filmmakers bound by one ocean. On the other side of the bridge, follow Indonesian artist Jumaadi on an illustrated folkloric journey inspired by an eminent poem by Indonesian writer, Chairil Anwar in My Love is in an Island Far Away.

Sydney Festival is on from January 8–26 across Sydney. More info here.

Art Gallery NSW
There’s no doubt you’ve seen Japan Supernatural all over the Internet and splashed across your Instagram feed since it opened last month. But do yourself a favour and see this one in real life. If you do, you’ll find yourself immersed in the mythical world of Japanese fantasy and folklore rich with psychedelics, demonic creatures and a fascinating preoccupation with the spirit realm spanning as far back as the 1700s.

Then step out of the mythical and into the humanitarian campaigns that inform the rich brushstrokes of Australian artist Ben Quilty. This survey exhibition traces Quilty’s time as Australia’s official war artist in Afghanistan, his campaign to save the lives of two of the Bali Nine and his travels through Syria. You’ll find Quilty’s expressive and intimate paintings stir powerful emotions – and they’re very much intended to.

Japan Supernatural is at the AGNSW until March 8, 2020. Quilty is showing until February 2, 2020. More info here.

Museum of Contemporary Art
If you only see one exhibition this summer, this should be it. Cornelia Parker is a British installation artist whose work will draw you in and keep you transfixed. She uses chunks of earth excavated from beneath monuments, flattens domestic kitchen objects and collects fragments imbued with loaded histories that she transforms into suspended installations that possess an intangible energy. This survey exhibition brings together more than 40 of her large-scale works including a 13-metre hand-stitched screen shot of a Wikipedia entry.

Cornelia Parker is showing at the MCA until February 16, 2020. More info here.

Out of town
Take a day trip to our nation’s capital to discover an unlikely and competitive friendship between two of the most influential artists of the modern art movement: Matisse and Picasso. Unbeknown to many, the pair pushed, inspired and responded to one another throughout their artistic careers. Drawing from the collections of Australian galleries and bringing never before seen works to Australia, this epic exhibition traces the pair’s first meeting in Paris to Matisse’s death in 1954.

Matisse & Picasso is showing at National Gallery of Australia until April 13, 2020. More info here.