Skip to content

Gallery unveils strategic vision and masterplan

Art Gallery of New South Wales to transform itself into an art museum for the 21st century

An art museum for the 21st century - Sydney Modern

Steven Lowy, President, Board of Trustees and Michael Brand, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales

6 March 2013
The Art Gallery of New South Wales today unveiled a strategic vision and masterplan to transform itself into an art museum for the 21st century, with a proposal for a major expansion and renewed focus on serving a global audience.

The working title for the Gallery’s vision is Sydney Modern, a name which embodies the ambition of the Gallery’s Board of Trustees and its new director, Dr Michael Brand, to create a truly great art museum which can take its place in the Asian century, in an inter-connected and digitised world.

The Gallery’s aim would be to complete the project by 2021, the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1871.

The president of the Board of Trustees, Mr Steven Lowy AM said, While the Gallery punches well above its weight we have developed this vision to ensure that it remains relevant and we must now begin a process of working with all stakeholders to agree on the best way to help us make that exciting vision a reality.

The Gallery’s vision recognises that:

  • The existing building is ill-equipped to meet the needs of the 21st century.
  • In terms of scale, it lags well behind its peers in Australia, the region and around the world. Major galleries in Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane have all undertaken major capital works over the past decade or so and the Gallery now is half the size of its Melbourne and Brisbane counterparts.
  • The current building is inefficient, restrictive and stifles the Gallery’s ability to attract visitors, stage major exhibitions and fulfil its role as the principal art museum serving Australia’s global city.

Key elements of the proposal for Sydney Modern include:

  • A physical transformation which complements the existing Gallery by doubling its size and expanding northwards towards the harbour to make use of underutilised land, an existing land bridge and space currently occupied by disused storage tanks.
  • A national and international architectural competition to produce an internationally significant design for the new building.
  • More space to enable the Gallery to display the full richness of its collections, as well as new acquisitions and major national and international exhibitions.
  • Greater use of technology to better engage audiences from around the world, through a lifelong learning centre as well as through initiatives to better cater for non-English speaking visitors such as Chinese-language smartphone apps.
  • Greater collaboration with international art museums as well as plans to harness the support of Australia’s growing and influential expatriate community.
  • More capacity to accommodate an increase in visitation from 1.3 million per annum to 2 million by 2021, including an increase in student visits from 100,000 to 300,000.
  • Better connections between the Gallery and the city via pedestrian access, train and a new ferry wharf at Woolloomooloo.
  • A spectacular grand entrance with commissioned art works to link the existing heritage building with the new building.
  • Expanded cafes and restaurants and a roof-top garden and terrace with views of the city and harbourto provide a vibrant social hub for Sydney, with extended opening hours.

We have the opportunity to create an iconic building that will take its place alongside the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as an international beacon of modernity, creativity and the celebration of the human spirit, Mr Lowy said.

Other art museums in Australia and across the region are already responding to the growing demand from local audiences and international visitors and Sydney risks being left behind by projects now underway in Singapore, Hong Kong and San Francisco.

Dr Brand said that despite the success of the Gallery in building one of Australia’s finest collections of Australian and international art, both historical and contemporary, the existing building alone was not able to meet current demand, let alone properly serve its audience into the 21st century.

He said Sydney Modern would help fulfil the Gallery’s purpose:

From its base in Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is dedicated to serving the widest possible audience as a centre of excellence for the collection, preservation, documentation, interpretation and display of Australian and international art, and a forum for scholarship, art education and the exchange of ideas.

Our ambition is to grow the number of visitors and the size of our collections and to achieve that we need to expand our existing building, Dr Brand said.

We want to build on the extraordinary collections we already have, especially Australian and Aboriginal art, and offer even more to our Australian and international audience by making the most of our unique physical site as well as new technologies.

The project will require funding of some several hundred million dollars, with the precise costing subject to further investigation and detailed design.

The Minister for the Arts, the Honourable George Souris, supports the Gallery’s vision and the State Infrastructure Strategy 2012–2031 identifies the need to upgrade some of Sydney’s leading cultural institutions, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is a leading national cultural institution and I support their vision for the future. We should aspire to a cultural policy and legacy that will stand the test of time and represent this State as a modern, first-world society, Mr Souris said.

The government’s support for arts and culture in NSW has been a necessary ingredient in the revitalisation of the whole State’s economy.

Mr Lowy said the Gallery would now begin a process of consultation with stakeholders to advance the proposal, including the NSW government, the Royal Botanic Gardens, transport authorities, the artist community and friends and supporters of the Gallery.

View the presentation on the Gallery channel

Read related release:
NSW Government funding to advance plans for the transformation of the Gallery

Media contact

Susanne Briggs
Tel +61 2 9225 1791
Mob 0412 268 320
susanne.briggs@ag.nsw.gov.au