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Art Gallery of NSW announces revitalisation of historic building as part of Sydney Modern Project transformation 

New program of works for historic building

Image of the Art Gallery of New South Wales as produced by Mogamma for Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects © Mogamma.

Image of the Art Gallery of New South Wales as produced by Mogamma for Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects © Mogamma.
Featuring artworks left to right: Imants Tillers, Counting: one, two, three, 1988 © Imants Tillers; Ken Unsworth, Suspended stone circle II, 1974-77, 1988 © Ken Unsworth; Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Untitled (Alhalker), 1992 © Emily Kame Kngwarreye; Idris Khan, every… Bernd & Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder every… Bernd & Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder every… Bernd & Hilla Becher Gable Sided House, 2004, printed 2005 © Idris Khan, courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

  • Key architectural features restored to their full grandeur including the 19th-century vestibule designed by Walter Liberty Vernon and the double height atrium in the 20th-century Australian galleries designed by Andrew Andersons
  • Refurbishment works to Vernon’s original Grand Courts including new energy-saving LED lighting
  • Expansion and relocation of the Capon Research Library and National Art Archive with full accessibility
  • New and expanded facilities for the Gallery’s 30,000-plus members and volunteers
  • New and upgraded public amenities

On the eve of its 150th anniversary, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is undertaking a program of works to its historic building with leading Australian architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer (TZG). The upgrades will restore original architectural features of the building, provide more space for art and scholarship, and enhance the visitor experience and sustainable operations.

The revitalisation of the 19th- and 20th-century building is a key part of the Gallery’s Sydney Modern Project transformation, which together with its new SANAA-designed building is scheduled for completion in late 2022. The Gallery remains open throughout this period.

The Sydney Modern Project is funded through a $344 million public and philanthropic partnership – the largest of its kind to date in the arts in Australia – comprising $244 million from the NSW Government and $100 million from private donors.

Director of the Art Gallery of NSW Dr Michael Brand said the upgrades and reconfigured spaces designed by TZG are sympathetic to the existing Gallery’s architecture and will provide new ways for visitors to engage with the collection.

“It will be wonderful to see our much-loved building shine alongside the new SANAA-designed building when we open our expanded art museum in 2022. The Sydney Modern Project expansion and transformation will create an art museum campus with rich art, architecture and landscape experiences for everyone to enjoy.”

“We are delighted to be working with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects who have a deep understanding of the Gallery’s history and significant place in Sydney,” Brand said.  

Director of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, Peter Tonkin, said: “TZG is excited to be a part of the revitalisation of the Art Gallery of NSW. The Gallery is a vital and vibrant part of the state’s culture, evolving for more than a century under successive designers to meet an expanding and changing public role.

“To support the Sydney Modern Project and the future needs of the Gallery, we are weaving a sequence of new facilities into the existing building, respecting its tradition of significant architectural quality and improving its environmental and functional performance,” Tonkin said.

Highlights include:

  • Restoring the original entrance vestibule to its full grandeur, showcasing Walter Liberty Vernon’s 19th-century architecture.
  • Reinstating the internal balconies overlooking the 8.5-metre-high atrium in the 1972 wing designed by Andrew Andersons, once again providing an important visual connection between the two levels. This will create a more dynamic art experience with the Gallery’s significant collection of 20th-century Australian art including large-scale works.
  • Revealing the existing large windows on the northeast facade of the 1972 wing to provide direct sight lines across the art garden to the new building designed by SANAA, which is under construction. These architectural features have been subsumed over the past decades by operational requirements and demands for more art-hanging space.
  • Relocation of the major temporary exhibition space from Lower Level 1 to Lower Level 2 with more space, higher ceilings, new energy-saving LED lighting and improved public amenities.
  • Refurbishment works to the original Grand Courts galleries, including restoration of the heritage fabric, new energy-saving LED lighting, and removal of a staircase added in the late 1970s.
  • Significant expansion and relocation of the Capon Research Library and National Art Archive to Lower Level 3 with full accessibility.
  • Expanded and upgraded facilities for the 30,000-plus members of the Art Gallery Society of NSW – the lounge capacity will be doubled and include a new outdoor terrace.
  • Enhanced dedicated area and facilities for volunteers.
  • New and upgraded public amenities and collaborative workspaces for staff including the Rudy Komon Curatorial Centre and a design studio.

Most of the projects will commence in 2021 with the revitalisation program completed in 2022 in time for the opening of the new building. Further project details will be announced in due course.

The Gallery remains open throughout this period. The Capon Research Library and National Art Archive is relocating to a new purpose-built, expanded facility within the building that is fully accessible to the public. This major move means the collections will not be available for several months with the Library closing from 12 December 2020 to August 2021. Details of other resources and research tools will be available on the Gallery’s website. The Art Gallery Society of NSW Members Lounge will be closed from February to September 2021 while works take place. Temporary members’ facilities will be available during this time.


About the Vernon building

  • The Art Gallery of NSW was founded in 1871 as the NSW Academy of Art. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021, the Gallery and its buildings have evolved to celebrate the art of the time and meet the changing needs of audiences.
  • In 1896 construction commenced on the Gallery’s existing building in The Domain designed by NSW Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon.
  • Work on a new wing commenced in 1968 and was completed in 1972. The Sulman-award winning extension, designed by architect Andrew Andersons, reshaped the way the Gallery operates and displays its collection.
  • The 1988 extension to the Gallery, also designed by architect Andrew Andersons, provided more display space for the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, a 300-seat theatre and a new expanded gallery for Asian art.
  • In 2003, a new Asian gallery, designed by architect Richard Johnson, opened. The development was part of a wider building project that included alterations to the original Asian gallery, new exhibition space, conservation studios, a cafe, restaurant and function area.
  • With the relocation of its storage facility off-site, the Gallery opened a new floor of contemporary galleries in 2011 featuring the John Kaldor Family Gallery and the Belgiorno-Nettis Family Galleries.

About the Sydney Modern Project
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is undergoing a $344 million expansion and transformation, known as the Sydney Modern Project. The construction of a new building and public art garden next to the existing Gallery is underway and will almost double current exhibition space. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects SANAA, the new building’s dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces will transform the way visitors engage with art and ideas, providing greater opportunities to learn, create and discover. The Sydney Modern Project is funded by the NSW Government and private donors and is being delivered by Infrastructure NSW on behalf of the Gallery and the NSW Government. It is scheduled for completion in 2022 and the Gallery remains open during construction.

Media contact

Simone Bird
Tel 02 9225 1674