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Bold and compelling works invite new encounters with art: First commissioned artists announced for Art Gallery's expansion

24 March 2022

A group of people around a large sculptural form on a table within a barn-like building.

Artist Francis Upritchard (right, standing) in her Italian studio working on one of her fantastical figures that will greet visitors in the Welcome Plaza of the Art Gallery’s new building. Photo: Daniel Mazza 

SYDNEY: From artworks that share Indigenous knowledge to fantastical bronze figures of a super-human scale, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is excited to announce the first commissioned artists creating major new works for its transformed art museum campus, due to open later this year.

The nine leading Australian and international artists commissioned as part of the Sydney Modern Project are: Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Karla Dickens, Simryn Gill, Jonathan Jones, Yayoi Kusama, Richard Lewer, Lee Mingwei, Lisa Reihana and Francis Upritchard.

The artists work across a wide variety of media and are currently making their site-specific and multi-sensory commissions – many at a scale never before possible at the Art Gallery – in studios, workshops and foundries in Australia and around the world.

The Art Gallery’s transformation, known as the Sydney Modern Project, will be one of the most ambitious cultural landmarks in Australia to open since the Sydney Opera House almost 50 years ago.

The project is creating a new art museum campus comprising a spectacular new building designed by SANAA, headed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, a revitalised historic building and public art garden. It seeks to connect people through a seamless relationship between great art, architecture and landscape in a magnificent location overlooking Sydney Harbour on Gadigal Country.

Displayed both indoors and outdoors within and between the Art Gallery’s two buildings, the major new works will speak of what art has been and what it is becoming to create distinct experiences for visitors in reimagined spaces, encouraging moments of wonder, reflection, learning and delight.

Prominent within the commissions are works by Indigenous Australian artists with many of the new works contributing to important global conversations of our time from our unique perspective in Sydney and the Asia-Pacific.

Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr Michael Brand said: ‘The extraordinary Sydney Modern Project art commissions connect deeply with our sense of place in Sydney and the architecture and landscape around them.  They’ll be some of the first artworks that welcome visitors to our expanded campus, with many able to be experienced night and day.

‘Together these new works establish the expanded Art Gallery as a global art museum offering a unique experience in Sydney – one that is responsive, purposeful and engaging and where each visit creates new encounters, new stories and new connections,’ Brand said.

Art Gallery of New South Wales deputy director and director of collections Maud Page said: ‘These exceptional artists are creating bold and compelling works for our completely reimagined Art Gallery. They offer humour and challenge; they confront, prod and delight, powerfully heralding new art histories. Artists address where we are now and are acutely aware of the paths we have taken to get here. They remind us what it is to be human today as many of the Sydney Modern Project commissions intertwine with urgent social issues.'

The Art Gallery looks forward to announcing further commissions and acquisitions as part of the Sydney Modern Project in the coming months, ahead of the scheduled opening of the expanded Art Gallery later this year.

The expansion project is funded by the NSW Government and private donors, in Australia’s largest government and philanthropic arts partnership of its kind. The commissioned artworks are supported by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation and many generous donors.

Sydney Modern Project art commissions

Lorraine Connelly-Northey
Lives on Waradgerie Country, NSW

Working with rusted wire, corrugated iron and other salvaged materials, Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey has created a collection of narrbong-galang (many bags) on an epic scale. These significant forms, which recontextualise rural materials, reveal an important cultural practice of south-east Australia. They will fill the wall of the 20-metre-long loggia of the Yiribana Gallery showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art on the new building’s entrance level.

Karla Dickens
Lives on Bundjalung Country, Lismore, NSW

Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens’ panel depicting hooded figures is a powerful exploration of the continuing legacies of clonialism and patriarchy. The materially rich work – with sea-green glass referencing the harbour and a patina that reflects other bronze panels on the iconic sandstone facade – will be installed on the Art Gallery’s historic building, in the niche above the front door left empty by the cancellation of the original 1913 commission by Dora Ohlfsen.

Simryn Gill
Lives Sydney, NSW

Simryn Gill’s commissioned work is a response to the removal of a tree from the Sydney Modern Project site. At the centre of this layered new work is a life-sized rubbing of the tree, a Canary Island date palm planted in 1906 in a spot that was, at the time of planting, at the cultural centre of the still-nascent city of Sydney.

Jonathan Jones
Lives on Gadigal Country, Sydney, NSW

Wiradyuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones has created an artwork at the heart of the expanded campus that links the new and existing Art Gallery buildings and responds to the site’s history on Gadigal land. Jones’s practice seeks to celebrate Indigenous knowledges and to offer unique perspectives of Country while involving community within the work.

Yayoi Kusama
Lives Tokyo, Japan

Flowers have been a lifelong passion for Japan’s Yayoi Kusama, one of the world’s most beloved living artists. Inspired by an endemic plant of south-eastern Australia, Kusama has created an exuberant floral sculpture that will be visible day and night, prominently positioned on the new building’s terrace overlooking Woolloomooloo Bay.

Richard Lewer
Lives Melbourne, Victoria

Richard Lewer has gone behind the scenes to capture the stories and portraits of people involved in the design and construction of the Sydney Modern Project. His multi-panel painting celebrates the labour and personalities of those who’ve helped build Sydney’s newest cultural and architectural landmark.

Lee Mingwei
Lives Paris, France and New York City, USA

Working with SANAA to incorporate his artwork into the building’s external rammed earth wall, Taiwanese–American artist Lee Mingwei has created an intimate and contemplative space for visitors to take a personal journey or even have a spiritual encounter. Nurture, generosity and reflection are deeply embedded in this experiential installation.

Lisa Reihana
Lives Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand

Māori artist Lisa Reihana (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū) has created a monumental moving image work that overlooks the central atrium in the new building. Set between Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, this dazzling sci-fi tale forges a new story of trans-Tasman connection built upon deep histories of encounter and exchange.

Francis Upritchard
Lives England, Italy and Aotearoa New Zealand

The fantastical is at the heart of the new building’s Welcome Plaza, where New Zealand–born, London-based artist Francis Upritchard invites her friendly figures inspired by mythology and folklore – and the surrounding Moreton Bay fig trees – to entice visitors of all ages. Upritchard’s playful sculptures create a place where fact and fiction combine to create a new reality.

About the Sydney Modern Project

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’s Sydney Modern Project transformation is creating a new gallery building, a revitalised historic building, and a new public art garden and civic space for all. The expansion will almost double exhibition space and brings together art, architecture and landscape in spectacular new ways with dynamic galleries and seamless connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. It will be a new prominent destination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture.

Together with the NSW Government’s $244 million in funding, the Art Gallery has raised more than $100 million to support the expansion project, the largest government and philanthropic arts partnership of its kind in Australia to date. The new building is designed by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA. Architectus is executive architect. The project is being delivered by Infrastructure NSW on behalf of the government and the Art Gallery and built by Richard Crookes Constructions. The Art Gallery remains open during this time.