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Summer in Sydney immediately evokes images of vibrant sunshine, pristine beaches, and copious quantities of sunscreen. But this year, the advent of good weather also heralds the completion of an ambitious artistic and architectural project. The new Sydney Modern, an expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, promises a world-class facility to showcase the best in contemporary art, opening on Friday, December 3rd.
Rising out of the oasis of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain precinct, the expansion nearly doubles the existing exhibition space of the art gallery. Acclaimed Japanese architectural firm SANAA designed the building, and, conscious of the abundant natural beauty surrounding the expansion, the glass-paneled exhibition spaces respond to the topography of the site.
The Tank space in the new building at the Art Gallery of New South Wales © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter
One unique aspect of the project is the repurposing of a decommissioned naval fuel bunker into The Tank, an underground exhibition space. There will also be a public art garden, accessible at all hours of the day.
To celebrate the opening of Sydney Modern, nine artists have been commissioned to create works responding to the project and its surroundings. Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens was recently depicted in the winning portrait for the 2022 Archibald Prize. Her work will tie the Sydney Modern expansion to the existing Vernon building, being installed into a niche of the original building’s sandstone façade. The installation work from Taiwanese–American artist Lee Mingwei interacts with the building’s physical structure, transforming the external wall into an intimate and introspective space.
A number of events have been planned to mark the new gallery’s opening week. Highlights include a series of talks with exhibiting artists, and a performance by Djinama Yilaga opening the new Yiribana gallery, which showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art.
Sydney Modern Project commissioned artist Karla Dickens © Natalie Grono
Entry to the gallery is free to the public collections. If you are planning to visit the new building on the opening weekend, you will need to book a free timed and dated ticket.
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If you want to sample some food without leaving the premises, the Sydney Modern expansion will introduce new dining facilities. MOD Dining by Clayton Wells offers a modern sit-down dining experience, and the take-away kiosk focuses on native ingredients, with each menu item chosen by Gamileroi Elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo. The Art Gallery Restaurant, Crafted by Matt Moran and the Gallery Café are open in the pre-existing building. The multiple dining options will keep you fueled through a full day of art-viewing, but can get crowded around lunch time, and they close when the galleries do.
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To reserve tables or treat yourself to a dinner out, you’ll have to cast your net a little wider than near the gallery. Luckily, the adjoining suburbs of Chippendale and Glebe are favored haunts of Sydney creatives, and are only a short bus ride away from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Modern. While you’re in the area, take the time to visit the White Rabbit Gallery, which houses a world-class collection of Chinese modern art.
The White Rabbit Contemporary Chinese art collection, one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Chinese art, was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson © JAZZDOG / Shutterstock
Chippendale restaurant Automata — also from Clayton Wells of the gallery’s MOD Dining — provides a fine dining experience without a prohibitive price tag. Wells’s goal is to reveal the depth hidden within seemingly simple ingredients. The six- and eight-course tasting menus change regularly, so you can plan to visit Automata again.
Glebe is known for its café culture, especially the institution that is Sappho Books, Café & Bar. At the front you will find a charming and well-stocked second-hand bookstore, with several rare and out-of-print titles. Upstairs is Da Capo music, offering a wide selection of second-hand sheet music. Once you’ve selected your reading material, you can move out to the courtyard café. It offers a sizable vegan menu, great coffee, and regular poetry and live music events.
Just across the road is the Lillipad Café, which husband and wife duo Nyoka and Laszio Hrabinsky envision as a slice of Far North Queensland in inner city Sydney. The menu reflects Nyoka’s Yidinji culture, incorporating native ingredients and flavors into many of the dishes. A Wild Country platter and wattleseed coffee are the perfect precursor to a visit to the Sydney Modern’s Yiribana gallery.
The historic Rocks area of Sydney promises everything from bottomless Sunday brunches to opulent evening drinks, all only a short walk from Sydney’s other major gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Stop for a drink at Frank Mac’s © Frank Mac’s Bar
Co-owners Ciara Doran and Eoin Daniels head two of the most atmospheric bars in the Rocks, the Doss House and Frank Mac’s. Both bars have an intimate, old-world feel, perfectly suited to whispered conversations across the table. Once a boarding house and an opium den, the historic sandstone building of the Doss House is now home to over 150 varieties of whisky, including several rare varieties. Gin lovers should make their way up the road to Frank Mac’s, where you can try the wide selection of gins neat, with soda, or in one of their carefully curated cocktails.
If you want to take advantage of the summer sun, opt for the brighter Maybe Sammy. The bar’s retro design pays homage to the era of classic Hollywood, which continues in the names of their well-loved cocktails. The dramatic drinks range in price from their $13 minis (which drop to $7 at happy hour!) to a luxurious $330 concoction from the premium pour list.
For those of you just looking for a no-nonsense pub serving ordinary beer, the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel has you covered. The Lord Nelson is Sydney’s oldest continually operating hotel, and they brew their award-winning beer on site.
The new Sydney Modern expansion is centrally located. Many international hotel chains are located in the CBD and Darling Harbour, both of which are well connected by public transport. Potts Point also offers luxury accommodation options and is closer to the Gallery but has fewer public transport options. If you want to stay among Sydney’s creative community, look for accommodation in Surrey Hills, Chippendale, Darlinghurst, and Paddington – the last two being close to Sydney’s major fine arts universities.