Four of Sydney’s most esteemed cultural institutions have come together for The National 4: Australian Art Now, a biennial survey of contemporary art from some of the country’s most exciting artists and collectives. From miniature works to large-scale installations, the range of projects featured celebrates the vitality and diversity of art in Australia.
For the first time, a Western Sydney gallery – Campbelltown Arts Centre – will take part, joining the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia on the line-up. It’s curated by Beatrice Gralton (AGNSW), Emily Rolfe (C-A-C), Freja Carmichael and Aarna Fitzgerald Hanley (Carriageworks) and Jane Devery (MCA).
With over 48 new projects involving more than 80 artists to see, you could space out your visits to each gallery. Or you could make a full day of it (especially since it’s all free), with food and drink stops along the way.
Here’s what we recommend eating and drinking while you explore.
Start by exploring the biennial’s inaugural C-A-C line-up, featuring a multi-channel video work by Brook Andrew, a major sculptural work by Western Sydney artist Shivanjani Lal and a collaborative project by Western Australian curator, Yabini Kickett with artists Shary Egan and Ilona McGuire. The exhibition tells the story of Australia’s contemporary art landscape, leaving space for visitors to reflect, listen and exchange upon viewing the artwork.
When you’re done, check out Campbelltown’s vibrant street art. Our top pick is Chinese-Aboriginal contemporary artist Jason Wing’s Three Mobs, at the corner of Queen Street and Dumaresq Street. The work depicts three interwoven rainbow serpents – representing Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific Islander peoples – in a tribute to the area’s thriving diversity. You can also make a visit to Oregano Leaf Bakery for a breakfast manoush before moving on to your next stop.
As you make your way to Carriageworks in Eveleigh, a sweet treat stop might be in order. Pop by longstanding Argentinian bakery La Torre Cake Shop to pick up a pastry. Choose from croissants pumped with dulce de leche and quince jam; egg and beef empanadas; and alfajores, a traditional South American biscuit filled with a piping of dulce de leche.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, pop by the Carriageworks Farmers Market (with around 70 stalls by top NSW’s producers) before heading into the exhibition spaces. The arts and culture precinct is celebrating The National 4 with an 11-strong roster of works by Katie West, Jason Phu, Jo Lloyd and more. Works range from op shop woollens transformed into a 22-metre-long ‘painting’, layered vocals that combine into an improvised score and an assemblage of sound and materials from on Country, among many others.
With two galleries down, it’s probably time to fuel up again, so walk 15 minutes to Atomic for lunch and a pint. This Redfern brewpub, housed in a mid-century warehouse, has eight beers on tap (plus a few limited releases) and laid-back fare including stacked beef burgers, crispy popcorn chicken and loaded fries with Wagyu gravy.
Hitting the 3pm slump? Perk yourself up with a stop at Woolloomooloo cafe John Montagu. Make a beeline for the large communal table and order a cup of Gabriel espresso or cold-drip coffee while you rest your legs. Then, walk to the AGNSW to check out work by 14 artists. Highlights include Nabilah Nordin’s visceral, abstract installation Corinthian Clump, Abdul Abdullah’s layered landscape and seascape paintings, and a three-channel audiovisual work by Reko Rennie.
For your final stop, head down to the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia at The Rocks and experience works by an intergenerational and culturally diverse group of 13 artists and collectives and 2 collectives. The exhibition reflects the latest evolutions in contemporary art, with highlights including Allison Chhorn’s immersive video installation, Simryn Gill’s 1:1 record of her elderly Italian neighbour’s garden, and a collaborative, artist-led video work by Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association in Milikapiti, Tiwi Islands.
Reward yourself for crossing all four galleries off the list with dinner at Japanese institution Sake The Rocks, just around the corner from the MCA. Settle in at the bar or a sunken table and work your way through nori crisps piled high with cubes of tuna and kingfish, or hiramasa kingfish doused in coriander-infused ponzu.
The day wouldn’t be complete without a nightcap, so finish at gin haven Hickson House Distilling Co. Located in a 100-year-old heritage building in The Rocks, it’s an atmospheric spot to sample an expertly made gin cocktail. Sink into a cosy sofa beneath the chandeliers, and order something from the house range – maybe the Martini-ready London Dry, the Harbour Strength or the native-heavy Australian Dry. Or go for a Wild Rose Summer Cup (a twist on the classic British fruit cup), or one of the five Martinis on offer.
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of the Art Gallery of NSW.
The National 4: Australia Now is on at the Art Gallery of NSW until Sunday July 23, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Carriageworks until Sunday June 25, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia until Sunday July 9. Entry is free across all venues.