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Nine Dazzling Brisbane Exhibitions and Installations to Put in Your Diary for the Rest of the Year

See everything from iconic artworks to giant birds — or wander through glowing arches while floating down the Brisbane River.
By Sarah Ward
August 16, 2021
By Sarah Ward
August 16, 2021


See everything from iconic artworks to giant birds — or wander through glowing arches while floating down the Brisbane River.

Whether you're staring at an iconic painting or making a date with an inflatable dreamscape, a great piece of art can whisk you far away from your everyday routine. Exceptional art has always done that — and that's an experience we could all use right now. Thankfully, before 2021 comes to an end, Brisbane won't be short on vibrant pieces to peer at and mosey through. On the agenda: surveying masterworks, gazing up at giant birds and scoping out glowing arches on a boat. Just remember to take a breather between each one as you hop around the city.

  • 9
    European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

    Visiting Europe sadly isn’t on Australians’ agendas in the near future. Heading to New York to wander through The Metropolitan Museum of Art isn’t at the moment either. But, a heap of European art masterpieces from The Met have made the journey to our shores — so you can feast your eyes on some of the greatest paintings ever committed to canvas at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.

    Until Sunday, October 17, 65 works that almost never leave The Met’s galleries are gracing GOMA’s walls, in the venue’s biggest-ever survey of the history of European art. If you’re wondering why these paintings are so treasured, that’s because they’re by everyone from Monet, van Gogh and Vermeer to Renoir, Rembrandt and Degas.

    The list of artists featuring in the exhibition, which covers a whopping 500 years of European art and is fittingly called European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, just keeps going — with Rubens, Poussin, Gauguin, Raphael, Boucher and Velazquez all included as well. Also impressive: the different types of artworks that are on display, spanning everything from portraits and still-life pieces to landscape paintings and figure studies.

    Image: Water Lilies (1916-19) by Claude Monet. Gift of Louise Reinhardt Smith 1983/1983.532.

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  • 8
    City in the Sun

    Brisbane isn’t like any other Australian capital city. It’s far more laidback than Sydney and Melbourne, and considerably more humid than Adelaide and Perth. It doesn’t have its own beach — no, South Bank doesn’t really count — but it does overflow with subtropical vibes. So, at its latest free exhibition, Museum of Brisbane is giving everything that makes this sun-dappled town what it is a big, warm hug. It also ponders whether the city’s image accurately reflects Brissie circa 2021.

    Displaying until Sunday, February 27, 2022, City in the Sun covers everything from frangipanis and jacarandas to pineapples, all via works from artists such as Kinly Grey, Christopher Bassi, Laura Patterson, Rachael Sarra, Sam Tupou, Sebastian Moody, Holly Anderson and Rachel Burke. Also gracing the inner-city museum’s walls and halls: Gerwyn Davies, Michael Zavros, Tracey Moffatt, Scott Redford and Olive Ashworth. Their pieces feature plenty of colour, but also toy with and interrogate Brissie’s identity.

    Across 30 artworks — complete with eight significant commissions — highlights include Moody’s large-scale light work Sunshine Psychology, Moffat’s First Jobs photographs of Brisbane in the 70s and Grey’s interactive piece, which draws upon attendees’ body heat. Or, get swinging in Burke’s backyard installation with its cubby house, flower beds and a tinsel sky.

    Images: Toby Scott.

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  • 7
    Dylan Mooney: Blak Superheroes

    Whichever caped crusader is your favourite, and whichever comics-to-screen film franchise you like best, you’ve seen plenty of superheroes on screens large and small over the past decade or so. They’re everywhere — including at Brisbane City Hall at present. The heroes gracing the walls here aren’t your usual icons, though.

    Instead, Dylan Mooney’s Blak Superheroes gives First Nations characters a comic book-style makeover. The aims: representation and empowerment, all while championing survival, pride and power. The Yuwi, Torres Strait Islander and Australian-born South Sea Island artist explains that, in the past “Blak characters’ representation in history has always been in the background, never the focal point, and characterised by racist stereotypes” — so his works seek to uplift, to showcase First Nations figures, and to show that surviving and thriving in Australia has required resilience and innovation.

    Mooney uses drawing, printmaking and street art techniques to illustrate his creations, which are on display for free until Sunday, February 27, 2021.

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  • 6
    Airship Orchestra

    Some days, we all just want to want to wander through a vibrant, inflatable, lit-up dreamscape filled with billowing shapes. Pop this dazzling installation on a boat floating down the Brisbane River, and we’d all want to make its acquaintance there, too. Brisbanites, the time to do both of these things is this September — and during Brisbane Festival. In a welcome piece of news, moseying around a luminous playground that’ll also spend time on the water is a key part of the event’s 2021 program.

    Two installations by ENESS are coming to town from Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 25, and Airship Orchestra is one of them. It features bulbous shapes that glow, reach up to six metres in height, and come complete with a choir score. So, you’ll be mesmerised by their appearance and their sounds alike.

    The vivid pop-up will span Northshore Hamilton from Monday, September 13, filling it with colour. Before then, it’ll be on the move. It isn’t just shifting locations, however, but will float along the river nightly as part of a watery art experience called Brisbane’s Art Boat.

    Image: Ben Weinstein.

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  • 5
    Sky Castle

    Brisbanites have spent plenty of time in their own castles over the past 18 months. Now, with the city currently out of lockdown, it’s time to mosey through a giant inflatable version instead. From Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 25, the city will welcome a luminous installation comprised of a cluster of colourful arches — as created by multidisciplinary studio ENESS.

    Called Sky Castle and part of this year’s Brisbane Festival program, the towering pop-up will span Northshore Hamilton until Tuesday, September 14, filling it with colour. Then, from Wednesday, September 15, it’ll be on the move. It isn’t just shifting locations, however, but it’ll float along the river nightly as part of a watery art experience called Brisbane’s Art Boat.

    The arches are designed to reflect a rainbow — and to bring a spot of brightness to the city after its tough experiences during the pandemic, just like rainbows do after storms. Yes, that’s what everyone could use right about now. And, they’re interactive, too, changing their hues as you move through them.

    Image: Zhu Rui.

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  • 4
    Amanda Parer: Lost

    The last time that Amanda Parer took over Brisbane, she filled Eagle Street Pier with seven-metre-tall bunnies thanks to her eye-catching Intrude installation. Obviously, it was quite the big deal/ This time, she’s turning West End’s West Village into a blossoming wonderland. Well, she is unveiling her latest artworks for spring, after all — and yes, it’s set to be just as dazzling.

    Parer’s new larger-than-life exhibition is called Lost, and it first made its debut at Surfers Paradise’s Beyond the Sand Festival earlier in 2021. It’s now set to bloom in Brissie — and it’s filled with billowing botanicals that’ll make you feel like you’ve gotten lost inside a giant floral wonderland.

    While you’re wandering through this lit-up pieces as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival, you’ll notice Parer’s particular focus on extinct or endangered species. You’ll see her inflatables pieces, obviously, and you’ll notice the LEDs as part of the installation as well.

    Image: Beyond the Sand Festival.

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  • 3
    Florentijn Hofman: Messengers of Brisbane 2021

    Brisbanites, it’s time to go birdwatching — but not in the usual manner. From Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 25, you’re looking for one type of winged creature. You’re trying to spot the only six of them in the city, in fact. They’re giant and they’ll be perched atop Brissie landmarks, so they shouldn’t be too difficult to locate.

    One of Brisbane Festival‘s literally big 2021 inclusions — and a returning highlight from 2020’s fest — Messengers of Brisbane is comprised of a half-dozen Gouldian finches, all towering over well-known locations. Last year, the birds popped up at the Goodwill Bridge, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum, South Bank, Brisbane Powerhouse and Brisbane City Hall, if you’re wondering what we mean by iconic spots.

    Messengers of Brisbane is also the latest large-scale art work by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who is known for placing oversized animals in iconic spots. If you’ve seen footage of his massive inflatable Rubber Duck sculpture, then you’ll know why you should be getting excited.

    Image: Atmosphere Photography.

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  • 2

    Sometimes, we all need to get a little lost. We need to leave our comfort zones — and the homes we’ve been spending so much time in during the pandemic — and go wandering through an otherworldly realm. We need to explore light-filled mazes, bound through inflatable spaces and check out an electronic hall of mirrors, too, and just completely forget about our day-to-day troubles while we’re moseying around a multi-sensory installation.

    If all of that sounds like your idea of heaven at the moment, it’s about to become a reality in Brisbane this September. This year’s Brisbane Festival has just announced a new addition to its lineup in the form of Imaginaria — an immersive playground for kidults and children alike that’s set to take over the Festival Garden hub underneath the Goodwill Bridge, next to Queensland Maritime Museum at South Bank, from Friday, September 3–Tuesday, November 30.

    The installation is made up of different structures each filled with lights, sounds and smells. First, you take your shoes off — and then you wander through a space filled with artificial intelligence projections, sensor-triggered LED waves and giant silk parachute canopies. Also included: cosmic gardens, an anti-gravity sunset, an electronic hall of mirrors and a digital
    wishing well that whispers your greatest desires.

    Images: William Hamilton-Coates

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  • 1
    Van Gogh Alive

    One of the world’s most-visited multi-sensory experiences will come alive in Brisbane this year. Immersive exhibition Van Gogh Alive is bringing The Starry Night to the Sunshine State — alongside a heap of Vincent van Gogh’s other artworks — as part of its Australian tour.

    The project is the brainchild of Melbourne-based Grande Exhibitions, which, for the past 15 years, has hosted immersive exhibitions and gallery experiences in over 150 cities across the world. The company also owns and operates Rome’s Museo Leonardo da Vinci.

    A family-friendly experience, Van Gogh Alive creates the sensation of walking right into the Dutch artist’s paintings — and you definitely won’t feel like you’re just standing in an ordinary gallery. Attendees encounter van Gogh’s world-famous works in fine detail thanks to Grande Exhibitions’ state-of-the-art technology, which uses 40 high-definition projectors. A classical musical score accompanies the vibrant colours, too, as presented in cinema-quality surround sound.

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Image: Airship Orchestra, Ben Weinstein.

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