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Eleven Exceptional Art Exhibitions to See Across Australia This Autumn

Plan interstate trips to see haute couture, space objects and terracotta treasures in Australia's best galleries.
By Concrete Playground
March 03, 2019
By Concrete Playground
March 03, 2019


Plan interstate trips to see haute couture, space objects and terracotta treasures in Australia's best galleries.

Summer is gone, and your beachside holiday memories along with it. Don't worry — there are plenty of excuses to jet around the country this autumn. Australia's art scene is positively thriving for the next three months, so even if you're staying put, you're not going to be bored any time soon. Up and down the eastern states from Brisbane to Melbourne, everything from artistic explorations of witchcraft, to deep dives into Chinese terracotta treasures, to haute couture gems are gracing the halls and walls of Aussie galleries. The list goes on, particularly if you're eager to ponder life beyond earth by stepping into a galaxy far, far away, staring at the moon, or getting up close and personal with objects that've travelled into space.

If you're someone who travels for art, you might want to book those domestic flights now. This is an impressive autumn lineup — and, come June, plenty of them will be gone. Hop to it.

  • 11
    Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality

    Back in 1982, Melbourne played host to one of China’s most important ancient artworks: a collection of statues known as The Terracotta Army. Crafted between 221–206 BCE and first discovered in the Shaanxi province in 1974, it made its international debut at the National Gallery of Victoria — and now, 37 years later, it’s returning for the NGV’s 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

    Dubbed Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality, the five-month exhibition will feature eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from The Terracotta Army, alongside two half-size replica bronze chariots that are each drawn by four horses. They were created during the reign of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang and were buried near his tomb more than 2200 years ago. The pieces coming to Melbourne only represent a fraction of the entire work, which numbers more than 8000 figures in total.

    If you’re wondering how big of a deal the statues are, the answer is very. The Terracotta Army is considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century and has also been described as the ‘Eighth’ Wonder of the World. Displaying at the NGV from May 24 to October 13, 2019, the selected pieces will be accompanied by more than 150 other ancient Chinese treasures sourced from museums and Shaanxi archaeological sites. Expect to rove your eyes over priceless gold, jade and bronze artefacts that date back more than 3000 years, charting China’s artistry across the country’s formative period.

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  • 10

    2019 represents one giant milestone for humanity’s space exploits, marking half a century since astronauts first walked on the moon. That’s just one of the achievements that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, aka NASA, is known for — and it’s just one of the events that’ll feature in a new exhibition chronicling the organisation’s jaunts beyond the earth’s surface, which heads to Australia this year.

    NASA – A Human Adventure will display at the Queensland Museum in not only its first trip to our shores, but its only Aussie season. It’s set to be huge in a number of ways. The exclusive showcase will bring more than 250 historically significant items to Brisbane, and it’ll run for a whopping seven months. It’ll also be the largest exhibition ever hosted by the newly refurbished South Bank spot, taking over two levels.

    Gracing QM’s walls and halls between March 15 and October 9, NASA – A Human Adventure will feature everything from objects that actually have flown through space, to high-fidelity models, to both small-size and full-scale replicas. Think real rocket engines, space food, space suits, lunar cameras and moon boots, plus miniature versions of NASA’s Space Shuttle, Lunar Rover, and Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space crafts. Touching on the Soviet contribution to space travel as well, it’ll also display a replica of the robotic lunar rover Lunokhod.

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  • 9
    The National 2019: New Australian Art

    After attracting 286,631 visitors to its inaugural event in 2017, The National: New Australian Art — an epic contemporary Australian art exhibition held across three major Sydney galleries — is back. Due to open on March 29, the program will feature works from 65 emerging, mid-career and established artists at the Art Gallery of NSW, the MCA and Carriageworks.

    Taking care of the AGNSW’s offering is Isobel Parker Philip, Curator of Photographs. Look out for Victorian artist Mira Gojak’s sculpture Stops, which brings together steel rods and sky blue acrylic yarn, as well as Rushdi Anwar’s Irhal (expel), hope and the sorrow of displacement, 2013–ongoing, which combines burnt wooden chairs, black pigment, charcoal and ash.

    At the MCA, you’ll find works by 21 artists from cities, regional areas and remote communities, co-curated by Clothilde Bullen, MCA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections and Exhibitions, and Anna Davis, MCA Curator. Among these are The Australian Ugliness (2018) by Melbourne’s Eugenia Lim — which exhibited in Melbourne earlier this year as part of Open House — a multi-channel video installation exploring our national aesthetic; and Mumu Mike Williams’ Kulilaya munuya nitiriwa (Listen and learn from us) (2017), a painting on canvas mail bag, with wood, kangaroo tendon and resin.

    Meanwhile Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Senior Curator of Visual Arts, has determined the 19-strong program at Carriageworks. Tasmanian duo Mish Meijers and Tricky Walsh will be bringing The Crocker Land Expedition, an installation made up of timber, found objects, parachute, plastic and light, while Troy-Anthony Baylis, an Aboriginal artist of the Jawoyn nation, will be continuing (re)presentations of “notions of drag (cultural and gender), landscape and home”.

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  • 8
    Revolutions: Records and Rebels

    If you’ve ever wanted to take a deep dive into some of the most iconic moments of the late 1960s, here’s your chance. Kicking off this April, a major exhibition devoted to the huge international impact of these five momentous years is coming to the Melbourne Museum. Dubbed Revolutions: Records and Rebels, the exhibition originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and it pulls together over 500 objects sourced from the famed art and design museum, as well as international loans and Melbourne Museum’s own impressive collection.

    It’s a captivating exploration of 1960s youth culture and how collective action at the time spurred revolutionary shifts all across the Western world, from the tunes to the fashion to the political protests and defining moments and events like Woodstock. You’ll revisit these game-changing elements in the context of their lingering impact today, five decades on. To that end, expect to catch a rare glimpse of items like Mick Jagger’s signature stage costume, John Lennon’s legendary glasses, handwritten lyrics for ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and even a guitar that was smashed on stage by Pete Townsend of The Who.

    Closer to home, historic items will reference pivotal Australian moments of the time, such as the anti-Vietnam War protests and the recognition of Australia’s First Peoples in the 1967 referendum. State-of-the-art audio guide technology will feature a carefully curated musical soundtrack played through Sennheiser headsets, changing according to your position in the gallery. Think, Jimi Hendrix’s live Woodstock set, Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and a whole lot of The Beatles, interspersed with interviews, videos, film screenings and light shows.

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  • 7
    Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate

    This major exhibition will bring more than 40 of the Tate Britain’s beloved works to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, in an exhibition that’ll focus on the artistic movement that started in 1848.

    Iconic pieces such as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia and John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott will be making the journey as part of the showcase. Part ode to early Renaissance efforts, part protest against the prevailing creative traditions of the mid-19th century, pre-Raphaelite art was sparked by a group of rebellious artists eager to create something different to the art of the time — and their preferred style, featuring detailed, colourful compositions painted in thin layers with small brushes, certainly managed that. In addition to the pieces from the Tate, the exhibition will also feature an additional 40 works loaned from other British and Australian collections.

    Each will help highlight the themes of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, examine the different styles adopted by the various artists adhering to its principles, stress the importance of draughtsmanship and emphasise the movement’s fondness for collaboration.

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  • 6

    Star Wars fans, prepare to punch it on down to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in November — and prepare to come face to face with 200 original objects from the popular sci-fi franchise at Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition.

    Coming to Australia for the first time, that includes costumes, props, models and artworks from the Lucasfilm archives, complete with a galaxy’s worth of favourites — think BB-8, R2-D2 and the Millennium Falcon just for starters. Get a glimpse of Yoda, you will, circa Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back. You’ll also feel the power-hungry menace radiate from Darth Vader’s suit from Star Wars: Episode VII — Return of the Jedi. Star Wars Identities is also an interactive exhibition, with creating your own unique character also part of the experience.

    If you’ve ever felt as though you should be hanging out in a cantina somewhere on a remote planet, here’s your chance to answer a heap of questions, work through a series of stations and find your inner Star Wars hero. You won’t need to use the force — rather, you’ll receive a smart technology bracelet and a headset to use while you’re in the exhibition (but if you want to say that you’re using the force or even want to give midi-chlorians some credit, no one will stop you).

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  • 5
    The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

    The Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Art Gallery are bringing the Asia Pacific to Brisbane for the ninth time. Every three years since 1993, the city’s major art institutions celebrate the vast creativity brightening up the region as part of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. At the 2018 event — the fifth since GOMA opened, and one that’s free as usual — more than 80 individuals, collectives and group projects will grace the walls of the two galleries, representing over 30 countries.

    Understandably, the highlights are many. View a major site-specific work by leading Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie, see Singapore-based artists Donna Ong andRobert Zhao Renhui turn QAG’s Watermall into a new landscape filled with artificial plants, or dive into the water with separate video works by Martha Atienza and Monira Al Qadiri — with the latter not only making the gallery feel like an aquarium, but also being projected onto the William Jolly Bridge for five days.

    Don’t miss Gary Carsley’s Purple Reign, either — this jacaranda garden is blooming inside the gallery for five months. It’s designed for children, but great art can bring out the kid inside all of us. The interactive piece is inspired by R Godfrey Rivers’ 1903 painting Under the jacaranda, and projects gorgeous blossoms of purple onto the space’s walls.

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  • 4
    Museum of the Moon

    Prepare to stare at the moon in all of its glory — up close, without a telescope and without zooming into space. Measuring seven metres in diameter and featuring renderings of the celestial body’s surface based on NASA imagery, the Museum of the Moon is a detailed installation by UK-based artist Luke Jerram. The giant sculpture has been touring the world since 2016, displaying in New York, Hong Kong, Mumbai and plenty of spots around Europe.

    Between December 1, 2018 and April 28, 2019, it’ll add Melbourne to its orbit. Inspired by Jerram’s time living in Bristol and “noticing the huge tidal variation as he cycled over the Avon Cut each day” according to the Museum of the Moon’s website, the artwork recreates the moon at a scale of approximately 1:500,000, with each centimetre equating to five kilometres of the lunar surface. And if you’re wondering just how intricate the 120dpi imagery is, the high-resolution NASA photograph that it uses is 21 metres wide, and was taken by by a satellite carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera.

    The spherical sculpture is lit from within, so it’ll add a glow when it comes to Scienceworks for five months. It also combines its imagery and light with a surround sound piece created by composer and sound designer Dan Jones, and just how each venue displays it is up to them. Basically, it’s never the exact same installation twice.

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  • 3
    Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power

    From The Crucible and The Craft to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Suspiria, witches just keep working their magic on popular culture. Now they’re casting a spell on the Brisbane art world too, all thanks to the UQ Art Museum.

    The venue’s next big exhibition delves into the world of witches, sorcery, rituals and magic — and given the topic, there’s plenty to examine. This showcase will feature bewitching historic etchings, enchanting modern-day works that ponder intuition and incantations, and new commissions of the dark and otherworldly kind.

    Displaying from Friday, March 1 to Saturday, June 29, Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power aims to not only explore all things witchy, but to understand why witches continue to conjure up a reaction — be it fascination or fear. Expect pieces that ruminate on everything from collective happenings to the usual elements to peripheral activity, all while challenging prevailing stereotypes. Witches have been known to have second sight, and here you’ll give them a second look. The four-month exhibition features works by 11 artists, and entry is free.

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  • 2
    The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift

    Melbourne’s fashion fiends are in for a serious treat, with the NGV International kicking off its dazzling new exhibition — The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift. A treasure trove of sartorial delights, the free showcase features over 150 haute couture pieces from some of the world’s most iconic fashion houses.

    Prepare for wardrobe envy to hit hard as you take in this intriguing collection, which has been gifted to the NGV by leading philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty. There are a swag of legendary designs on show, from Le Smoking Suit — the avant-garde Yves Saint Laurent women’s tuxedo, circa 1967 — to that tartan Alexander McQueen creation made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2006 Met Gala. Taking a style trip through the ages, the exhibition also showcases Madame Grès gowns, a rare collection of little black dresses from the one and only Chanel, and Dior designs from as far back as the label’s 1947 debut.

    On display daily until Sunday, July 14, the threads are backed by a curation of original sketches and workbooks, rarely seen early-edition fashion magazines, embroidered samples and a suite of fashion photography. And for those keen to dive in further, The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift is accompanied by a program of talks, including an International Women’s Day chat about women’s fashion in the 20th century.

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  • 1
    Rone: Empire

    From towering silos to inner-city suburban landmarks, Melbourne-based street artist Rone has always been pretty creative about where he paints his large-scale murals. But for the last 12 months, he’s been hiding away in the lush community of Sherbrooke, in the Dandenong Ranges, transforming the dilapidated art deco mansion Burnham Beeches into an artsy dreamland.

    Famous for his massive portraits that combine elements of beauty and ruin, alongside concepts of new and old, Empire is Rone’s most ambitious project to date. It’s set in the ‘decaying glory’ of the 1930s estate, which has periodically acted as a family home, research facility, children’s hospital and luxury hotel. Empire spans 12 (previously empty) rooms over multiple storeys and centres around a series of the artist’s signature ‘Jane Doe’ monochrome portraits — the muse for which is actress Lily Sullivan (MentalPicnic at Hanging Rock).

    The rooms have been furnished with over 500 antique pieces, including a moss-covered grand piano — which was left exposed in the open garden for several weeks to attain an aged effect. The four seasons play a major role in Empire, and this varying atmosphere was accomplished by a team of specialists — flairs of art, vision, sound, light, virtual reality, scent and botanical design will take visitors on an immersive multi-sensory experience. Expect a hauntingly beautiful vibe of an era-gone-by, as Rone seeks to create an ambiguous storyline that can be felt by each guest individually.

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Top image: Second Sight at the UQ Art Museum. 

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