Climb through a gymnastic sculpture, step over 100 tonnes of rock that recreates an Icelandic stream and see a real snowman.
Sarah Ward
Published on December 02, 2019


UPDATE: MARCH 23, 2020 The Gallery of Modern Art has announced that it is closing from midday on Monday, March 23, which means that Water is closed from that time as well.

To find out more about the status of COVID-19 in Australia and how to protect yourself, head to the Australian Government Department of Health's website.


Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art boasts plenty of highlights, including its location right next to the Brisbane River. Art lovers can walk through the venue's halls, enjoy a snack at its waterside cafe and even relax on the grass while taking in the view — but they can't usually walk along a massive indoor riverbed.

'Usually' is the key word, with GOMA serving up just that during its huge 2019–20 summer program, Water. As part of an expansive exploration of the titular liquid substance in all of its forms between December 7, 2019 and April 26, 2020, the site will become home to Olafur Eliasson's Riverbed installation. Created by the Berlin-based, Danish-Icelandic artist, the huge piece uses more than 100 tonnes of rock to recreate an Icelandic stream inside the South Brisbane venue.

The artwork has been described as both pre-historic or post-apocalyptic — and, to answer the question that immediately popped into your head, you can indeed walk on it. During Riverbed's Brisbane stay, it'll be on display to the public for only the second time ever, following its debut at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Obviously, that means it's visiting the southern hemisphere for the first time as well.

Olafur EliassonDenmark, b.1967. Riverbed 2014 (detail). Site specific installation. Pictured: Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia. Courtesy: The artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photograph: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA

With more than 40 works by international and Australian artists included in the exhibition, Riverbed also has some serious company. Cai Guo-Qiang's installation Heritage makes its return to GOMA, with the piece inspired by Stradbroke Island, featuring more than 40 life-size animals drinking around a waterhole, and appearing at Water in a new arrangement.

Queensland artist Judy Watson has also created a major new work with a local theme, not only drawing upon on the cultural memory of water, but reflecting upon the obvious nearby body — the adjacent Maiwar, or Brisbane river.

And if you're fond of art that you can interact with and learning about the biggest threat facing humanity — and climbing — then keep an eye out for William Forsythe's The Fact of Matter, which is comprised of suspended gymnastic rings. As visitors make their way through the space, they're asked to contemplate the weight and strength of their body, the impact it has on the earth, and the power we can exert if we all come together to combat climate change.


Cai Guo-Qiang. China. b. 1957. Heritage (installation view) 2013. Animals: polystyrene, gauze, resin and hide. Installed with artificial watering hole: water, sand, drip mechanism. Purchased 2013 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through and with the assistance of the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The artist. Pictured: Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia.Photograph: Natasha Harth, QAGOMA. Installation view.

Plus, while Brisbane is hardly a snowman's natural habitat, Water sees GOMA welcome its own icy figure — and, yes, it's made out of real snow. The gallery's latest high-profile acquisition, Snowman is the work of artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, and dates back to 1987. First conceived as part of a site-specific work at a German thermic power plant, the fairly typical-looking snowman is made from three balls of snow, with the top one boasting hand-drawn eyes and a mouth.

What's not typical of this well-travelled snowman, however, is its ability to survive full summers. To protect Snowman from Brisbane's subtropical climate, it sits encased in a glass and metal industrial freezer — so, while GOMA visitors can see the frosty sculpture, you definitely won't be able to touch it. But, lucky gallery staff members have been given the task of retracing its eyes and smile every few days, with the artwork's enigmatic expression expected to shift subtly over time from happy to quizzical to maybe even diabolical as a result.

Bringing its literal chill to Brissie,  Snowman is also visiting the southern hemisphere for the first time . Understandably, it's usually exhibited in locations where it's much, much older — including a hit season at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Water exhibits at the Gallery of Modern Art, Stanley Place, South Brisbane from December 7, 2019 to April 26, 2020.

Top images: Water. Exhibition no.2019.26. Organisation: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Start date: 7 December 2019. End date: 26 April 2020. Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Level 1. Installation view.

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