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Eight Blockbuster Art Exhibitions to See Across Australia This Summer

Plan interstate trips around visits to see Picasso, Keith Haring and 200 supernatural Japanese works at Australia's best galleries.
By Concrete Playground
December 08, 2019

Eight Blockbuster Art Exhibitions to See Across Australia This Summer

Plan interstate trips around visits to see Picasso, Keith Haring and 200 supernatural Japanese works at Australia's best galleries.
By Concrete Playground
December 08, 2019


Plan interstate trips around visits to see Picasso, Keith Haring and 200 supernatural Japanese works at Australia's best galleries.

Whether you're staying put or travelling interstate this summer, one thing's for sure: you won't be bored from a lack of art. A fine contingent of blockbuster exhibitions has hit the country for the warmer months, sweeping into temperature-controlled galleries from Brisbane to Melbourne and everywhere in-between. You can step into an installation reminiscent of Twin Peaks' red room at the MCA, walk across 100 tonnes of rock at GOMA and gaze at Kaws' instantly recognisable pop-culture sculptures at the NGV. And that's not even mentioning the Picasso and Matisse works coming to our shores.

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

  • 8
    Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines

    Last winter, the NGV saw over 200 works from New York’s famed MoMA and over summer it housed the Escher x Nendo: Between Two Worlds — an exhibition showcasing the works of both Dutch artist M.C. Escher and Japanese design studio Nendo. So, it had some big space to fill. Its 2019–20 summer blockbuster is Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines — yep, the NGV has succeeded in bringing yet another world-class exhibition to Australian shores. The world-premiere retrospective is exclusive to Melbourne and delves into the artists’ radicalism, socio-political standings and distinctive imagery. Haring’s iconic dancing figures and Basquiat’s crown and head motifs can be found throughout the 300 works — which span paintings, sculpture, objects, drawings, photographs, notebooks and pieces in public spaces. The exhibition also houses the artists’ collaborations with some of the world’s most-celebrated pop culture icons, including Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Madonna. 

    Images: Tom Ross. 

  • 7
    Japan Supernatural

    Blending the work of a modern-day superstar and some of Japan’s most renowned historical artists, Japan Supernatural is the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ latest blockbuster exhibition. It features 180 works drawn from collections around the world — an eclectic mix of paintings, traditional woodblock prints, animation work and sculptures — which each delve into the Japanese folktales that continue to influence pop-culture today. The exhibition’s headline act is contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, a dazzling spectacle of an artist that shines almost as bright as his massive works of art. Famous for his paintings and sculptures that incorporate motifs from both traditional and popular Japanese culture, at Japan Supernatural, Murakami debuts an enormous ten-metre-wide mural that depicts folk stories, anime characters and a litter of other cultural references. Running until March 8, 2020, the exhibition features work by other modern-day legends, too, such as the late manga artist Mizuki Shigeru and contemporary artist Taro Yamamoto. Meanwhile, there are also works by seminal artists from a bygone age, including Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Kawanabe Kyosai. You can check out five of our favourite works from the exhibition here.

    Image: Jenni Carter for AGNSW.

  • 6
    Matisse & Picasso

    The National Gallery of Australia is no stranger to big names. Last year saw a short-term showcase of pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from London’s Tate Britain and Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room become a permanent fixture. Earlier this year, it played host to Monet: Impression Sunrise. Now, perhaps some of the most celebrated artists in history — Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso — are coming to the nation’s capital. Drawing pieces from more than 40 collections around the world, the exhibition features more than 200 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, illustrated books and costumes by the 20th century artists. Plus, it highlights the artistic rivalry and the famously turbulent friendship between the two figures, as well as their influence on 20th century Western European art, both individually and collectively.

    Image: Pablo Picasso, Reading [La Lecture] 1932, Musée Picasso, Paris, © Succession Picasso / Copyright Agency, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau.

  • 5
    Water — POSTPONED

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

    Olafur Eliasson. Denmark, b.1967. Riverbed 2014 (detail). Site specific installation. Pictured: The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark. Photograph: Iwan Baan.


  • 4
    Woman inside 'War Room' at Museum of Contemporary Art

    In the early 90s, British artist Cornelia Parker decided to blow up a garden shed. She approached the British Army, and together they detonated an explosion that saw 2000 household items fly across several fields in the countryside. Fragments of wood, broken bicycle wheels and a shattered violin — along with thousands of other objects — were collected by the officers, and Parker reconfigured the shed, suspending objects from the ceiling around one central lightbulb. That artwork, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), is now considered Parker’s most famous work, and it’s currently casting haunting shadows across the gallery walls at the MCA this summer. The major exhibition, which spans three decades of the artist’s career, has four large-scale artworks that transform the gallery’s rooms. War Room (2015) is like walking into the Twin Peaks red room, except the blood-red walls are crafted from discarded strips of paper sourced from a Remembrance Poppy factory in London. Another large-scale piece, Magna Carta (An Embroidery) (2015), is a 12-metre-long hand-stitched version of the Magna Carta Wikipedia page. Parker created the work to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Britain’s earliest democratic document, and she invited 200 people from both sides of the law to embroider a panel — including notable whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker (why not?) and current prison inmates.

    Image: Installation view of Warm Room (2015) by Anna Kucera.

  • 3
    Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness

    The National Gallery of Victoria’s 2019 program continues to pull in the big guns, with an ever-growing lineup of internationally acclaimed artists heading to the gallery. And that list currently includes Brooklyn-based Kaws (aka Brian Donnelly), who’s brought his instantly recognisable sculptures to Aus. Kaws is best known for his large-scale sculptures, vivid murals and distinctive, pop culture-inspired characters. You’re probably familiar with his reinterpretations of iconic figures like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and The Smurfs, all reworked with those signature Xs over the eyes. While it’s a stable of work that’s laced with a healthy dose of humour, this NGV exhibition, entitled Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, focuses on the rest of those underlying emotions. You’ll get a glimpse at how KAWS celebrates generosity and explores our need for companionship, offering up an antidote to the world’s current ‘Age of Loneliness’. Off the back of solo exhibitions at the Yuz Museum Shanghai and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2017, as well as the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation earlier this year, Kaws’ NGV presentation has plenty of never-before-seen goodies.

    Top images: Kaws, Gone (2019) by Tom Ross.

  • 2

    Alongside its huge Japan Supernatural exhibition, the Art Gallery of NSW is hosting another exceptional show this summer — and this one’s free. From Saturday, November 9 until February next year, the gallery is dedicating an entire exhibition to celebrated contemporary Australian artist Ben Quilty and his work over the past 15 years. Simply entitled Quilty, the exhibition sees more than 70 pieces of his work from the early 2000s onwards — including his intimate looks at his own reflection, his time spent as an official war artist in Afghanistan, poetic visions of the Australian landscape and his response to other topical events, including the last American election. Quilty’s expressive portraits, both of himself and of others — such as executed Bali Nine drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran — are quite a striking sight. His Rorschach paintings are too, unsurprisingly. And, they’re designed not just to catch the eye, but to explore the dark undercurrent of violence and themes of displacement.

    Image: Daniel Boud.

  • 1
    Terminus: Jess Johnson and Simon Ward

    If you like your art digital, interactive and immersive, you should make tracks to the Heide Museum of Modern Art, where Terminus: Jess Johnson and Simon Ward is now on display. Open till March 1, 2020, the virtual reality exhibition is a collaboration between New York-based visual artist Jess Johnson and Wellington animator Simon Ward. Johnson’s hypnotic drawings have been transformed into five interactive virtual reality works, which make up five distinct realms filled with “alien architecture, humanoid clones and cryptic symbols”. Visitors are invited to explore the artworks through a 30-minute ‘quest’, venturing between the realms. The choose-your-own adventure exhibition includes journeys into the Fleshold CrossingKnown Unknown and Scumm Engine. Plus, there’s a towering piece titled Gog & Magog and the psychedelic Tumblewych. Johnson’s drawings and textile works will also be on display alongside Terminus — including quilts made with her mother and garments from her 2016 collaboration with Australian fashion brand Romance Was Born.

    mage: Installation view, Terminus: Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Photograph: Christian Capurro.


Top image: Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines by Tom Ross.

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