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Curator's guide to art in Sydney

Sydney-based art curator Amber Creswell Bell.CREDIT: Daniel Boud

Amber Creswell Bell is an inspiring art curator and author of four books on the arts.

#ilovesydney

Curator's guide
to art in Sydney

Sydney-based art curator Amber Creswell Bell. CREDIT: Daniel Boud

Amber Creswell Bell is an inspiring art curator and author of four books on the arts.

#ilovesydney

Hashtags #ilovesydney

As an inspiring art curator and author of four books on the arts, including A Painted Landscape and Clay (both published by Thames & Hudson), Amber Creswell Bell is fully immersed in the Australian art scene. She also champions emerging and unrepresented artists and ceramicists as the creative director of Michael Reid Northern Beaches gallery. Here, she reveals where to go if you’re planning a fine-art gallery tour of Sydney and want to see as much work as possible. 

What makes Sydney’s art scene so vibrant?

“The Sydney art scene ripples out right across the sprawling city, from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Museum of Contemporary Art in the heart of town to slick urban galleries in the inner east, right through to pocket galleries in the suburbs. There’s free art and street art, and the offerings by the commercial and artist-led galleries provide a rich, exciting, multifaceted exposé of every genre and medium imaginable. There’s something for everybody.” 

If you had just two days to explore Sydney’s fine-art galleries, which ones would you visit?

“I’d focus on four galleries. Tim Olsen’s Olsen Gallery, in leafy Woollahra, hosts a stable of contemporary emerging and established Australian artists. Foremost in the gallery’s stable is Tim’s father John Olsen, now regarded as Australia’s most esteemed living artist. 

King Street Gallery on William is situated in the heart of the Sydney city arts district, within walking distance of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Museum of Contemporary Art. The gallery represents many of Australia’s most prominent established artists, including Elisabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod, Lucy Culliton, Idris Murphy, Wendy Sharpe and Guy Warren, across a number of media, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper. 

Michael Reid Gallery in Surry Hills represents the work of established contemporary Australian and New Zealand artists. Many of the gallery’s practitioners have a strong focus on contemporary photography as well as urban Australian Aboriginal artists. Michael Reid’s new gallery outpost in Newport, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where I’m the creative director, is the home to emerging artists and ceramic exhibitions. 

Wentworth Galleries, in the city centre, embraces both European-style contemporary art and Australian Aboriginal art, eschewing the curatorial division between them by showing both together based on merit — with a strong leaning to popular and collectible Australian Aboriginal artists.” 

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney CREDIT: Destination NSW

People visiting the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

#ilovesydney

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney CREDIT: Destination NSW

People visiting the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

#ilovesydney

19th Biennale of Sydney CREDIT: Destination NSW

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been contributing to the Sydney art scene since the 1980s. 

#ilovesydney

19th Biennale of Sydney CREDIT: Destination NSW

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been contributing to the Sydney art scene since the 1980s. 

#ilovesydney

If you had more time, which other galleries would be on your list?

“I’d stick to the inner city so I could see as many galleries as possible. Arthouse Gallery in Rushcutters Bay is a must — it exhibits the work of emerging and established contemporary Australian artists, representing a stylistically varied, comprehensive view of contemporary art showcased in a beautiful space. 

“In nearby Paddington, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been a fixture on the local art scene since the 1980s and has played an enduring role in supporting the careers of some of Australia's most envelope-pushing contemporary artists, including Bill Henson and Del Kathryn Barton. 

Liverpool Street Gallery, in Darlinghurst, exhibits innovative abstract, realist and figurative paintings, as well as sculptures. The exciting combination of different media and diverse artists is designed to encourage both collectors and admirers of contemporary art.  

“Another East Sydney fixture is .M Contemporary, which aims to create a cross-cultural conversation through exhibiting and supporting emerging and established artists from around the world. The all-encompassing gamut of genres includes painting, sculpture, ceramic, as well as light and digital technologies. 

“I’d also head to Ken Done Gallery in The Rocks — Ken is an art-industry stalwart and one of the nation’s most recognised and beloved artists. His work is often described as being the most original style to come out of Australia, and his paintings are in collections throughout the world.” 

What’s the best thing about smaller Sydney galleries?

“There are some brilliant small and artist-led galleries in Sydney, which showcase dynamic and exciting art — often from more emerging artists. They often take risks and have an exciting, edgy element to their offerings. Great examples are Firstdraft in Woolloomooloo, China Heights in Surry Hills and Wellington St Projects in Chippendale.” 

Arthouse Gallery in Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay. CREDIT: Clifford How's Antipodean Light 2020 Courtesy of Arthouse Gallery Sydney

Arthouse Gallery exhibits the work of emerging and established contemporary Australian artists

#ilovesydney

Arthouse Gallery in Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay. CREDIT: Clifford How's Antipodean Light 2020 Courtesy of Arthouse Gallery Sydney

Arthouse Gallery exhibits the work of emerging and established contemporary Australian artists

#ilovesydney

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