Major international art commissions announced for opening of Sydney Modern Project

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Major international art commissions announced for opening of Sydney Modern Project
Lisa Reihana. Photo Anna Briggs.

SYDNEY.- The Art Gallery of New South Wales announced today nine major commissions for the transformative Sydney Modern Project, which is expanding the Art Gallery with the addition of a state-of-the-art new building designed by Pritzker Prize-wining architects SANAA and a new public art garden, on a spectacular site overlooking Sydney Harbour. The expansion will open later this year.

This is the largest commissioning program in the Art Gallery’s 150-year history, and all the works are for the permanent collection.

The commissioned artists, from Australia and around the world, are Lorraine Connelly-Northey (Australia), Karla Dickens (Australia), Simryn Gill (Australia/Malaysia), Jonathan Jones (Australia), Yayoi Kusama (Japan), Lee Mingwei (France/USA), Richard Lewer (Australia), Lisa Reihana (Aotearoa New Zealand), and Francis Upritchard, (England, Italy and Aotearoa New Zealand).

Prominent within the commissions are works by Indigenous Australian artists and many of the new works contribute to important global conversations of our time from the Art Gallery’s unique perspective in Sydney and the Asia Pacific. Several of the artists have a longstanding relationship with the Art Gallery through work held in the permanent collection.

Among the commissions are a major work by Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones to be realized at the heart of the expanded campus that will link the new and existing Art Gallery buildings and respond to the site’s history on Gadigal land.

Dr Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales said: “The extraordinary Sydney Modern Project art commissions connect deeply with our sense of place in Sydney and the architecture and landscape around them. They’ll be some of the first artworks that welcome visitors to our expanded campus, with many able to be experienced night and day. Together these new works establish the expanded Art Gallery of New South Wales as a global art museum offering a unique experience in Sydney – one that is responsive, purposeful and engaging and where each visit creates new encounters, new stories and new connections.”

Deputy director and director of collections Maud Page said: “These exceptional artists are creating bold and compelling works for our completely reimagined Art Gallery. They offer humor and challenge; they confront, prod and delight, powerfully heralding new art histories. Artists address where we are now and are acutely aware of the paths we have taken to get here. They remind us what it is to be human today as many of the Sydney Modern Project commissions intertwine with urgent social issues.”


Working on Waradgerie Country, Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s inspiration from traditional knowledge of countries of Aboriginal Australia allows her to create boundless, rustic metal sculptural representations of traditional Aboriginal–Australian bush bags/fiber bags.

Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens is one of the most compelling artists working in Australia today. She brings dark humor to her unflinching interrogation of race, gender and injustice, revealing her often raw pain along the way. Born in Sydney, Dickens is now based on Bundjalung Country in Lismore, NSW.

Simryn Gill’s practice includes drawing, photography, printing and making books in which writing becomes inextricable from images. Gill lives in Sydney, returning often to her other base in Port Dickson, Malaysia.

Jonathan Jones is a Sydney-based artist of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of south-east Australia. He works closely with community to create a range of projects that talk to both the historical and contemporary. Jones’ projects are grounded in research and work with local Aboriginal elders and community to tell local stories.

From a young age, Yayoi Kusama, the globally renowned artist and novelist, experienced visual and auditory hallucinations and began creating her signature net and polka-dot pattern pictures. In 1957, she went to the USA and began making net paintings and soft sculptures, as well developing installations that made use of mirrors and lights, establishing herself as a leading avant-garde artist.

Lee Mingwei, born in Taiwan in 1964 and currently living in Paris and New York, creates participatory installations, where strangers can explore issues of trust, intimacy, and self-awareness. His projects are often open-ended scenarios for everyday interaction and take on different forms and change over the course of an exhibition.

Born in New Zealand in 1970, Richard Lewer has lived and worked in Melbourne since 1996. A painter, draughtsman, printmaker, sculptor and video artist, he presents an unsparing vision of the human condition, with empathy and without judgment.

Māori artist Lisa Reihana was born in 1964 in Aotearoa New Zealand and lives and works in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Her art making is driven by a powerful connection to community, which informs her collaborative production method, grounded in working kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face). Reihana represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2017 with the large-scale video installation In Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-17).

Francis Upritchard is a New Zealand-born artist working between England, Italy and New Zealand. Between 2001-03, she co-directed and founded Bart Wells Institute, an artist-run gallery in London. Upritchard represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2009.

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