Sydney’s thriving contemporary art scene is particularly notable for its talented contingent of Aboriginal artists. Some work in traditional ways with ancient iconography, and others draw inspiration from the larger modern art world, combining Aboriginal and current techniques to dramatic effect.
I always make a point of seeking out Aboriginal masterpieces in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but works of superlative quality can be found in private galleries, as well. These are my two favorites:
The newest branch of this gallery occupies a grand Renaissance Revival space in Sydney’s former General Post Office. It has the best collection of Aboriginal painting I’ve seen outside a museum, intermingled with an excellent selection of other contemporary Australian works. My favorite artists included Kudditji Kngwarreye, whose canvases glow with Rothko-like intensity; Gloria Petyarre, whose bright medicine-leaf paintings hypnotically flow and vibrate; and Polly Kngale, whose joyously colorful abstract works recall Impressionist flower gardens. No contemporary art collector visiting Sydney should miss this gallery.
1 Martin Place.
Set in a charming 19th-century townhouse, this rambling gallery in a touristy section of The Rocks neighborhood has a very fine collection of large Aboriginal paintings, including pieces by some of the same artists shown at Wentworth Gallery. But it also sells contemporary works in an array of other media, including glass, ceramics, metal and wood. Incised boab seed pods make excellent souvenirs, and I loved Philip Bourke’s carved burl-wood pieces.
45 Argyle Street.