art gallery NSW director michael brand shares update on SANAA's sydney modern project

Apr 22, 2021

in may 2015, SANAA, the japanese architecture firm led by kazuyo sejima and ryue nishizawa, won an international competition to expand the art gallery of new south wales (art gallery NSW). the standalone expansion, known as the ‘sydney modern project’ was designed to connect to the existing gallery building via a public art garden, creating a civic campus adjacent to the royal botanic garden and overlooking the australian city’s famous harbor. now, as of april 2021, construction is well underway with completion scheduled for 2022.

‘SANAA’s design is transparent and elegant, responding sensitively to our unique setting overlooking sydney harbour, on gadigal country,’ says michael brand, the director of art gallery NSW, speaking to designboom. ‘the interlocked pavilions sit lightly on the site, following the natural topography and offering remarkable views of the outdoors, as they step down toward woolloomooloo and the harbor.’

shown here in updated images, the expansion will almost double art gallery NSW’s total exhibition space, from 9,000 to 16,000 square meters (97,000 to 172,000 square feet) and will feature galleries specifically designed to accommodate art of the 21st century. ‘the creation of the new building by SANAA now gives the gallery a campus, which features a land bridge that will become a new outdoor public art garden,’ brand explains. ‘the design delivers much-needed gallery space for our growing art collection, while respecting and enhancing public use of the surrounding landscape, retaining significant trees, and improving the accessibility of the cultural precinct.’

importantly, the sydney modern project will give prominence to aboriginal and torres strait islander art, as well as revitalizing the gallery’s existing building with its collection of australian art from the early 19th-century to the present. ‘the sydney modern project is marked by openness and egalitarianism, both by the nature of its architectural design and by our curatorial program,’ michael brand tells designboom. ‘when the new building opens, it will be a prominent destination for aboriginal and torres strait islander art. by creating new spaces and revitalizing old ones, we’ll have increased flexibility to engage schools, communities, and families, and extensive outdoor green spaces for the public to enjoy. I’m especially thrilled that our new spaces will provide artists with extraordinary opportunities to work in new ways.’

with construction already underway, the ‘sydney modern project’ is scheduled for completion in 2022. ‘we are thrilled to see the steel structure rising and concrete being poured, and also to see the historic, decommissioned WWII-era oil tank begin to take shape as a contemporary art gallery,’ brand continues, referencing the oil tanks that SANAA’s new building is being constructed on top of. this vast, dramatic, columned underground art space will display large-scale contemporary works, including specially commissioned installations and site-specific performances. the completion of the project will form part of art gallery NSW’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which are now underway.

badu gili: wonder women – full projection video courtesy of the art gallery of new south wales and the sydney opera house

art gallery NSW has collaborated with the sydney opera house to mark the annual badu gili festival of first nations culture. the work of six leading aboriginal women artists represented in the art gallery’s permanent collection will light up each evening in a six-minute animation on the opera house’s sails — as seen in the video above. curated by coby edgar, the art gallery NSW curator of aboriginal and torres strait islander art, ‘badu gili 2021: wonder women’ weaves together the work of artists from across australia: wadawurrung elder marlene gilson; yankunytjatjara woman kaylene whiskey; luritja woman sally mulda; western arrarnta women judith inkamala and marlene rubuntja, and the late kamilaroi woman aunty elaine russell.

image of the sydney modern project as produced by kazuyo sejima + ryue nishizawa / SANAA © art gallery of new south wales, 2021

the animation of their works brings to life stories of shared histories, from the battle of the eureka stockade, fought between rebellious gold miners and colonial forces and the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, to everyday life in aboriginal communities. from april 23, 2021, the six-minute animation of artworks will appear hourly on the opera house’s eastern bennelong sails each night from sunset, enabled by the NSW government’s ‘culture up late’ initiative.

‘while we work to complete our expanded art museum campus through the sydney modern project that will see first nations art displayed front and center, we are proud to share some of our collection highlights with the world on the sails of the sydney opera house,’ says michael brand. the sydney modern project is on track to open to the public in 2022. in the meantime, the art gallery of new south wales remains open to the public.

SANAA’s kazuyo sejima and ryue nishizawa discuss the ‘sydney modern project’ video courtesy of art gallery NSW

an animated fly through of the ‘sydney modern project’ video courtesy of art gallery NSW

kaylene whiskey | 'dolly visits indulkana' 2020 | acrylic on linen with plastic jewels, 168 x 198.5 cm art gallery of new south wales, purchased with funds provided by the aboriginal collection benefactors group 2020 | © kaylene whiskey | photo: AGNSW, mim stirling

elaine russell | 'lachlan river, our childhood dreams' 1994 synthetic polymer paint on cardboard, 73.2 x 99.9 cm | art gallery of new south wales, purchased with funds provided by the australian collection benefactors program 1995 | © estate of elaine russell | photo: AGNSW, christopher snee

marlene rubuntja | 'woman with dilly bags and dilly bag hat' 2019 mixed media, plastic, woolen blankets dyed with bush plants, cotton, wool, hessian, feathers, 26 x 31 x 34 cm art gallery of new south wales, purchased with funds provided by the aboriginal collection benefactors group 2019 | © marlene rubuntja | photo: AGNSW, felicity jenkins

sally m. nangala mulda | 'tail get cold...' 2018 | synthetic polymer paint on linen, 45 x 90 cm | art gallery of new south wales, mollie gowing acquisition fund for contemporary aboriginal art 2019 | © sally m nangala mulda | photo: AGNSW, diana panuccio

judith inkamala | 'ura kngarra mpintjama (a big fire is coming)' 2020 terracotta and underglazes, 44 x 31 cm | art gallery of new south wales, purchased with funds provided by the mollie douglas bequest fund 2020 | © judith inkamala | photo: AGNSW, felicity jenkins

marlene gilson | 'ballarat, my country' 2019 | synthetic polymer paint on linen, 120 x 150 cm art gallery of new south wales, mollie gowing acquisition fund for contemporary aboriginal art 2020 | © marlene gilson | photo: AGNSW, diana panuccio

coby edgar, art gallery NSW curator of aboriginal and torres strait islander art | image © anna kucera

project info:

name: sydney modern project location: sydney, australia architect: SANAA client: art gallery of new south wales (AGNSW) cost: $344 million AUD (approx. $246 million USD) status: under construction, expected completion by late 2022 previous coverage: october 2020, november 2018, november 2017, may 2015