Contemporary art virgin? Walk Sydney’s galleries

On a wet Friday day I set out in search of some of Sydney’s galleries in Surry Hills and Chippendale. Using the Museums and Galleries mobile friendly website, I chose five galleries in close proximity and loaded them into my phone creating a personalised trail.

Ready to immerse myself in the world of contemporary art, I arrived at my first destination promptly at 9am, 2 hours before any of the galleries opened. First lesson for the day: always check the M&GNSW site for gallery opening hours.

Lesson no.1 was followed closely by Lesson no.2: prepare for all weather conditions. And so it was at 11am and soaking wet that I fell in the doors at Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst.

Here I stumbled upon a combination of traditional and modern Japanese calligraphy by award winning calligrapher Keikou Aoyama. The traditional pieces included paintings of Japanese symbols translated to English with one word responses including ‘dragon’, ‘fantasy’ and ‘life’. The best ones were ‘darkness’ and ‘cave’. These presented more than an appreciation of hand writing and calligraphy, recreating the beautiful dark environments of their namesake and contrasting lighter parts of the artworks with the beauty of reflections and the moon. It was an evocative way of seeing calligraphy and showcased its potential for expression of mood and emotion.

Lesson no.3: try to think outside the square and never assume an artwork in a constant state of flux is a box of chilli powder.

My personalised trail told me next stop was Chalk Horse a short 5 minute walk through Surry Hills. Unfamiliar with the layout of the Gallery I inadvertently walked into the artists’ workshop. Instead of being annoyed by my intrusion the gallery manager, James Kerr, offered to show me through the gallery space. The current exhibition, Bathysphere, presents examples of minimalism, props and art performances. Most notable was ‘Desiccated Vases’ a glass box filled with crushed petals,  the viewer able to pick up and shake the contents to reposition a new image which is in a constant time of flux. Lesson no.3: try to think outside the square and never assume an artwork in a constant state of flux is a box of chilli powder.

Next on the trail was the Mils Gallery located two minutes away on Randle Street. On show was a photography exhibition showcasing the stories of the earthquake that struck North-East Japan in 2011. ‘Aftermath’ resonated with me because my sister had been caught in the turmoil of the earthquake resulting in 12 frantic days in my family’s life. The photos showcased the rebuilding and peoples’ emotional reactions to the disaster with messages of the survivors revealing the enduring nature of the human spirit.

Where to next? Consult phone again. Lesson no.4:  embrace your surroundings before consulting mobile technology. Had I looked up, street signs would have shown me the way – Firstdraft gallery being just around the corner.

At Firstdraft I discovered the UFO demountable of Jaqueline Drinkall’s UFOlogy project. Complemented with a picture book, the project stretches back eight years and appeals to the curiosity of the unknown. In correlation with a rocking horse placed in the middle of the gallery it definitely gave me an ominous ambience about the place. 

The last gallery on my trail was White Rabbit, and not wanting to stop the trend of walking from destination to destination I spent the next 15 minutes getting there. If that doesn’t grab you, jump on the 393 bus at Chalmers Street.

And so in finale I met Lesson no.5:  Never assume art can’t shock you. Even as a 21 yr old male. Certain works had me gawking –an uneasy state exacerbated by an elderly couple nearby and their calm appraisal of the work – showing a woman snorting and a man injecting drugs. It left me feeling everything wasn’t quite right with the world.

It was great to find, select and visit these galleries using the M&G mobile website – I was able to sample some of the best Asian contemporary art, traditional calligraphy and modern photography, and in 4 easy hours took me from being a contemporary art virgin to contemporary art initiate.


Simon Conyard, Digital intern. M&G NSW

Editor’s note: The exhibitions described in Simon’s article are no longer on show. Check our What’s on pages to see what’s currently on display.

Previous Post1100 handmade bolts
Next PostBlacktown City Art Prize winners announced