Australia offers art lovers access to a world-class array of galleries, museums and exhibition spaces. And while the country’s most prestigious collections of fine art are generally to be found in our capital cities, don’t discount the offerings of regional galleries – many of which punch well above their weight in terms of the priceless works they hold. Tap into your inner culture vulture by ticking off these ten top Aussie art galleries, and book your accommodation for each at ChoiceHotels.com.
1. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
As you would expect, the national’s capital is choc-a-block with distinguished arts facilities. But if you only have time to tick off a couple, the pre-eminent National Gallery of Australia should certainly be one of them. The gallery you see today opened in 1982 following a 14-year design and build process, but it was actually more than seven decades in the making. The gallery holds a staggering 160,000 works in its permanent collection, which includes Sidney Nolan’s famous Ned Kelly series and Jackson Pollock’s controversial Blue Poles.
Need a place to stay? Quality Hotel Dickson Canberra is perfectly positioned as a base for exploring the capital’s fabulous arts scene. Guests enjoy complimentary parking and WiFi.
2. National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne
No list of Australia’s top art caches would be complete without the superb National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. The gallery has two sites – NGV International on St Kilda Road, and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square. Leave enough time to see them both. The gallery has a total collection of 75,000 works (with only a fraction of them on display at any one time). Lose yourself in the epic halls of 16th, 17th and 18th-century European art at NGV International, or admire the whimsical portrayals of the Aussie bush by the Australian impressionists of the late 19th century.
Stuck at home due to COVID19? You can still experience NGV exhibitions from home with their virtual tours.
Need a place to stay? Browse Melbourne accommodation options
3. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
While the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney occupies a magnificent Art Deco-era building adjacent to Circular Quay, its remit is rooted firmly in the present. The museum showcases the work of living artists and holds a collection of around 4,000 Australian pieces, including a strong showing of Indigenous works. Strong colour, striking execution, and a wide range of mediums are the hallmarks of the collection. Head for the rooftop café at the end of your visit for a mighty fine coffee and breathtaking views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour.
Need a place to stay? Browse Sydney accommodation options
4. Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide’s North Terrace is the cultural epicentre of the city, and the highly accessible Art Gallery of South Australia is its flagship institution. The gallery came into being in 1881 and moved into its present neoclassical digs in 1900 (they’ve since been extended a number of times). The collection has around 45,000 pieces in total and encompasses an array of mediums, including paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and ceramics. The gallery holds one of the country’s finest collections of Asian art and the only significant collection of Islamic art.
Need a place to stay? Browse Adelaide accommodation options
5. Art Gallery of WA
Perth is like one giant outdoor art gallery, with public art adorning squares and civic spaces across the city. Keep an eye out for key works like Spanda (known locally as ‘the paperclip’) at Elizabeth Quay, Wirin in Yagan Square, and Grow Your Own by Perth-born, New York-based artist James Angus in Forrest Place. Over in the Northbridge cultural precinct, the Art Gallery of WA maintains one of the country’s strongest showings of Indigenous art, along with colonial and contemporary art. The Six Seasons gallery is dedicated solely to works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Need a place to stay? Browse Perth accommodation options
7. Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)
Brisbane’s cultural landscape has changed beyond all recognition over the past two decades, thanks in no small part to the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in 2006. You’ll find it and the adjoining Queensland Art Gallery in the Queensland Cultural Centre in Southbank. The joint 17,000-piece collection holds plenty of surprises. Look for works at QAG by Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso. The contemporary collection at GOMA maintains an emphasis on Queensland artists, including Gordon Bennett, Robert MacPherson, Tracey Moffatt and Judith Wright.
Need a place to stay? Browse Brisbane accommodation options
8. Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney
Brett Whiteley is a name most Aussie art lovers will be familiar with, and the Brett Whiteley Studio in Sydney’s Surry Hills celebrates the life and work of one of Australia’s best known contemporary artists. Whitely lived and worked in the studio in Raper Street, which is now managed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The studio has two levels; downstairs is the exhibition space, while the living area and studio itself are upstairs. A mini version of the artist’s famous Almost Once matchstick sculpture adorns the wall by the studio’s front door.
9. Bendigo Art Gallery
Located just two hours by train from Melbourne, Bendigo Art Gallery is one of the Australia’s most prestigious regional arts facilities. The gallery has pulled off some major artistic coups in recent years, staging the phenomenally successful Grace Kelly: Style Icon touring exhibition, and a comprehensive showcase of the costumes and personal effects of Marilyn Monroe. One of the highlights of the permanent collection are the 19th century works by Heidelberg School artists Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts, and 20th century pieces by Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd.
Need a place to stay? Browse Bendigo accommodation options
10. Rockhampton Art Gallery
The Rockhampton Art Gallery is one of the biggest surprises of any visit to this central Queensland city, and holds one of regional Australia’s most significant collections of mid 20th century Australian art. The list of artists featured in the permanent collection reads like a who’s who of 20th century artists and includes Albert Tucker, Fred Williams, John Brack, John Perceval, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. The collection came about in the early 1970s when Rockhampton’s mayor and the local community raised a substantial art fund. It was matched dollar for dollar by government funding. Half a million dollars’ worth of art was acquired, which is now estimated to be worth around $14 million.
Need a place to stay? Check into the Quality Hotel Regent Rockhampton, which is housed in a historic former TAFE college dating back to the early 1900s. The hotel is within walking distance of all Rockhampton’s key attractions.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.