10 Unmissable Art Exhibitions of 2018

From the inner-city to the regional, Australian galleries seriously punch above their weight, and they’re bringing a line-up of world-class art events to our shores this year.

This afternoon we’re excited to share our pick of the must-see blockbuster exhibitions happening across Australia in 2018!

Elle Murrell

teamLabs’ interactive digital projection, ‘Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement’ at NGV Triennial. Photo – courtesy of NGV.

Nendo’s ”Manga Chairs’; Pae White’s ‘Untitled’ illusionary opt art and textile installation at NGV Triennial. Photos – courtesy of NGV.

Elle Murrell
24th of January 2018

NGV Triennial

Until April 15th
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International, Melbourne

If you’re yet to go, make it happen. Visiting NGV International’s most ambitious and varied offering to date is, at the least, a tri-weekly to-do for me – it’s that good!

Displayed on all four levels of the St. Kilda Road gallery, you’ll discover the work of over 100 artists and designers from 32 countries, spanning cutting-edge technologies, architecture, animation, performance, film, painting, drawing, fashion design, tapestry and sculpture.

Upon entering prepare to be stopped in your tracks by Xu Zhen’s 18-metre long, ‘Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana’, the largest work in his ‘Eternal’ series and one of 20 large-scale artworks commissioned by NGV. From the playful to the haunting, other highlights include: teamLabs’ interactive digital projection, ‘Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement’; giant skulls by local artist Ron Mueck in his largest work to date, ‘Mass’; Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Flower Obsession’; Nendo’s ‘Manga Chairs’; Pae White’s ‘Untitled’ illusionary opt art and textile installation; and the quirky replica Moroccan tea house, designed by Hassan Hajjaj.

There’s more; until January 28th, Triennial EXTRA adds a host of DJs, dancers, bars and talks to the mix, as well as Supernormal’s pop-up restaurant Natsu!

Installation views: ‘Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of the Rainbow’ at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2017. Photos – Natasha Harth, QAGOMA.

Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow

Until February 11th
Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane

Australia is being graced with two exhibitions by phenomenal Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the moment – Brisbanites and Melbournians it’s a quick trip for you, everyone else in-between, it’s surely worth the travel.

The epic GOMA exhibition focuses on Kusama’s vast body of beguiling creations from the 1950s to present, exploring key motifs – yep, that includes polka dots, but also deeper themes exploring her engagement with the body, and conception of space.

There’s early painterly experiments, celebrated ‘net’ paintings, performance art, soft-sculpture, assemblage, iconic ‘infinity rooms’ and large-scale installations of her later career, before a presentation of most recent paintings from her arresting ‘My Eternal Soul’ series (2009 – ongoing).

It’s also one for the kids, with the Children’s Art Centre at GOMA hosting the immersive interactive ‘The obliteration room (2002 – ongoing)’. This collaboration between the artist and QAGOMA, which debuted at ‘The 4th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, has since been experienced by more than five million people around the world!

Visit soon before the show wraps up in mid-February.

Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018 is coming to Bendigo Art Gallery. Photos – courtesy Courtesy of the Design Museum, Helsinki.

Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018

March 3rd to June 11th
Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Bendigo Gallery of Art on several occasions over the last couple of years – who could forget their Marilyn Monroe showcase, complete with eight-metre-high sculpture! Their attention to detail never disappoints.

Though that Hollywood trailblazer has long since departed, a duo of wonderful Finnish women is about to step into the spotlight. Armi Ratia and Riitta Immonen founded Marimekko during the golden age of post-war modernism, and their textile and fashion company went on to garner widespread international fame for its bold pop-art prints throughout the 1960s and 70s.

At the same time, the women’s lib movement was making leaps and bounds, and Marimekko’s loud patterns and unconventional ready-to-wear outfits ‘brought colour and informality to an otherwise self-conscious fashion world’.

This vibrant exhibition will trace the rise of Marimekko and explore its defining aesthetic, through more than 60 outfits, metres of original fabrics, homewares, sketches and other archival treasures.

The gallery’s cafe is well worth a stop in while you’re there, and consider making a weekend away of it, so you have more time to explore this gem of a goldrush city!

The Biennale of Sydney is back in 2018, and its 45th anniversary promises something pretty special! Pictured here: Semiconductor’s ‘Earthworks 2016’ and Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Law of the Journey 2017’. Photos – courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales.

21st Biennale of Sydney

March 16th to June 11th
Art Gallery of New South Wales and various venues citywide, Sydney
Free and Ticketed

Held every two years, the Biennale of Sydney is back in 2018, and its 45th anniversary promises something pretty special! The city-wide contemporary art event will roll out across seven participating venues, including Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Bringing exceptional new projects by a diverse field of celebrated international artists, the 21st edition Biennale is curated by Mami Kataoka. Under the theme ‘Superposition: equilibrium and engagement’ (a quantum mechanical term), the showcase will examine how this principle might operate in the world today.

‘The participating artists in the 21st Biennale of Sydney have been chosen to offer a panoramic view of how opposing understandings and interpretations can come together in a state of ‘equilibrium.’ Mami explains.

Fittingly, artist Ai Weiwei will be back in Australia to deliver the keynote address alongside Mami at the Sydney Opera House. For a comprehensive list of other creatives involved and associated events visit the website here.

Artworks and installation view of the 2017 Telstra NATSIAA, including vessel byPepai Jangala Carroll and painting by Nyunmiti Bruton. Photos – courtesy of Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA)

From August 10th
Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory (MAGNT), Darwin

Founded in 1984, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award celebrates the validity and cultural diversity of contemporary Indigenous artistic expression, and has come to be regarded as one of the premier national events on the Australian Indigenous art calendar. The finalists of these coveted and lucrative (thanks to long-running sponsor Telstra) awards are exhibited at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory following the announcement in early August.

Late last year I was so excited to spend an eye-opening afternoon at MAGNT during a stop-over in Darwin. There, I got to view some captivating large-scale artworks in real life (rather than on my monitor, where I’d been first introduced to several artists via our Indigenous Art column).

From works on canvas to immersive audio-visual pieces, and disarmingly conceptual installations, the 34th Telstra NATSIAA exhibition was unforgettable! I expect the 35th to be nothing short of this too.

Since its inception, NATSIAA has profiled the immense changes and trends within Indigenous art that emerged from almost invisibility to become a significant force in contemporary fine art. An obvious change has been in the growing range of techniques used by entrants, now reflected in the five subsidiary media awards for bark painting, general painting, works on paper, three dimensional work and in multimedia’ explains Margie West, Emeritus Curator of Aboriginal Art and NATSIAA Founder, MAGNT. ‘NATSIAA remains true to its initial objective by providing unknown, emerging, and established artists from around the country the opportunity to be seen.’

A sneak peek of’ what’s coming to NGV as part of their Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition: MoMa at NGV., Including Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Drowning Girl 1963’ and Piet Mondrian’s ‘Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow 1937-42’ Photos – courtesy of NGV.


June 9th to October 7th
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International, Melbourne

While it’s hard to get excited about Summer’s end, ‘the greatest modern art museum in the world’ arriving on our doorstep will help. The National Gallery of Victoria, in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art, New York, will present MoMA at NGV as the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition in 2018.

Prepare yourself for a unique survey of the MoMA’s iconic collection – approximately 200 key works, tracing the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to the digital and global present.

MoMA’s early acquisitions, including masterworks by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne will be on show, as will pieces by pioneering cubist and futurist artists Pablo Picasso and Umberto Boccioni, the radical abstractions of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, the surreal paintings of Salvador Dalí and Frida Kahlo, and works by Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock…(breathe).

The show will also chronicle art from Minimalism through to Post Modernism c/o Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, Lynda Benglis, Sol LeWitt, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Keith Haring, as well as the next wave of iconic artists like Kara Walker, Rineke Dijkstra, Andreas Gursky, Olafur Eliasson, Huang Yong Ping, Mona Hatoum, El Anatsui and Camille Henrot.

Objects from MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection will be arriving as well, to the delight of architects, designers and artists alike.

Internationally exclusive to Melbourne, and more then two years in the making, I might be editing my earlier statement about NGV Triennale being the gallery’s ‘most ambitious exhibition to date’ when MoMA at NGV opens mid-year!

An installation view of The Museum of Everything currently on at MONA, alongside artworks on display. Photos – courtesy of the MONA.

The Museum of Everything

Until April 2nd
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart

The onslaught of acronyms and collaborations could have you a little confused at this point, but stay with me.

Next on the list is Museum of Old and New Art, which has invited The Museum of Everything down to Tasmania. For this reason (among others) you should head there too.

Opening in London in 2009, The Museum of Everything is a travelling institution, advocating for ‘the visibility of art that falls outside the confines of the art world proper; the work of ordinary people, working far (literally or otherwise) from the cultural metropolis’. Hence it being a perfect match for Australia’s own boundary-pushing private gallery.

What to expect? The extraordinary… from the passionate fringe! ‘Our museum stretches, I hope, the possibility of who has the right to be considered an artist,’ says The Museum of Everything founder James Brett. His temporarily Tasmania-based showcase is produced by the likes of transcendent scientists, self-taught architects, and citizen inventors, creating their own art/folklore (in some particular examples from the confines of a hospital or prison) to challenge established histories of culture and place.

What you will find on your visit, beckons MONA, is ‘a jolly fine collection, cor blimey, of drawings, paintings, sculptures, photography, environments and assemblies. There are wondrous samples of the Art Brut/Outsider Art canon (oh, the irony) as well as the ‘newly discovered’ (as our British imperial overlords would have it), alongside work from studios for artists with disabilities. We’re excited. This stuff matters, in a social-justice sense and in an art-lovers sense.’

A preview of Maison Cartier jewellery that will be showcased as part of the epic Cartier: The Exhibition later this year, including: the Queen’s ‘Halo’ tiara, worn by Kate Middleton at her wedding to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; and the crocodile necklace worn by actress María Félix among other dazzling designs. Photos – courtesy of National Gallery of Australia.

Cartier: The Exhibition

March 30th to July 22nd
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Two dazzling crocodiles, conjoined to form one of the most covetable necklaces of all time, the same gilded reptiles that femme fatale María Félix once wore, making a fashion statement AND a kick-ass power play – I got to see them!! The preview of this exhibition is etched into my memory; the gems are astounding and the goldsmithing more meticulous than one could imagine, I mean, let’s not forget, this is metal and rock formed so exquisitely as to lay gently on the wearer. 

Even if you’re not that into jewels, Cartier: The Exhibition is a glimmering window into almost two centuries of design movements and aesthetics du jour.

The showcase will comprise more than 300 spectacular Maison Cartier items, with loans from royal families, celebrities and the astonishing Cartier Collection itself, including wow-factor jewellery, one-of-a-kind timepieces and precious objects.

Highlights will include Dame Nellie Melba’s diamond stomacher brooch, the Queen’s ‘Halo’ tiara, worn by Kate Middleton at her wedding to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Daisy Fellowes’ Tutti-Frutti Hindu necklace, Barbara Hutton’s imperial jadeite necklace, Princess Grace of Monaco’s 10.48-carat diamond engagement ring, Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond and ruby necklace and a selection from the NGA’s Ballets Russes costumes.

This Canberra exhibition will follow the history of the French house, delving into the incredible lives of glittering international clientele, and those of the master craftspeople who created for them.

Also visit for the unprecedented access to a carefully curated selection of original preparatory drawings, portraits, historic photographs, film, advertising material, jewellery-making tools and equipment, as well as talks and events!

The 2017 Archibald Prize exhibition installed at the Art Gallery of NSW, alongside Archibald finalist artworks: Yvette Coppersmith’s ‘Professor Gillian Triggs’ oil on linen (137.5x110cm); and Rowan Robertson’s ‘Sun shines in the rusty morning (Riverina, NSW)’ oil on linen (50x45cm). Photos – courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales and Geelong Gallery.

Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2018

May 12th to September 9th
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Geelong Gallery, Geelong

Showcasing the finalists and winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes was a highlight of our 2017 art coverage, both according to us and to you (thanks for reading it, lots!). There is no way, then, that I could look past including these exhibitions for ‘Australia’s most important art prizes’ in this must-see list.

Unfortunately, I can’t predict which artists will be included in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman yet, nor who or what they will have painted. What I do know, from the awards’ exemplarily track record, is that these three shows, are not to be missed.

The good news to this end is that after they debut together, in adjacent gallery spaces at the Art Gallery of NSW (who also administers all three prizes), the Archibald exhibition will travel interstate to additional venues, including for a showing at Geelong Gallery in Victoria – see you there!

The Lyon Housemuseum in Kew is set to become one of the largest art precincts in Melbourne when it’s expansion opens in November. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Lyon Housemuseum Galleries

From November
Lyon Housemuseum Precinct in Kew, Melbourne

Early in 2017 we were blown away by a new discovery right on our doorstep, the Lyon Housemuseum. (No, that’s not a typo – for a quick refresher, watch this video before reading on!)

The Lyon Housemuseum is a remarkable Australian home belonging to one very special family: Corbett Lyon, a fourth generation architect, and co-director of Lyons Architecture; his partner Yueji; and their daughters Carlin and Jaqlin. Though it is their functional family home, it is also a truly innovative art museum, open for tours on designated days.

As if its whole existence wasn’t amazing and generous enough, Corbett and his family have been working on the construction of a new public art museum, Lyon Housemuseum Galleries, right next door, which will be run by the not-for-profit Lyon Foundation.

Set to open in November, the new purpose-built Lyon Housemuseum Galleries will launch with a huge exhibition of all-new commissions by Australian contemporary artists.

Lucy, can we book our next TDF team trip?

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