Artspace and AGNSW both get makeovers in 2021

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The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) and Artspace are more than just two of Sydney’s most significant cultural institutions; they are neighbours, separated by just a few blocks and a steep set of steps. So it seems fitting that both Artspace, in the Gunnery building in Woolloomooloo, and the 19th and 20th-century AGNSW buildings will both be undergoing renovation in 2021.

Artspace recently received five million dollars from the NSW State Government to transform the Gunnery, an early 20th-century warehouse on Sydney harbour. The timing of this funding is fortuitous. As AGNSW director Michael Brand said in a statement when the funding was announced, “This investment will assist in strengthening the existing collaboration the Gallery and Artspace enjoy and we’re very much looking forward to expanding this partnership. With the Sydney Modern Project due to open in late 2022, this investment in Artspace and the Gunnery is also timely as it will contribute to the enhancement of Sydney’s eastern cultural precinct.”

Work on the new buildings for the AGNSW Sydney Modern Project, which will almost double available exhibition space and will be Australia’s first 6-star Green Star design-rated art museum, is already underway. But recently the AGNSW announced that its pre-existing galleries are also getting a makeover.

View from Woolloomooloo. Image of the Sydney Modern Project produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA.
Architectural rendering of the Gallery’s expansion, the Sydney Modern Project, as viewed from the art garden. Image of the Sydney Modern Project as produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA © Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2018. All artworks shown in the rendering are indicative only.

These renovations will take place in 2021 and will include: restoration of the entrance vestibule and the grand courts in the 19th-century building designed by Walter Liberty Vernon, reinstating the internal balconies and some external windows in the 1972 wing designed by Andrew Andersons, and relocating and expanding both the major temporary exhibition space and the Capon Research Library and National Art Archive. The AGNSW will remain open during these upgrades, and the works are due for completion in time for the opening of the Sydney Modern complex in late 2022.

Artspace is working to a similar timeframe, although the gallery will close for approximately 12 months while the works are completed. Their major renovations include: reorienting the gallery entrance towards the Forbes Street plaza, expanding exhibition spaces across the ground and first floors, increasing the number of artist studios, and improving accessibility.

As executive director at Artspace Alexie Glass-Kantor explains, the aim is for “universal access in terms of equity and inclusion in programming.” This includes making it easier to access the building via new lifts, but also making Artspace more inviting to its neighbours. The new entrance will not only face the AGNSW Sydney Modern complex, but, as Glass-Kantor points out, “In reorienting The Gunnery to open onto the plaza, we are connecting with the Woolloomooloo community, which is one of the last pockets of social housing in the inner city of Sydney. This is a really important community for us that we’ve been working with extensively for the past five years.”

There is no doubt that 2020 has been a tough year for the arts in Australia but after receiving such significant NSW State Government investment, Glass-Kantor is looking towards a bright future for Artspace. “That there is a commitment to a vision that is supporting a non-collecting institution to work with exhibitions, education, community engagement, performance in the expanded field and studio practice – in the centre of the city, connecting to all parts of the state– is really exciting to me,” she says. “And I’m so happy that this will be something that we can leave for future generations.”

Tracey Clement