Canberra, known for its monuments and museums, is also home to some of the best art galleries in the nation.
From classical paintings to glassblowing and modern art installations, Australia’s capital has something for every kind of art lover. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, it’s well worth your time to peruse the artistic gems of these world-class art galleries in Canberra.
National Gallery of Australia
Founded in 1967, this relatively young gallery is home to some of the world’s most exquisite art. A shining star of the Canberra art scene, the National Gallery of Australia boasts over 166,000 works of art. With such an impressive collection, the NGA is able to curate an eclectic mix of offerings. The pieces include permanent Australian, Asian, Pacific, European, and American art exhibitions. Just a few steps outside the gallery, you’ll stumble upon a surreal sculpture garden. The artist, Fuji Nakaya, describes his work as a “fog sculpture.”
Continue on to the front of the gallery and you’ll encounter another incredible installation. Here, James Turrell’s Skyspace, allows you to immerse yourself in an entirely new universe. After hours spent exploring the seemingly infinite offerings of the NGA, you can recharge at the café. Once sufficiently caffeinated, it’s time to tick off another of our favourite art galleries in Canberra.
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is undoubtedly a national treasure, featuring both traditional and contemporary portraiture. Established in 1998, the gallery prides itself on exhibiting the faces of Australians from all circles of influence. The diverse collection represents the rich multiculturalism of Australia. The collection weaves a story which Andrew Sayers, the original director, once likened to “a tapestry, rather than a tombstone.”
Notable portraits include those of actress Deborah Mailman by Evert Ploeg; rocker Nick Cave by Howard Arkley, and musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu by Guy Maestri. The Gallery can spark inspiration and allow spectators to connect with the incredible experiences of other Australians.
Canberra Museum and Gallery
Located in the heart of Canberra’s CBD, the Canberra Museum and Gallery is an art museum with an urban edge. CMAG’s pride and joy is undoubtedly its permanent exhibition of Sidney Nolan paintings. These works tell the tale of the prolific artist’s personal journey to critical acclaim.
For the history buff, check out the ‘Seeing Canberra’ exhibit, which explores the capital city’s fascinating tale of creation and modernisation. CMAG has also been known to host events, including classic film screenings and curator-led discussion panels. It’s a perfect playground for art enthusiasts and film aficionados.
One of the more unique art galleries in Canberra and just a few minutes from the city is Canberra Glassworks. Here, you can watch highly-skilled artists play with fire. Head straight to the Hot Shop to witness the artists blowing and shaping glass into whimsical designs.
If you want to get more hands on, book a private lesson and create your own colourful crafts. Or marvel at what the experts have created in the Glassworks Gallery. This is where the finest works of renowned glass artists are on display. You’ll often catch the artists themselves performing in-person talks and lectures, explaining the process. Stop by the Canberra Glassworks Shop on your way out to pick up a one-of-a-kind piece.
Gallery of Small Things
Not to be underestimated for its size, the appropriately named Gallery of Small Things embodies the term small-but-mighty. The gallery features a variety of art disciplines, including jewellery, photography, ceramics, and even hat couture.
Ten minutes from the city centre, visitors can escape urban life and enter GOST’s quaint community in Watson. A celebration of craftsmanship, individuality and all thing small, this gallery is truly a hidden gem. Much to the delight of visitors, many of the pieces on display are for sale. Support the artists and take home a souvenir to remind you of your time in this little, whimsical world.
Drill Hall Gallery
Originally used as a training centre for soldiers during WWII, the Drill Hall has since gained recognition as an art gallery. It’s walls now bear the work of many of Australia’s finest contemporary artists.
The gallery is part of the Australian National University. As a result, the exhibitions are often developed in partnership with the university’s scholars, leading to thought-provoking and educational exhibits. Many art fanatics flock to this gallery to see Riverbend, Sidney Nolan’s incredible panoramic painting of the bush. For experts, academics and amateurs alike, the Drill Hall Gallery offers an unforgettable experience of artistic excellence.
Calling all art collectors! Beaver Galleries is the one-stop shop for contemporary Australian art. As the largest privately owned commercial gallery in Canberra, the gallery’s offering span a wide range of artistic mediums. Between browsing the three large exhibition spaces, stop by The Kitchen to savour local wines and innovative seasonal cuisine. You can easily spend an hour or four in this fabulous ode to modern art. Don’t forget to stop by the enticing gallery shop on your way out.
Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres
“If it takes a village to raise an artist, this is the village.” These twin arts centres play host to Canberra’s largest collective of professional artists and arts companies. The Ainslie Arts Centre is comprised of various learning, working and exhibition spaces. These include a co-working area and a fully-fledged concert hall with excellent acoustics. Across the way at the Gorman Arts Centre, you’ll find beautiful, landscaped courtyards, lecture halls and black box theatres. Ainslie and Gorman has a renowned onsite restaurant called the Sage Dining Rooms, and a vibrant cocktail bar surrounded by tranquil heritage gardens.
Canberra Contemporary Art Space
Since 1981, the Canberra Contemporary Art Space has been a leading force in Australia’s contemporary art movement. Artists from all over the country come to CCAS to collaborate and create daring work with some of the best in the business. On any given day, visitors can expect to encounter thought-provoking pieces in a range of mediums. Exhibitions, performances and artist talks give the public a chance to peek inside the minds of some of Australia’s most innovative contemporary artists.
Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery
Dedicated to the ethical sourcing and documentation of Indigenous Arts, Canberra’s Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery is a powerhouse of Indigenous talent. Established in 1989, this commercial gallery celebrates a suite of Australian Indigenous art and craft, some pieces dating back to the 70’s.
The exhibitions are refreshed every 4-6 weeks. Art collectors from all over the world can peruse the extensive collection. Most items are for sale, so art aficionados can bring their own spaces to life with authentic Indigenous artworks.
PLEASE NOTE: Some of the above galleries are currently closed due to new regulations relating to COVID-19. We look forward to visiting when they re-open. In the meantime, we will continue to celebrate and support the artists who have contributed to these exceptional art galleries in Canberra.
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