An exciting new era in the cultural life of Australia began on December 3, as the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new building opened with over 15,000 people visiting over the opening weekend.

The new standalone building – designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA – is the centrepiece of the expansion, the most significant cultural development to open in Sydney in nearly half a century. The completion of the project creates a new art museum campus comprising two buildings connected by a public art garden on Gadigal Country overlooking Sydney Harbour.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said: “Central to every decision made in the development and design of this project and at the heart of the NSW Government’s investment has been an unwavering focus on supporting access to art of a world-leading standard, education opportunity without limit and community enrichment with tangible benefit.”

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Arts, Regional Youth and Tourism Ben Franklin added:The NSW Government is proud to be leading the way in arts and culture investment to deliver this once-in-a-generation project, which will yield incredible benefit for people across NSW. The Art Gallery is an institution with a truly ambitious vision, supporting partnerships, educational programming, sector connections and leadership. This is ‘Art for all’ to inspire joy, connection and enrichment.”

Together with the NSW Government’s $244 million in funding, the Art Gallery has raised more than $100 million from private donors to support the expansion, a once-in-a-generation cultural investment. It is the largest government and philanthropic arts partnership of its kind to be successfully achieved in Australia.

Art Gallery of New South Wales director Michael Brand, who has overseen the Art Gallery’s transformation for the past decade, said: “Our vision has been to transform the Art Gallery into an art museum campus with seamless connections between art, architecture and landscape. I am incredibly proud to now be welcoming visitors to our expansion, which has such a strong sense of place and such an innovative display of art. With the support of the NSW Government, our donors, staff, artists and a wide community of supporters, our vision is now a reality. This is especially significant given the challenges we faced during the past three years of construction with the impact of bushfires, the global pandemic and record-breaking rainfall.

“From our dazzling new stage, we now offer even more art experiences worthy of our location, our history, the many who have contributed to our development over the past 151 years and the many who will look to us for joy, inspiration and insight in the coming decades,” Brand said.

Located in one of the world’s most beautiful cultural precincts, the SANAA-designed building, with Architectus as executive architects, has multiple sightlines to its parkland and harbour surroundings. It is the first public art museum in Australia to achieve a 6-star Green Star design rating.

Architectural features include three limestone-clad art pavilions that gently step down towards the harbour; 250 metres of rammed earth wall over two levels made with material sourced from across NSW; and 3400 square metres of accessible roof ‘art terraces’ and courtyards. New art spaces include a column-free gallery, a gallery for time-based art, and adaptive re-use of a decommissioned Second World War naval fuel bunker, now known as the Tank, a 2200-square-metre space that is one of Australia’s most unique art destinations.

SANAA principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who this year were awarded the Praemium Imperiale award for architecture, said: “It has been a wonderful honour to design such an important public building in Sydney. Working closely with the Art Gallery of New South Wales team, we aimed to design an art museum building that is harmonious with its surroundings, one that breathes with the city, the park and the harbour. We hope it will be a special place where visitors feel connected to art wherever they are in this beautiful setting.”

The expansion almost doubles exhibition space for the display and enjoyment of art. It also creates a prominent new destination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, with a larger dedicated space to showcase the Art Gallery’s internationally renowned collection. Yiribana, meaning ’this way’ in the Sydney language, is the first gallery visitors encounter when they enter the new building.

Maud Page, the Art Gallery’s deputy director and director of collections, said: “An Indigenous lens is held up across our displays as they powerfully herald new art histories to be written from here. Our curatorial narratives are amplified through networks connecting the urgent social issues that motivate artists in the 21st century, including gender, race, the value of labour, and a strong concern for the precariousness of the natural world.”