Why You Need to Go to GoMA

Why You Need to Go to GoMA

Sure, Brisbane’s warmer. But it’s also the focal point for Australian art in the Asia Pacific.

What the Gallery of Modern Art has is presence. Its long corridors and sweeping spaces generate their own internal gravity, insisting on artworks with either the scale or substance to anchor them: perhaps a scale model of an African lake, replete with drinking zebra and ibex; or a full-grown forty-metre tall Eucalyptus, with groups of children sketching on clipboards under its neurone-like root system. “The greatest character it possesses is a sort of amplitude. It's a ... place,” explains Chris Saines, director of The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. “It generates, in fact it requires, big things. A small watercolour show isn't gonna fly on the ground floor of GoMA. And so it's a space that demands that artists and curators and directors occupy and animate it with large experiences.”

Opening its glass doors for the first time in 2006, GoMA was a watershed moment not just for Brisbane, for Australian art as a whole. While the country had been drifting glacially away from the Eurocentric obsessions of the 20th century, the new gallery placed our artistic locus squarely in the Asia-Pacific - where we actually are in the world. To be fair, that work began in the 1990s, when the Queensland Art Gallery first launched the The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. “Biennales and Triennials were mostly dealing with the art of Europe and America. And Australians typically flew over Asia on the way to elsewhere,” Saines recalls. “It wasn't until Paul Keating started saying again and again, that we're, we live in Asia. We need to look outward, we need to embrace the fact that we live in this neighbourhood. And we need to better understand the issues and the challenges that our neighbours are confronted with in their daily lives every bit as much as we understand those that we are confronted with.”

That mission is, of course, exemplified by the APT - the ninth edition of which opens in November this year - but it’s clearly evident on the walls of GoMA at any other time. Big-name internationals such as Anish Kapoor, Gerhardt Richter and James Turrell, whose major new artwork illuminates the entire gallery by night, hang alongside significant local artists such as Patricia Piccinini and Judith Wright. “We're looking at Queensland as well as looking at Australia, looking at the region and looking at the world. That's the gallery I want,” says Saines. “We're putting Australian art right into the heart of the story that we're telling about the art of the region.”

A particularly important part of that story is the work of Indigenous Australians, whose art has always featured prominently at GoMA. At present, for instance, there’s a major survey of the Townsville-born artist Tony Albert, whose provocative explorations of Aboriginal Kitsch are both excoriating and darkly funny. The gallery’s collection, and its commitment to showcasing First Nations artists, is a natural outgrowth of a city with a thriving local culture. “I think one of the things that's a real strength of Brisbane is that whole urban indigenous artist history that we have here,” says Saines. “Brisbane has been a very strong place in terms of its fostering of young indigenous artists, many of whom have gone on to really become some of the central figures in contemporary Australian art.”

In a way, GoMA has formed the central hub around which a flourishing independent art scene turns. “There's a lot of energy and momentum in Brisbane at the moment. We’ve got a really strong set of galleries, it's not a big or necessarily infinitely diverse set of them but it's a very largely and engaged group of galleries,” says Saines. “There's a lot of art being made in the city now, and there are fewer artists who feel they need to leave the city in order to make it.”

Five Contemporary Galleries Not to Miss

While GoMA (and the Queensland Art Gallery) might form the centre of your Brisbane visit, there’s a host of smaller commercial, independent and Univeristy galleries that’s showing the cutting-edge in Australian and international artwork. Here are five top picks.

The Institute of Modern Art

Since 1976, the IMA has been at the vanguard of experimental artwork, with a focus on emerging and ambitious young artists. They’ve also got a great publishing division, so it’s an excellent place to pick up some handsome catalogues, too.

Judith Wright Centre, 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley


QUT Art Museum

This substantial collection’s particular speciality is for Queensland artists - particularly the artist William Robinson, over 70 of whose paintings hang on the walls - but you’ll find excellent contemporary sculpture, ceramics and prints from all over the country


2 George Street, Brisbane


The Jan Murphy Gallery

Perhaps the biggest name in Brisbane’s commercial scene is Jan Murphy, whose impeccable eye picked up artists such as Ben Quilty, Lara Merrett, Kirra Jamison and Rhys Lee. But you don’t have to be in the market to have a good old-fashioned look.

486 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley



Forging a dialogue between emerging Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, FireWorks’ director Michael Eather has long been an advocate for First Nations culture as a founding member of the legendary Campfire group.

52a Doggett Street, Newstead


Griffith University Art Museum

Griffith University is one of the country’s oldest visual art schools, and as such, has a long history for supporting Australian art. So it’s unsurprising that its gallery would host a wealth of work - in fact, it’s the second-largest collection in Queensland.

226 Grey Street, South Bank