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All the Must-See Art Exhibitions in Canberra

Keen to explore Canberra’s art scene? These are the must-see exhibitions in Canberra this year.

A curator arranging works of framed art against a wire fronted wall.
National Gallery Australia

Unveiling Canberra's art scene, a subtle force in the cityscape, is akin to discovering a treasure trove. From national heavyweights to offbeat local gems, there's something for every art enthusiast amid the best art exhibitions in Canberra. In the upcoming months, Canberra's museums and galleries promise a visual feast, spotlighting the finest in Aussie, global, and First Nations art. 

Across the remainder of 2023 and into 2024, galleries and museums in Canberra will host numerous exhibitions that are well worth your time. For those eager to infuse a bit of culture into their routine, here's the essential list of must-see art exhibitions, making your artistic exploration of Canberra truly remarkable.

A painting of a woman in a mint shirt and blue bottoms against a duck egg blue wall.
Tempe Manning Self-portrait 1939, Art Gallery of New South Wales. (Image Credit: The National Portrait Gallery)

Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize

Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize marks a century of Australia's revered portrait award and takes a thematic dive into the controversies and commonalities that have shaped the nation. Reflecting on the changing face of Australia, it pays homage to artists who've elevated the Archibald Prize to its pinnacle. Unveiling renowned portraits alongside forgotten characters, it resurrects works unseen since their Archibald Prize debut. Visit the home of portraiture to catch this exhibit's final tour destination. You'll surely enjoy seeing a snapshot of Australia's vibrant artistic narrative.

Daily from Friday 20 October 2023 until Sunday 28 January 2024

National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes Canberra

Visitors viewing an exhibition of clothing from the Elvis movie.
National Film and Sound Archive

Australians & Hollywood

The National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) is the best place to learn about Australia’s history with film, television and music. Until January 2024, the institution is hosting Australians & Hollywood, an exhibition that dives deep into Australian cinema, actors and actresses. See costumes, sets, props, concept drawings, behind-the-scenes footage and more from some of the biggest Australian films and celebrities.

Currently, they are spotlighting the impressive career of Elvis Presley. The exhibition, called Elvis is in the Building, is an exceptional showcase unveiling the rock 'n' roll threads worn by Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, and David Wenham in the 2022 Elvis biopic. Crafted by Aussie Oscar-winner Catherine Martin, the costumes, supported by accessories, props, and behind-the-scenes glimpses, transform the NFSA into a stylish homage to the King's legacy. From Mad Max: Fury Road's customised steering wheels to Baz Luhrmann's personal treasures, it's not just a peek into Elvis's closet; it's a celebration of Aussie talent conquering Hollywood.

Until Sunday 28th January 2024

National Film and Sound Archive, McCoy Circuit, Acton

A portrait of Madonna with her hands beside her face in black and white.
Madonna's first front cover for Island magazine, 1983. Image Credit: Curtis Knapp

Madonna40: A Celebration

Dive into the beat of the '80s and beyond with Madonna40: A Celebration, a standout among the best art exhibitions in Canberra. Canberran Jerry Kirbell, a die-hard Madonna aficionado, unveils a slice of his extensive collection, showcasing autographed pieces, tour merch, and rare photographs that span the Queen of Pop's astounding four-decade career. In this exhibit, you'll be able to grasp the impact Madonna has left on music, fashion, and pop culture while grooving to her timeless soundtrack. Kirbell's love for Madonna shines through in this artistic homage, proving that even a 'small' collection can pack a big punch. Note: Prepare for a walk down memory lane with some adult content.

Until Sunday 3rd March 2024

Canberra Museum and Gallery, Corner London Circuit and City Square, Canberra

Abstract colour designs on parade float at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
William Yang, Abstract colour designs on parade float, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1985 (Image Credit: National Library of Australia)

William Yang's Mardi Gras

Embark on a cultural journey through William Yang's Mardi Gras, a colourful standout among the best art exhibitions in Canberra. Yang, an iconic Aussie photographer, performer, and filmmaker, brings a minimalist yet powerful lens to Sydney's Mardi Gras between 1981 and 2003. The 24 images on display dance through Protest, Community, Art, and Remembrance, capturing a vivid snapshot of these vibrant festivals. This collection, curated by the talented Allister Mills, unveils Yang's evolution from fashion to social documentary photography. It's a visual journey through the lens of an Australian legend.

Wednesday 6th December 2023 to Sunday 3rd November 2024

National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Canberra

An abstract and colourful piece of aboriginal artwork involving multicoloured and concentric circles.
National Museum of Australia

Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland

The National Museum of Australia continues to showcase Belonging: Stories from Far North Queensland, a collection of exciting works by First Nations artists that explore their relationship to Country. As one of the best art exhibitions in Canberra, you'll find paintings, sculptures, multimedia pieces and more on display, created by a selection of veteran and rising artists from the region. This is the second exhibition in a series of three, so if you can’t get enough, know there’s plenty more to come.

Until 18th February 2024

National Museum of Australia, Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula, Canberra

An aboriginal dot painting in neutral tones.
Emily Kam Kngwarray, Anmatyerr people, Ntang Dreaming, 1989, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra (Image Credit: National Gallery of Australia)

Emily Kam Kngwarray

Discover the captivating brushstrokes of a true Australian luminary at the Emily Kam Kngwarray exhibition, poised to be among the best art exhibitions in Canberra. A senior Anmatyerr woman and a 20th-century contemporary art icon, Kngwarray's timeless creations paint a rich tapestry of her extraordinary life. From vibrant batik textiles to colossal canvas masterpieces, this extensive exhibit showcases her artistic evolution. Wander through her art accompanied by soundscapes and audio tours, weaving the songs of awely that inspired Kngwarray's works. With never-seen-before pieces from private collections, this exhibition is a profound tribute to a cultural maven.

Monday 2nd December 2023 to Monday 28th April 2024

National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Place East, Parkes ACT

After a full day of gallery-hopping, there’s really nothing better than sitting down to a delicious meal and a well-earned drink. Make sure to check out our guides to the best restaurants in Canberra and the best bars in Canberra for all your eating and drinking needs.

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