Highlights from the national collection
Our recommendations for a self-guided tour through the Gallery, no queuing needed.
As we prepare the Gallery for our 40th birthday in October, our team is working behind the scenes to bring you new collection displays and exhibitions. During this time, some galleries are closed, however many of the collection’s most loved works of art are on display.
Here are highlights for your visit as you self-guide through the Gallery.
The Aboriginal Memorial, Level 1, Gallery 9
‘As custodians of The Aboriginal Memorial, we are charged with keeping the spirit of this work alive, of keeping the memories and legacies of those who have gone before alive. We are committed to keeping this an active memorial space long into the future.’ Bruce Johnson McLean, Barbara Jean Humphreys Assistant Director, First Nations Engagement and Head of First Nations Art
The Aboriginal Memorial is an installation of 200 hollow log coffins from Central Arnhem Land. It commemorates all First Nations people who lost their lives defending their land since European colonisation.
The path through The Memorial imitates the course of the Glyde River estuary which flows through the Arafura Swamp to the sea. The hollow log coffins are situated broadly according to where the artists' clans live along the river and its tributaries.
In close consultation with the Ramingining community and commissioning curator Djon Mundine OAM, Bandjalung people, The Memorial has been relocated to the heart of the Gallery, helping make the most important work of art in the national collection central to all visitors’ art experience.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The Alhalkere suite, Level 1, Gallery 2
‘I was born at the place called Alhalkere, right here.’ Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Anmatyerre people
Emily Kame Kngwarreye exploded onto the Australian contemporary art scene in the early 1990s and the impact of her work was immediate. Although she began painting later in life, it is estimated that Kngwarreye produced over 3,000 paintings in the course of her short, eight-year-long painting career.
The origins of Kngwarreye’s paintings lie in the practice of batik, an artistic technique that was introduced to the women of Utopia in 1977. While Kngwarreye completed her first acrylic painting on canvas in 1988, it was not the first time she had painted. She began to paint during awely (ceremony) when her fingers first touched the rough surface of ochre, and her hand swiped across her breast.
The Alhalkere suite is an installation of 22 canvases which evokes the cycles of nature and the spiritual forces that imbue the earth. It is a response to the artist’s land, Alhalkere, the desert country of Kngwarreye’s birth, on what is now the cattle-station called Utopia.
Albert Namatjira, Mt Giles Macdonnell Range Central Australia, Level 1, Gallery 2
Albert Namatjira was the first Aboriginal artist to become widely popular in Australia, achieving recognition as early as his first sold-out solo exhibition in 1938.
Several works by Namatjira, including Mt Giles Macdonnell Range Central Australia, are included in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander galleries.
Namatjira lived at the Lutheran mission station in Ntaria/Hermannsburg and his paintings are detailed, picturesque images of the surrounding Country, including sites of special significance. He learnt the representational techniques of watercolour painting in 1936, when he accompanied the visiting artist Rex Batterbee on an eight-week painting trip in the surrounding countryside.
This new technique differentiated Namatjira’s work from the iconographic or abstract approaches taken by other Arrarnta artists of the time. Namatjira’s achievements had a profound influence on his Community and descendants, many of whom continue to paint in watercolour.
Jan Billycan, All the Jila, Level 1, Gallery 5
Jan Billycan’s vibrant All the Jila spans eight panels and depicts the Great Sandy Desert near Well 33 in Western Australia.
Jan Billycan is a maparn (medicine woman) from this country. She can see ‘inside’ the human body. She is a renowned traditional healer. This is evident in her landscapes, as the visceral nature of her work is reminiscent of the internal organs of the human body. A living waterhole becomes a liver or kidney, while the tali (sand dunes) are stretched across the canvas like the human ribcage. The body is just an extension of the land. Billycan knows these things on a deep metaphysical level and does not like to discuss her talents. However, it is important for kardiya (whitefellas) to be aware of this to understand the signiﬁcance of her work.
Robert Rauschenberg, Booster, Level 1, Gallery 15
Robert Rauschenberg’s Booster is a self-portrait composed of six X-rays surrounded by photographs, newspaper transfers and drawings. Printed in 1967 at Gemini Graphic Editions Limited with the master printer Kenneth Tyler, it was the largest hand-pulled lithograph at the time. The print is currently featured in the latest exhibition from the Kenneth Tyler Collection, Rasuchenberg & Johns: Significant others.
Rauschenberg made this ‘self-portrait of inner man’ at a time of personal crisis when ‘everything was falling apart’. The work incorporates images of car crashes, traffic jams and stress-testing devices, reflecting his feelings towards his life in New York City. With no ‘time or patience for psychoanalysis’ Rauschenberg sought guidance from an astrologer, which is alluded to by a chart of planetary transits in 1967 screen printed over Rauschenberg’s X-ray.
James Turrell, Within without, Skyspace Garden
‘My work is about space and the light that inhabits it. It is about how you confront that space and plumb it with vision. It is about your seeing, like the wordless thought that comes from looking into fire.’ James Turrell
Within without is a major skyspace by American artist James Turrell. Set into a grass-covered mound, open to the sky and surrounded by a moat, this immersive installation is one of the artist’s largest and most complex.
Within without is at its most dramatic and complex at dawn and dusk, when a special light cycle marks the transition between night and day. The viewer is offered artlessness, simplicity, unhurried perception and perhaps even the chance of epiphany.
Bert Flugelman, Cones, Sculpture Garden
Bert Flugelman’s reflective steel Cones has assumed an iconic presence in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden. Stretching more than 20 metres, Cones reveals that Flugelman had the public and the site very much in mind when creating this work. While on one level the impression is of brilliant clarity and geometry, the sculpture is energised by the dynamic interaction of forms across the space. They reflect sky, ground and eucalypt trees, and involve the visitor as an active participant in the work, enmeshed temporarily in the flow of constantly changing possibilities.
Cones is among several major public commissions undertaken over the past three decades by Flugelman, one of Australia’s most accomplished sculptors.
Fujiko Nakaya, Foggy wake in a desert: an ecosphere, Sculpture Garden, operates from 12.30 to 2pm daily
Fujiko Nakaya’s interactive work, fondly known as 'the fog sculpture', is described by the artist as 'an ever-changing form, moulded by the atmosphere and sculpted by wind from moment to moment'. Since 1982, visitors to the Gallery’s Sculpture Garden have been offered an experience of nature’s delicate balance. From 12.30pm to 2pm daily, 900 nozzles pump a fine mist of water that wafts across the pond and circulates through the surrounding vegetation. The humidity of the fog reactivates the natural environment, thickening the foliage and cultivating new species—a self-sustaining ecosphere in Canberra’s harsh conditions.
Fujiko Nakaya's fog sculptures conjur interactions with the spirit and the intricacy of nature's craft. They are a tribute to nature, an intimate dialog. The more you give, the more they return.
Stay up to date and check our Gallery Map online to see what's open and plan your visit.
Art & Artists
The Aboriginal Memorial
The Alhalkere suite
Mt Giles Macdonnell Range Central Australia
All the Jila
Booster; from Booster and 7 studies
Foggy wake in a desert: An ecosphere