Art plays a significant role in Australian culture, as evidenced by the sheer number of galleries throughout the continent. Australia's premier gallery and museum is the National Gallery of Australia, established as a national public art gallery in Canberra in 1967.
It's a good choice for anyone who wishes to get an overview, as its vast collections (holding over 120,000 pieces!) include everything from Western, Eastern, European and Australian Art dating right through from Medieval times, to sculptures, Modern Art and Photography.
Elsewhere, the National Gallery of Victoria is Australia's largest and oldest public art gallery, founded in 1861, and its art school has produced some of the country's leading artists over the years.
It is famous for its large "blockbuster" exhibitions, such as the Impressionists exhibition in 2004. It has had its fair share of notorious incidents, too - Pablo Picasso's "The Weeping Woman" was once famously stolen (and later returned) by a “terrorist” organisation calling itself the "Australian Cultural Terrorists"!
The gallery's name has been the subject of much dispute, given that Victoria is not, in fact, a nation, but a state of Australia. It was, of course, established before the Commonwealth of Australia, at which time Victoria was actually a self-governing British colony, and despite the arguments, the National Gallery of Victoria has proudly held on to its name.
Another major cultural institution is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the fourth largest public art gallery in Australia. This is a great choice for those visitors wishing to immerse themselves in Australian art, as it devotes a lot of its vast exhibition space to work by Australian artists from settlement times right through to the contemporary period. Amongst many others represented are 19 th century artists such as John Glover, Sydney Long and Tom Roberts, and 20th century artists like James Gleeson, Hugh Ramsay and John Olsen. You'll also find extensive European and Asian collections. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is an important and distinguished establishment in the Australian art world, and hosts a number of prestigious art prizes and awards - not least the long running and highly prominent Archibald Prize.
It would be impossible to list in sufficient detail all the major art galleries of Australia, because each one has its own unique appeal and special place in Australia's culture and history. The Art Gallery of South Australia, for example, has the largest state art collection after the National Gallery of Victoria, and is particularly highly regarded for its outstanding collections of European, Asian and Australian art - its colonial and Indigenous Australian collections are especially recommended for enthusiasts. Then there's the Art Gallery of Western Australia, a pleasantly eclectic mix of art collections from the world over, with permanent exhibitions including a comprehensive collection of work by artists from the Northern Territory. Alternatively, the Soho Art Gallery in Sydney provides emerging artists from Australia and New Zealand with the exhibition space and exposure they need to gain recognition, and so is an ideal place to see fresh new artistic talent.
Whatever your preferences and interests, Australia's rich artistic culture is well represented in its art galleries, and it is definitely worth paying a visit to at least a few of these magnificent establishments during your stay in Australia.