• Artists impression of Sydney Modern Project, oil tank gallery, as produced by SANAA. (Art Gallery of New South Wales)Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Indigenous art collection will become a central part of the building's $244 million upgrade, after decades sitting in the basement of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Amanda Copp

16 Jun 2017 - 5:14 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2017 - 7:04 PM

Today, only patrons who make their way to the lowest level of the gallery will see NSW’s collection of Indigenous art.

The collection’s obscure location is one that Australian artist and Art Gallery of NSW board member, Ben Quilty said was a “constant embarrassment” on Wednesday.  

"The fact that it's still in a basement is sort of a hangover of colonial era, in a sense," he said.

Quilty said artwork from Aboriginal communities in Central and South Australia was "really the best painting in the world at the moment” and should be displayed to appropriately.

But as part of the gallery’s $244 million overhaul, the Indigenous collection will have a new home at the front and centre of the building.

Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Cara Pinchbeck, said the shift 'marks a new moment in the gallery’s history'.

"When patrons walk into the new building, a dedicated space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art will be the first gallery they see," she said.

Ms Pinchbeck is a Kamilaroi woman and said for a long time the Indigenous space, known as the Yiribana Gallery, has been “difficult” to access.

“Many people actually don't make their way all through the building to find the Yiribana Gallery and to see the amazing works that we have on display down here,” she said.

“We find that we have more and more tourists and families and school groups coming in to find out more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait art and culture.”

“So to have a new space that really is the first gallery you encounter when you come to Sydney Modern is going to be a huge milestone for the gallery and fantastic for all of the artists whose works are in the collection."

“It’s Australia’s cultural inheritance and it's something we should all celebrate and that will happen with the Sydney Modern.”

She said there has been growing interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait art art both in Australia and overseas.

“We find that we have more and more tourists and families and school groups coming in to find out more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait art and culture,” she said.

The state government announcement committing $244 million to expand the Art Gallery of NSW was made on Wednesday, ahead of next week's state budget. The new plan will link the existing 19th Century site in The Domain to Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden, providing new spaces for art, live performance, film and education.

Construction will begin in 2019 and wrap up by 2021, in time for the gallery's 150th-anniversary celebrations.

With AAP

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