Art should be accessible. After all, if it isn’t accessible, what’s the point? It is meant to be seen so that it can make an impact, tell a story, or evoke an emotion. Which is why a visit to the the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) is so enjoyable: art is accessible and it is presented in a eclectic and entertaining way.
There is a calm yet whimsical feeling inside AGSA. Classical art is presented next to modern works on video screens; pieces from the regular collection are presented next to temporary exhibitions; paintings are exhibited alongside carved wooden benches, sculptures or vases; and calming grey walls are off-set by the occasional wall clad in lively wall-paper.
To make sure the art exhibited at AGSA is accessible, entry is free (although the occasional exhibit will attract a fee) and there are Access Programs, such Auslan interpreted talks and tours, that ensure everyone can enjoy the Gallery. The Art Gallery easy to get to; it is located on wide-sidewalks of North Terrace’s cultural precinct a few minutes walk from the Adelaide Railway Station. The free city tram line stops in front of AGSA and you can get your parking ticket validated for the parking lot across the street.
AGSA’s size makes it possible to easily see all of the rooms and galleries in an afternoon, or stop by a favourite piece on your lunch break. The Gallery’s cafe, AGF+W Restaurant, is a popular meeting spot for a morning work coffee. It is also a good place to rest while wandering through AGSA on a weekend. It’s located on the courtyard level and has indoor and outdoor seating on either side of its floor to ceiling glass windows that look out on the sculpture courtyard. AGF+W Restaurant serves coffee and sweet treats all day, as well and breakfast, brunch and lunch.
Elder Wing of Australian Art
The current exhibit of Australian Art sits proudly in the high-vaulted grand rooms of the Elder Wing, where the white ceilings are calmly off-set by light grey and blue walls. The stately and classic feeling exuded by much of the Elder Wing is playfully balanced by the middle room, which has a bright pink wall on one side and a brown and green patterned wall paper with reddish flowers, on the other. The pink side has an elaborately carved wooden gate standing in front of it, while the wall paper side has some framed pictures below a white mantel shelf holding vases.
The different galleries of the Elder Wing showcase different moments in Australian artwork. Gallery One is home to the Forest of Larrakitj, which comprises several works by Aboriginal artists. The Larrakitj are stringybark logs hollowed out by termites and painted by the artists. Classic Australian works in the following galleries works include H.J. Johnstone’s large oil painting Evening shadows, backwater of the Murray, South Australia. 1880 that hangs at chest height and feels like you could walk right into the calm scene and touch the stringybark trees. Around another gallery corner, among some more Australian art, is an upside down tree rotating from the ceiling with dried leaves underneath.
Sitting alongside the Elder Wing is the Melrose Wing of International Art which has a similar look and feel to the Elder Wing, some of the galleries even open into each other. The Melrose Wing is also organised into moments or topics, similar to the Elder Wing. One Gallery is dedicated to the topic of the after life, which has impressive marble tarp over the shape of a body, oil paintings, and a slightly disturbing diorama with miniature figurines of nazis, skeletons and Ronald McDonalds.
Gallery Fourteen is completely taken over by red wool strung, tied and twisted, mostly overhead. It looks like a bunch of blood vessels or a giant red spiderweb attached to mannequin limbs.
In addition to the Elder and Melrose Wings, AGSA has a west wing; in total there are 25 numbered galleries spread over three levels. Together, the galleries host the permanent collection and temporary exhibits.
AGSA has one of the largest collections in Australia; it includes almost 45,000 works of art from Australia, Europe, North America and Asia. It was established in 1881 and moved to its current location in 1900.
AGSA is located on North Terrace, Adelaide, between Kintore Avenue and Frome Road (or between the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide). The main entrance is on North Terrace and will lead you into the Elder and Melrose Wings.
AGSA is about a 5 minute walk from the Adelaide Railway Station (also on North Terrace), or about 125 metres from either the Art Gallery or University of Adelaide tram stops.
The tram is free within the city centre; there is also a tram stop in front of the Railway Station if you don’t want to walk.
Several bus routes run along North Terrace and stop outside the Gallery.
There are several parking lots in the vicinity of AGSA, and sometimes on weekends you can find free on-street parking in the city. Wilson Parking on North Terrace is directly opposite the Gallery and access is at a dedicated street light. Visitors to AGSA can have their parking pass stamped for discounted parking at the Information Desk in the Atrium of the Gallery (by the restaurant). I got about half off when I visited.
Opening Hours and Admission
Entry to the Gallery is free; some exhibits may have a charge
AGSA is open 10 am to 5 pm every day except Christmas Day.
Visiting the Art Gallery of South Australia was on my list of activities to do in Adelaide as South Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions began to ease. You can read about my list at 10 Things I Plan To Do in Adelaide After the Pandemic.