The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra is often host to the most incredible art exhibitions, and is often the primary reason for us to base an entire visit to Canberra around.
On this trip, the exhibition was Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, which brought to life the incredible history of one of the world’s most famous (and fancy!) palaces. Featuring paintings, tapestries, sculptures, furniture and objects, this exhibition brought to Australia life in Versailles during the 17th – 18th centuries.
While the exhibition has since finished, the gallery has a series of rotating exhibitions so whenever you visit there is something incredible and new to see, in addition to the permanent galleries.
The NGA is the national art museum of Australia and is home to than 166,000 works of art, including over 7500 works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
In the Australian art section, the Ned Kelly series by Sidney Nolan have long been a favourite of mine to visit, as well as the works by Australian Impressionists such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton on display.
Upstairs, a stroll through the European and American art collections reveals Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works including a lovely Waterlillies by Claude Monet and one of Degas’ exquisite sculptures of a dancer.
The NGA also displays modern and contemporary artworks in the gallery, and on this visit the whole family was entranced by a video work by Pipilotti Rist, called Worry will vanish revelation. On display until August 20, 2017, this large-scale work takes up an entire room and is completely mesmerising.
Entrance to the NGA is free. Fees apply for special exhibitions only. I absolutely love free galleries when we travel as a family as it means there is no pressure on us to see everything to get our money’s worth – instead we can see one thing or a few, leave when the youngest member has had enough, and even return again to see something else the following day. We did this on our recent Canberra trip when, over the four days we were there, three of them included a visit to the NGA.
Visiting Art Galleries With Children
I’ve been visiting art galleries around the world since I was a child myself, so when Cheese came along, she was bundled up from a few weeks of age and taken along with me to continue my artist explorations. As such she is now, at age 5, an excellent art gallery companion. When we visit galleries we do so to observe the art together, even if it’s at a much faster pace than I would go if I was doing so alone!
I love to observe what stands out to her when we look around galleries. It’s rarely works that are famous that will draw my attention because I recognize them from being featured in other media. She will stop before works that I might completely miss and walk past, which was the case at the NGA.
We stopped for quite a while in the Indigenous section while she took in the works and asked questions about what was going on in them, and she could have stayed in the video installation room all day, asking me with every changing scene what was happening.
The NGA is extremely family friendly, from its accessibility to friendly staff and activities designed especially for children. We’ve often been at galleries where staff have kept a close eye on us and hovered closely to ensure we didn’t get to close to the art works. It was a relief at the NGA to be able to wander through the galleries without feeling like we were constantly being watched.
When we visited the NGA they had a fantastic area set up called NGA Play that was designed especially to engage children in art, craft and play activities relating to the Versailles exhibition. It was a lot of fun for all of us to get involved with making objects together as a family.
After this exhibit is removed, there will be a new interactive feature built in its place to engage visitors of all ages.
Outside, in the grounds surrounding the NGA, are 26 sculptures on display by both Australian and International artists. It’s an extremely pleasurable experience to walk through the bush discovering these incredible works of art, and also a very easy way to introduce kids to art if you’re a bit nervous of taking them inside a gallery with their sticky hands.
On the south side of the gallery you’ll find a major new Skyspace by American artist James Turrell. The Skyspace is a viewing chamber that uses light to affect the way we perceive the sky. It’s a wonderful work that is really engaging as well as fun as one needs to move into, through and out of it, and each step taken reveals a different element of the work.
Overlooking the Sculpture Garden the newly refurbished NGA café offers morning and afternoon tea and lunch options, children’s meals, plus a selection of wines by the glass, great coffee and sweet treats. It cost us $40 for a flat white coffee, two sandwiches, Vegemite toast, a fruit salad and an apple juice.
National Gallery Australia
Parkes Pl E, Parkes
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm (closed Christmas Day)
Parking: Free underneath the gallery on weekends.
Thank you to the NGA for media tickets to see Versailles: Treasures from the Palace. All opinions my own.
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!