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Exciting exhibitions to see this summer

Josephine Walsh

Our cultural institutions are spoiling us for choice this summer.

Whether you’re all about poring over historical objects from Australia’s past, getting hands on in a science interactive or admiring stunning contemporary art, there’s something for every taste showing this summer.

Here’s a round-up of some of the excellent exhibitions now showing in Canberra.

Behind the Lines 2015: The year’s best political cartoons


This annual Museum of Australian Democracy exhibition celebrates the role of satire and political cartoonists in Australia, and highlights the power that their drawings have in contributing to our daily political and social discourse.

See 80 of Australia’s most controversial cartoons that test the boundaries of free speech and the freedom of the press. This year’s Behind The Lines doesn’t just celebrate one ‘Cartoonist of the Year’, but celebrates the community of political cartoonists in Australia, in memory of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

the essentials

What: Behind the Lines 2015: The year’s best political cartoons
Where: Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
When: Now until late 2016
How much? Free after entry admission – Adults $2 / Children and concessions $1 / Family $5
Web: moadoph.gov.au

While you’re there… See a unique selection of artwork from regional Australian artists in Right Here Now, which highlights the prominence of rural voices in Australian democracy. Now showing, also free after entry.

Magnified: 12 years of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize


Celebrate 12 years of The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize at the National Archives of Australia this summer.

Enjoy incredible prize-winning artworks exhibited alongside inspiring historical content from the collections of the National Archives of Australia and the South Australian Museum.

the essentials

What: Magnified: 12 years of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize
Where: National Archives of Australia
When: Now showing until 28 March 2016
How much? Free
Web: naa.gov.au

While you’re there… Enjoy the Memory of a Nation permanent exhibition, which beautifully showcases objects, photographs, records and stories that define Australia (check the website for special summer viewing dates for the Federation Gallery) 

 Sideshow Alley: Infamy, the macabre & the portrait


Have a quirky fascination with Australian criminal history? Sideshow Alley: infamy, the macabre and the portrait at the National Portrait Gallery explores the exploitation of convicts, criminals and the disreputable for public entertainment in Australia during the nineteenth century.

This is your chance to see death masks, including Ned Kelly’s, alongside spooky and disquieting portraits of convicts and criminals. The exhibition also features rarely-seen objects which explore our fascination with Australian lawbreakers and deviants from another era.

the essentials

What: Sideshow Alley: infamy, the macabre and the portrait
Where: National Portrait Gallery
When: Now until 28 February 2016
How much? Adults $10 / Concessions and Circle of Friends $8
Web: portrait.gov.au

While you’re there… Check out the Macquarie Digital Portraiture Award 2015, which supports artists working with screen-based technology and cultivates digital portraiture as an evolving art form. Free, now showing until Monday 25 April 2016.


Spiders image (large) (1)

Explore the world of spiders in this joint exhibition between Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre and the Australian Museum. Spiders explores the many facets of spider ecology and will help you unlock the secretive world of these captivating creatures.

Weave your way through the fascinating exhibits and interactive displays to discover how these web-weavers, hunters and burrowers outlived the dinosaurs to become one of the most successful creatures on earth.

the essentials

What: Spiders
Where: Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre
When: Now showing until October 2016
How much? Free after entry – Adults $23 / Concessions $17.50 / Child 4-16 years $17.50 / Child under 4 Free / Family (2 Adults + 3 Children) $70
Web: questacon.edu.au

While you’re there… Get your adrenaline pumping in the high energy, high impact and highly addictive [email protected], where you can free fall down a six metre slide, battle a robot in a game of air hockey, or try to keep your balance as you move through the Rototron. Free after entry, permanent exhibition.

Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum


Encounters at the National Museum of Australia features rare Indigenous objects which tell the story of early encounters between first Australians and British settlers.

The exhibition features 151 objects from the British Museum, many of which have not been seen in Australia since they were first acquired. Encounters also includes contemporary Indigenous objects and artworks from the 27 communities represented in the exhibition.

the essentials

What: Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum
Where: National Museum of Australia
When: Now until 28 March 2016
How much? Free. Timed ticketing, it’s recommended you book online.
Web: nma.gov.au

While you’re there… Visit the companion exhibition Unsettled: Stories within, where five leading contemporary Indigenous artists have responded to Encounters. Free, now showing until 28 March 2016.

Australia in the Great War

Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin Order reference: PAIU2014/252.25   Contact: esales@awm.gov.au

Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin Order reference: PAIU2014/252.25 Contact: [email protected]

The First World War gallery at the Australian War Memorial underwent a major redevelopment in recent years, with Australian in the Great War opening in December 2014.

Explore the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War across the major theatres of operations: Gallipoli; the Western Front; Sinai and Palestine; and the war at sea. The exhibition also tells the story of the home front experience and the enduring legacy of the war.

the essentials

What: Australia in the Great War
Where: Australian War Memorial
When: Permanent exhibition
How much? Free
Web: awm.gov.au

While you’re there… Visit the Reality in Flames exhibition, which features 90 works of art created by Australian modernist artists responding creatively to the Second World War. Free, now showing until 7 September 2016.

Tom Roberts


See artworks created by one of our greatest and best-known artists, Tom Roberts. The National Gallery’s summer blockbuster showcases Australia’s leading portrait painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Roberts was also adept in depicting rural landscapes, figures in the landscape, industrial landscapes and cityscapes. See the most famous and iconic of Roberts’ paintings such as Shearing the rams (1888-90) and A break away! (1891).

the essentials

What: Tom Roberts
Where: National Gallery of Australia
When: Now until 28 March 2016
How much? Adults $20 / NGA Members $15 / Concessions or student $17.50
Web: nga.gov.au

While you’re there… Pop into The World is Beautiful, an exhibition of photographs taken over the last 100 years from the National Gallery of Australia’s magnificent photography collection. Free, now showing until 10 April 2016. 

Capital and Country: the Federation years 1900–1914


Now showing at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, Capital and Country celebrates the art of the newly-federated Australia alongside the work of Australians working in Europe during these formative years of the new century.

The paintings by twenty-five Australians invite viewers on a journey through the era and around the world, from patriotic visions of the Australian bush to the bohemian enclaves of London and Paris where sumptuous portraits were produced.

the essentials

What: Capital and Country: the Federation years 1900–1914
Where: Canberra Museum and Art Gallery
When: Now showing until 21 February 2016
How much? Free
Web: cmag.com.au

While you’re there… Don’t miss Wendy Saddington: Underground icon, an exhibition charting the development of Saddington’s career as a cult celebrity and a key figure in Australian popular music history using material from the archive of artist Peter Mahoney. Free, now showing until 17 April 2016.

Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911


The latest exhibition at the National Library of Australia explores 300 years of Chinese culture and tradition from two of the world’s great libraries. From life at court to in the villages and fields, glimpse the world of China’s last imperial dynasty.

See exquisite and precious objects on loan from the National Library of China, as well as rare objects from the National Library of Australia’s acclaimed Chinese Collection.

the essentials

What: Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911
Where: National Library of Australia
When: Now until 22 March 2016
How much? Free
Web: nla.gov.au

While you’re there… See a diverse collection of the Library’s most important items in the Treasures Gallery, which showcases exquisite maps, rare books, manuscripts, photographs, oil paintings and watercolours. Free, permanent exhibition.

The last temptation: the art of Ken + Julia Yonetani


Internationally acclaimed Japanese and Australian artist collaborators Ken and Julia Yonetani have created a provocative installation responding to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.

See chandeliers made from uranium glass representing nuclear-powered nations, as well as the work The Last Supper, a nine-metre banquet table made entirely of over one tonne of groundwater salt sourced from the Murray-Darling Basin.

the essentials

What: The last temptation – the art of Ken + Julia Yonetani
Where: NGA Contemporary
When: Now showing
How much? Free
Web: nga.gov.au/Contemporary

*The author would like to declare that she is an employee of the National Museum of Australia. She was in no way paid for this article, and has sourced her information from the websites of the various cultural institutions and media releases.


Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh is a digital communications specialist who also runs her own blog, mapleandmabel.com. She has a passion for museums and the arts, a deep love of travel and more shoes than sense. Having worked in museums for the past seven years, she loves finding new ways to connect people with their cultural institutions. She loves meeting new people, hunting for a decent espresso, and planning her next adventure. More about the Author