Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Gina Fairley’s overview of museum sector

Western Australian Museum. Hackett Hall and cantilever. Scheduled to open November 2020. Photo: Michael Haluwana, Aeroture.

Gina Failey, What the museum sector is offering in 2020, ArtsHub, 17 January, 2020

From spiders to architecture, from Ancient Roman treasures to Brisbane’s music scene, museums offer a rich and diverse world of learning in 2020.

What do the WA Museum, the Australian Museum, ACMI, The Science Gallery, Chau Chak Wing Museum, the Australian War Memorial and Powerhouse Museum all have in common? They are either starting or concluding major multi-million dollar building projects in 2020.

What that says is that the Museum sector is well patronized and visitor need are growing, plus that the sector is well supported. Successful programming has a lot to do with that.

So what does 2020 look like?


Museums are traditionally slower in turning around exhibitions, with programming often slated for a six-month presentation. Given this, a number of major exhibitions opened at the end of the last year yet run well into 2020. Here are a few worth the visit:

UniSA opened its $247m Museum of Discovery (MOD) in 2018, with exhibitions with a $1 million price tag rolling out every six months. The one capturing audiences now is Seven Siblings from the Future, which tells the story of a land known as Eucalara and the year is 2050. They are climate refugees and this exhibition works through the choices we make for our future. It comes with a warning: there are images of bushfires and embers in this exhibition that some visitors may find distressing. The exhibition came to Adelaide from Heureka Science Centre in Helsinki. Until 24 May.

Ancient Rome: Epic Innovators and Engineers is a family-friendly exhibition that travels back in time to allow us to discover the determination, machines and genius that carved the great Roman Empire. It includes models, catapults, frescoes, armour, weapons, with plenty of things to touch.  Presented by the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle, catch it before 26 April. Ticketed.

Again combining technology and infrastructure, Sydney Museum takes a look at the photographic practice of John Gollings with the exhibition The History of the Built World. Rather than documenting buildings in a way that reproduces the impersonal architectural elevation, Gollings typically sought a physical connection with the structure being photographed. Showing until 26 April.

John Gollings, Kay Street. Showing at Sydney Museum until April 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

From the vault of the Queensland Museum’s collection, Antiquities Revealed showcases over 200 objects from ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations, providing insights into daily life, personal dress, technology, beliefs, art and more. Until 27 April.

In contrast, and demonstrating the diverse programs of contemporary museums, Queensland Museum is concurrently presenting Spiders, where punters can come face-to-face with live spiders and around 200 spider specimens. This exhibition is highly interactive. Until 4 May. Ticketed.

Across town at the Museum of Brisbane, exhibitions couldn’t be any different! New Woman reveals the art, personal stories and enduring legacies of Brisbane’s most significant and groundbreaking female artists over the past 100 years. Until 15 March.

At the same museum, High Rotation offers a metaphorical backstage pass to three epic decades of Brisbane’s incredible music scene from 1989 to 2019. Until 19 April. Ticketed.

In Canberra, the National Museum of Australia presents Ngulla Wellamunagaa: Trees that Have Survived and Revived – stories that affirm ongoing connections to Country and celebrate the survival, continuity and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Until 29 March.

The Immigration Museum in Melbourne is big on public programs in 2020. It kicks off with Tales of a Migrant Plantation – a fusion of performance, dance, art and storytelling shared through the lives of LGBTIQA+ individuals from the Pacific diaspora on 23 January. The day includes the Pacific Essence panel discussion with artists Amao Leota Lu, Jaiyah Saelua, Andrew Fitisemanu and Joseph Sikulu.

The Immigration Museum is also looking at the culture of the tattoo. Documenting the Body has been curated by Stanislava Pinchuk and explores contemporary perspectives on tattooing as it intersects with themes of immigration, journeys, the body, heritage and identity. Until 5 April.

It is paired with Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World – a photographic exhibition by Kip Fulbeck and Takahiro Kitamura.

Jonathan Jones will present a new work at Hyde Park Barracks in February 2020. Photo: James Horan.


To coincide with the official re-opening of Hyde Park Barracks, Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones has been commissioned to create a major installation taking over the Barracks’ courtyard. Titled ‘untitled (maraong manaóuwi)’ – which means emu footprint – the work uses 2,000 versions of two remarkable similar symbols, the maraong manaóuwi, and the English Broad Arrow design emblazoned into convicts’ tools, to contrast and illustrate the two vastly different stories and experiences during the period of First Contact. 21 February – 15 March.

Looking Back Looking Forward is a new travelling exhibition showcasing contemporary works from the Australia National Maritime Museum (aka SEA) collection by Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non‑Indigenous artists focussing on moments of encounters. These artists have responded to the symbolic nature of Cook and the various encounters with strangers that have occurred around the shorelines of their country over many years. February 2020 – May 2021.

Tall Ships, Tall Stories by J Gemes, E Pelot Kitchener, A Holt, T Moffatt. Presented in the exhibition Looking Back Looking Forward at SEA in 2020. Australian National Maritime Museum Collection.

Melbourne Museum partners with Midsumma Festival in February with their Nocturnal program.

Nocturnal x Midsumma on 7 February is an after-hours party where you are invited for exclusive night-time access to permanent galleries, expert talks with curators and scientists, as well as back of house collections displays.

Nocturnal x Fashion on 6 February will be a tailor-made night of culture, fashion and a massive line-up featuring: Banoffee, Romance Was Born x Chunky Move, Rainbow Chan, Mojo Juju (DJ Set), Purple Sneakers, Feels, Pania, SaD, and Hey Drums.

And Nocturnal x Asia TOPA takes over the museum on 21 March and celebrates China’s most exciting new music, curated by tastemakers IndieWorks China. And on 21 February groundbreaking South Korean multi-instrumentalist and composer Park Jiha is in Australia for the very first time, and will present a genre-defying performance Play On at the Museum.

With a practice grounded in South Korean classical music, Jiha’s compositions exist at the intersection between old and new, transcending the space between South Korean traditional music and an otherworldly futuristic aesthetic.


Over 1,000 years ago, Oceanic navigator Kupe sailed to Aotearoa New Zealand and acquired an anchor stone from Porirua harbour in Wellington. This stone, which now resides in the collection of Pataka Art Gallery and Museum, provides a conceptual anchor point for conversations around Oceanic exploration and ideas of discovery in the exhibition HERE: Kupe to Cook, presented by SEA – Australia National Maritime Museum in Sydney from March to August 2020.

The exhibition features artworks by 20 leading Aotearoa New Zealand and Australian contemporary artists who investigate the long and varied histories of South Pacific voyaging, from Kupe to the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1769.

Also opening in March at SEA is the internationally-acclaimed exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year – the world’s best nature photography, exhibited on 100 exquisite light panels. It comes to Sydney from the Natural History Museum in London.


The voyage of James Cook’s Endeavour changed the world forever. It is a story that lies at the very core of Australia’s history. The National Museum of Australia takes you through that narrative in their exhibition, Endeavour Voyage – The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians.

The Museum writes: ‘By looking honestly at our past, we have the chance to join together and imagine a shared future.’ Visitors will ‘travel’  on board the ship with Cook and for the first time hearing the stories from those on the shore – to listen carefully to all perspectives. 8 April – 11 October.

How has the face of Australia changed over the last 250 years? This is a question that SEA – Australia National Maritime Museum poses this year. The Face of Australia is a national photographic portrait project reflecting upon our identity, place and community. The project takes population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census and transforms it into unique composite portraits. April – September 2020.

Also at SEA, Mariw Minaral (Spiritual Patterns) is a retrospective of the work of Torres Strait Island artist Alick Tipoti – a first time look at this important cultural and environmental artist that focuses on what it is to be a sea person. Tipoti is known for regenerating cultural knowledge and language into contemporary storytelling using everything from linocut prints to high-tech sculptures. April – October 2020.


Treasures of the Natural World will shine at Melbourne Museum. Travelling from London’s Natural History Museum, this incredible exhibition is a first for Australian audiences that will map out over 200 specimens from the unique or extremely rare to the mysterious and astonishing, each objects selected for its historical importance and its contribution to science. 23 May – 11 October

‘Their discovery, and the unconventional minds behind them, remind us how curiosity and creativity enrich our lives,’ said Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley. Museums Victoria director and CEO Lynley Crosswell added natural history collections are vital in understanding our planet’s extraordinary biodiversity and how it is being impacted by our changing environment. Ticketed.

In Autumn, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne will reopen its doors after a multi-million dollar upgrade of exhibition spaces, access, and visitor engagement. ACMI will start rolling out details of its new programming and exhibitions in February.

CEO Katrina Sedgwick told ArtsHub that the new exhibitions have been built around visual art works held in the collection with a new black box gallery space to present international artists in context of the exhibitions. ‘We are doing much more to make these visible throughout our permanent exhibition – it helps to tell the stories,’ said Sedgwick.

This will be felt immediately by visitors as they enter the reconfigured spaces in 2020, where new Indigenous commissions frame narratives, to works by artists such as Daniel Von Sturmer and Daniel Crooks which bring to life the breadth of screen engagement. Stay tuned!


The Australia Museum in Sydney is due to open to the public in mid-2020 after a $57.5 million renovation. The new galleries will be completed in time to deliver the global blockbuster exhibition, Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh in early 2021 – the most significant collection of artefacts ever to leave Egypt.

Sydney will be the fifth destination in a 10-city world tour to mark the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. The Australian Museum is the exclusive host of the exhibition in South East Asia, and will feature more than 150 objects from King Tut’s tomb, including 60 treasures never previously displayed outside Egypt.

Also opening mid-2020 is the new Chau Chak Wing Museum, which will showcase the University of Sydney’s art collection as well as collections from the Macleay and Nicholson Museums. The Nicholson Museum, known for its archeological holdings, remains open until 28 February 2020, ahead of the move. Here is a list of 12 treasures that will be on show for the new museum’s opening.


No new programming at the time of publishing.

Western Australian Museum, night view. Photo: Peter Bennett.


The much anticipated opening of the new $395.9M WA Museum will happen in November, with eight new exhibitions clustered under three major themes:

  • Being Western Australian: celebrating the diversity of our people
  • Discovering Western Australia: a gateway to our incredible State
  • Exploring the World: WA and its place in the world

The eight newly curated exhibitions are: Our heart, Country, spirit; Wild Life; Our place in the World; Origins – Land, Water, Sky; Changes – Transforming Landscapes; Reflections – Our People, Our Stories; Innovations – Creative Minds, Amazing Inventions, and Highlights from the State’s Collections, the Stan Perron WA Treasures.

In an impressive design by HASSELL and OMA, the  building’s construction has been completed on time, and WA Museum teams are currently fitting out the exhibition spaces. Entry fees will be suspended for the first year.

In a major summer exhibition to see out 2020, SEA will present Venice: City of the Sea from November 2020 to May 2021. The new international exhibition explores this relationship through objects and artworks from Venetian museums and Australian collections. Culture and power intertwine to tell the story of Venice, with the sea as the main character. Produced by the Australian National Maritime Museum in association with Expona and Contemporanea Progetti.

Peter & Ruth McMullin Galleries, Science Gallery Melbourne, opening late 2020-early 2021. Digital impression by Smart Design.


Opening potentially end of 2020, but more likely in early 2021, The Science Gallery Melbourne is part of the acclaimed Global Science Gallery Network, embedded in the University of Melbourne.

Rose Hiscock, Science Gallery’s inaugural director said: ‘With a target market of young adults, the space needs to be future-focused, edgy and cool. But not try-hard.’ Sydney-firm William Smart was appointed to create the 3,500-square-metre Science Gallery as a ‘living lab’.

To keep us abreast of museum programming, email us at editor@artshub.com.au

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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