The NGA Sculpture Garden and Skyspace

Angel of the South?

Australia is like the UK in many ways – including the opening hours for Galleries and Museums. The National Gallery is only open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. so with limited time available I didn’t have chanced to see much of their rather excellent and extensive collection. However, a sculpture garden has been created in the grounds between the Gallery building and of Lake Burley Griffin and that’s accessible even when the gallery is closed.  There’s also a few sculptures at the front of the building.

In all, there  are 26 works by International and Australian artists on display. Here’s some of them.

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Although not strictly part of the Sculpture Garden, there’s another major work outdoors that can be accessible out of hours – Within Without, an installation by James Turrell. Like the Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it’s a “Skyspace” which visitors can enter, sit quietly and contemplate the sky. Unlike Deer Shelter Turrell hasn’t converted an existing structure but created one from scratch, and landscaped the area around it with lawns and a pool.


The Skyspace itself is a structure inside a structure. The outer one covered with turf but, as became apparent, with no roof. Once inside a second dome like structure made of stone, Victorian basalt, is revealed. This is the viewing chamber which has a hole in the ceiling – the oculus – with seats around the walls, just like the Deer Shelter with which we’re familiar.


Looking up through the oculus the sky can be seen.


Initially, the sky was dull, grey and featureless. But we returned a little later after our tour of the sculpture garden when the sky had partly cleared and we were able to view a blue sky with passing, white clouds. Sitting watching the changing patterns induced a feeling of calm and it was fascinating to watch the sky change as the clouds passed over. 

Within the Skyspace, light seems more painterly. Movement and sound are intensified, the sky shimmers and pulsates. (NGA website)

It was really weird in that although we were looking at only a small area of the sky, we could perceive  changes we would not have noticed looking at the “big” sky outside. I could have spent hours staring through the hole!

I believe that the installation is open during the night and it would be good to view the dark star lit sky on a clear night. Not possible for us on this occasion, though.

9 thoughts on “The NGA Sculpture Garden and Skyspace

    • Yes they are creepy, but I liked the work. During the daytime they have another work in the sculpture garden which sends a mist around the garden and drifting over the water and the heads. I didn’t see it as I went during the evening but my wife did when I was in the conference and took a photo. As you’d guess, they looked even creepier!

  1. Great sculptures! James Turrell is one of those annoying people who have an idea which is brilliant, but seems obvious once you’ve seen it. Why didn’t I think of that? The skyspace at the YSP is great – our kids love it, which is very interesting, they can be very dismissive.

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