Dancing drones and pop concert: Sydney Modern’s celebrations gets a contemporary twist

The Sydney Opera House opened in 1973 with a flotilla of ferries, a descendent of Bennelong silhouetted on a single sail and the late Queen Elizabeth II cutting the ribbon on one of the greatest buildings of the 20th century.

Fifty years later, the milestone opening of the Art Gallery of NSW’s new wing in one month’s time will be given a modern celebratory twist: a nine-day festival with dancing drones and an Art for All concert headlined by Grammy-nominated singer Ellie Goulding.

Ellie Goulding headlines the Art for All concert in the Domain on December 10.Credit:Arthur Mola/Invision/Ap

The nightly drone show has been created by Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie and will write art in the skies above the Art Gallery and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

Four hundred drones will animate artworks set to a soundtrack by Rennie who is known for an illuminated billboard installed at Carriageworks, REMEMBER ME, marking the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first landfall at Botany Bay and the HMB Endeavour’s charting of the East Coast of Australia.

Minister for the Arts Ben Franklin said the nine-day program would run from December 3 to 11 entirely free to the public, and draw more than 33,000 visitors.

The curtain rises on the $344 million Sydney Modern on December 3, concluding one of the largest cultural civil construction projects since the unveiling of Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece.

The drone show and concert launching the city’s newest cultural landmark will be funded by Destination NSW, with the gallery sponsoring its own series of performances and art shows.

Reko Rennie will be coordinating 400 drones over the Art Gallery of NSW.Credit:Sia Duff

The nine-day program aims to introduce Sydneysiders to the nascent dream of former gallery director Edmund Capon, which has been made bricks and mortar thanks to taxpayers’ funding and $109 million raised from the city’s wealthiest families.

Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects SANAA, the new Sydney Modern building, soon to be given an Indigenous name, sits next to the sandstone original building designed by Walter Liberty Vernon.

Aiming to almost double exhibition space, the new building cascades to a subterranean Tank gallery on the lip of Woolloomooloo Bay, enveloped in glass with a 250-metre rammed earth wall sweeping across two levels.

The project’s lone sour note is the delay to the opening of the largest of nine art commissions by Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones, who is creating an Indigenous gathering space on the concrete roof of the Eastern Distributor, between the old and new buildings.

Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973

His “patch of Country” will not be finished until mid-next year, amid upset among some Indigenous cultural leaders over the art commission’s treatment and a said fallout between artist and gallery director Michael Brand.

The work will be behind hoarding as the Art Gallery extends its opening hours over nine days to bring many forms of art to life beyond the walls and grounds of the Art Gallery.

A series of special performances will be staged including those by noted Indigenous artist Brook Andrew, renowned for addressing themes of colonialism, historical amnesia and Indigenous cultures in his work.

Events will culminate with a concert in The Domain on December 10, featuring Goulding, Meg Mac and the electronic duo Electric Fields.

More than 6000 people have registered for free, timed visits to the gallery on its opening weekend. Bookings for the festival can be made here.

“The new building is an architectural masterpiece and will attract visitors from across the state, the nation and the globe,” Franklin said.

“It will inspire not only current artists, but also creative practitioners for generations to come.”

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