Even now, Brisbane could be considered an ‘undiscovered’ gem. Completely unthought of as an arts destination as recently as the 1970s, the scene has exploded into life in recent decades and it is now a truly powerful player in the arts world. And yet the River City remains surprisingly – and wonderfully – free of throngs of tourists descending on all the best of the action.
The Gallery of Modern Art, part of the giant Queensland Cultural Centre that is the city’s main artistic hub on the south bank of the river, is one of the largest in the world. The centre as a whole is home to a wide-ranging programme of all kinds of events and there are few more stimulating walks than a stroll along the river here on a sunny day.
The patchwork of neighbourhoods that make up the city are ripe for exploring. Each one has its own distinct culture and atmosphere, and with so many cultural events taking place all over Brisbane, you’re bound to run into something exciting in each one.
If you’re short on time before heading off to somewhere else in Australia, though, here are three spots which culture vultures shouldn’t miss.
Gallery of Modern Art
The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art is a stunningly striking building, eye-catchingly modern. But it’s not a structure which is just style over substance: it certainly doesn’t scrimp on the user experience. The exhibitions are very well thought-out and there is so much housed here that it’s spread over two buildings, with an ever-changing programme of both Australian and international exhibitions. Artists who have been on display since it opened in 2006 include Picasso, Ai Weiwei, Andy Warhol and Anish Kapoor. The building itself is a work of art in its own right, too: the main pavilion is a ‘light box’ on the river side, while the other side is a ‘dark box’ which includes an art-house cinema. One especially handy feature of the gallery if you have little ones with you is the permanent children’s art centre.
One of the city’s most exciting cultural venues is this converted pre-war industrial power station. Now an iconic place to see a show or visual arts exhibition, the industrial red brick facade, generator and cement floors are remnants of the building’s days servicing the tram network and the city’s suburbs. Artists moved in when the powerhouse was decommissioned, adding a splattering of now-listed graffiti, and these days the powerhouse is home to brilliant restaurants with river-views, fantastic festivals and a strong programme of regular events including comedy, live music and outdoor theatre.
As well as the stately galleries, Brisbane has a selection of intriguing street sculptures. You can feel the vibrancy and creativity of the city’s people as you stroll around, and this really shines through in the street art. At one end of the scale is the towering representation of Queen Victoria in front of the Old Executive building. At the other you have the City Roos by Christopher Trotter, a series of playful kangaroo figures made out of scrap metal. Everything in between is a delight to discover as you wander.