Sarah Downs checks out the world-first shows on now in Sydney, and the Arts Festival 2020 events you need to see
Cornelia Parker at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
British artist Cornelia Parker is famed for her artistic eruptions; she crushes, explodes, flattens, and hurls objects off cliff faces — quite literally. And it's with a bang the Tate Modern favourite and Britain's first official female election artist debuts at the MCAA.
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Most famous on display is her large instillation work Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) comprising thousands of fragments from a garden shed that was stuffed with junk and blown to smithereens by the British Army, Parker, reportedly, on the trigger. The exhibition of 40 works also includes suspended silverware flattened by a steamroller and a 12-metre long embroidery recreating the Magna Carta's Wikipedia entry. The hand-stitched piece features the needlework of British prisoners, and whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
Her installation War Room (2015) came from a visit to the Poppy Factory in Richmond, London. Ignoring the poppies, Parker collected the discarded strips of red paper from which the flowers had been cut and has hung them like fabric curtains; based on the grand red tent Henry VIII took to France to talk peace. The effect is striking, and the thousands of poppy-shaped holes act as a reminder of the lives lost in the Great War.
Until February 16 2020, 10am-5pm, MCA, 140 George St, The Rocks, mca.com.au
Japan Supernatural at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Anyone who has dived into supernatural folklore of Japan will know it's a bonkers world. From malicious foxes to monsters who hide inside your toilet and steal your soul through your anus – they have it covered. Find around 180 depictions of the mischievous creatures that have inspired Japanese artists across the centuries taking residence in the Art Gallery of NSW. But don't get spooked; it's loads of fun.
You can't miss the show's gigantic centrepiece from contemporary rock star artist Takashi Murakami, whose artwork features on Louis Vuitton handbags and a Kanye West album cover. Made from 502 silkscreens, the new commission is the single largest painting to enter the gallery's international collection. With Murakami's 1.5 million Instagram followers it's bound to attract crowds.
For small with substance, hunt out the scrolls, wood carvings, paintings, prints, and photographs by other contemporary Japanese artists such as Chiho Aoshima and Miwa Yanagi, and old masters such as Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
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It's worth grabbing one of the headsets (or download the app on your phone) for the audio. Exhibition curator Melanie Eastburn and paranormal Japanese art experts Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt provide wonderfully absurd insights into the stories behind the works. Original music composed for the show plays too.
Until March 8, 2020, 10am-5pm, Art Gallery NSW, Art Gallery Rd, The Domain, artgallery.nsw.gov.au
This tops the list for reasons to be a Sydneysider in January. The annual three-week event delivers an eclectic mix of theatre, visual arts, music, dance, cabaret and community events to the city. And for the 2020 instalment, there's everything from the latest productions direct from overseas to intimate, often local shows.
International highlights include French director Cyril Teste's Opening Night direct from New York. It's a radical re-staging of John Cassevetes's cult movie, with French favourite Isabelle Adjani in the lead role. The much-hyped girl-power musical Six comes to Sydney too. Inspired by Beyonce, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, the modern retelling presents the six wives of Henry VIII as a punchy female pop band. Experimental director and artist Lars Jan brings Joan Didion's classic essay The White Album to life on stage. A narrator is joined by 25 young audience members to perform the multimedia piece.
Next year's line-up also champions local work with an impressive 46 local commissions. Black Ties is a comedic theatre work that tells the story of Maori and Aboriginal families brought together for their children's wedding in testing circumstances.
This is just a start to what's on offer during the festival – such as immersive sound installation while lying on the floor of a huge hall, a three-course whiskey-fuelled meal served with magic tricks, and being hooked up to a lie detector in front of a crowd – so best to book quickly, as many of these events sell out before the new year.
Sydney Festival runs from January 8-26, 2020. Book at Sydneyfestival.org.au
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Then at White Rabbit Gallery: For 10 years now, Chippendale's White Rabbit Gallery has showcased exclusively contemporary Chinese work. Then, the gallery's latest exhibition, celebrates a decade with more than 60 key pieces on display from its collection. Go at lunchtime — there's a cheerful tea and dumpling house on the ground floor. Until January 26, 2020. jnprojects.net
Step Into Paradise at Powerhouse Museum:
Stumble into fashion paradise in this exhibition celebrating the life's work of Australian designer icons Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee. Think couture, colour and cockatoos.
Until March 22, 2020. maas.museum
Stage geeks can get a fix with major musicals passing through theatres. Billy Elliot is showing at Sydney Lyric (until Dec 15) with its fleet of all-singing, all-dancing pint-sized talents. School of Rock the Musical at Capitol Theatre (until Jan 26) brings rock star cred to the stage with tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber.