Australia’s cultural clout has replaced its cultural cringe

As the country’s most famous cultural icon, the Sydney Opera House, marks its golden jubilee, there is much to celebrate in the Australian arts. Our foremost artistic ambassadors are as talismanic as ever. Cate Blanchett is already generating Oscars buzz for her performance as the trailblazing composer and conductor Lydia Tar. Elizabeth Debicki, Blanchett’s heir apparent, is one of the world’s most-watched actresses because of her role as Princess Diana in The Crown.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, after a three-year absence due to COVID, has returned to international touring and has been showered with the usual admiring reviews. “A remarkable band unlike any other” was the verdict of The Guardian after the ACO’s concert series in London.

From Blanchett to Bluey, Australia’s arts scene is sailing. Credit:ABC/Getty

Following on from the West End success of Prima Faciestarring the Killing Eve star Jodie Comer, the Sydney-based playwright Suzie Miller has written another blockbuster which this time looks destined for Broadway. RBG: Of Many, Onea Supreme Courtroom drama featuring a mesmerizing performance from Heather Mitchell playing Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is a masterpiece.

The cartoon character Bluey is even about to make her debut in New York, appearing for the first time, in giant inflatable form, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. This international ratings powerhouse offers yet more proof that Australia’s cultural community is acting, fiddling, playwriting and animating way above the country’s weight.

Australia’s cultural infrastructure is also unrecognizable from when the Opera House unfurled its sails. Next month sees the opening of Sydney Modern, the extension to the Art Gallery of NSW, which has ambitions to rival New York’s Museum of Modern Art, The Louvre and London’s Tate Modern. This may all sound a tad far-fetched. Yet recently I got a sneak preview, and it is easy to envisage the new building’s Oil Tank Gallery, which has the feel of a subterranean mogul temple, rivaling the Tate Modern’s giant turbine hall as one of the world’s great artistic spaces.

The new gallery also makes some important cultural statements, both timely and long overdue. The first gallery that visitors will stroll though houses Indigenous works, which establishes the rightful primacy of First Nations culture. Asian art is also hung more prominently, which recognizes the country’s ever-evolving demographics.

A leader in Australia's cultural binge: Cate Blanchett as the acclaimed conductor Lydia Tar.

A leader in Australia’s cultural binge: Cate Blanchett as the acclaimed conductor Lydia Tar.Credit:Focus Features

Nor is it just Sydney that is boosting its cultural stock. Alice Springs will be the home of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery. Adelaide should eventually go to its eye-catching Tarrkarri Center for First Nations Cultures. The National Gallery of Victoria is constructing the county’s largest contemporary art gallery, a stunning new addition. Regional gems, such as the Bundanon Art Museum and Bridge, designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects, now grace the landscape. Brisbane is remodeling its entire South Bank arts precinct in time for the 2032 Olympics.

Finally, the country’s cultural landmarks are on a par with its sporting cathedrals.

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