When it comes to striking architecture, Sydney is perhaps best known for the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. But soon there'll be another exciting architectural highlight to explore when the Sydney Modern Project opens its doors in December.

The Sydney Modern Project is the Art Gallery of New South Wales' (AGNSW) new museum for contemporary art. It's Sydney's attempt to match New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Tate Modern in London as a must-visit for modern art lovers.

What's special about the Sydney Modern Project?

The Art Gallery of New South Wales says the Sydney Modern Project expansion will be "one of the most ambitious cultural landmarks in Australia to open since the Sydney Opera House almost 50 years ago" when it debuts later this year, due to the scale and scope of the project.

Overlooking Sydney's famous harbor and the Royal Botanic Gardens, the new museum is designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architects SANAA, whose previous projects include the Louvre-Lens in France, and the New Museum in New York. It's being built alongside the existing AGNSW building (almost doubling its exhibition floor space) and both museums will be connected by a land bridge that will become an outdoor public art garden with some of the best views of the city.

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Sydney Modern Project sits alongside the Art Gallery of NSW overlooking Sydney Harbor © Art Gallery of NSW

This is SANAA's first project in Australia and already the building has raised the bar on museum design by becoming the first art museum in Australia to be awarded the highest rating for sustainable design, due to its incorporation of solar panels, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, and low-carbon materials.

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The striking design nicely complements the art inside, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are given precedence in the new gallery spaces, which have the scale and capacity to exhibit huge pieces of work.

What art can I see at Sydney Modern?

Last week, museum curators announced that it had commissioned original artworks from nine acclaimed local and international artists; more than half by female artists and three by Indigenous artists. These include works by Yayoi Kusama, Lorraine Connell-Northey, Karla Kickens, Sumryn Gill, Jonathan Jones, Richard Lewer, Lee Mingwei, Lisa Reihana and Francis Upritchard. 

Artwork will be displayed both indoors and outdoors, with some viewable to the public during the day and after-hours.

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Yayoi Kusama has been commissioned for the Sydney Modern Project © Ota Fine Arts

Showpieces include a giant floral sculpture from Japanese artist Kusama on the terrace, which will greet passers-by at all hours; a new sculpture by Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) artist Kickens that explores the continuing legacy of coloniasm and patriarchy; and a sci-fi moving image from Māori artist Reihana (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū) that tells the history of Australia and New Zealand connections.

The building also compromises a decommissioned WWII naval oil tank that's being transformed into an exhibition space with rotating artworks.

Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr Michael Brand said: ‘Together these new works establish the expanded Art Gallery as a global art museum offering a unique experience in Sydney – one that is responsive, purposeful and engaging and where each visit creates new encounters, new stories and new connections."

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The dcommissioned WWII oil tanker underneath the building will become an exhibition space © SANAA Architects

When to see it

Sydney Modern Project is slated to open in December with the exact date yet to be announced. For more information, see the Art Gallery of New South Wales website.

If you can't wait that long...

If you can't wait that long, you can check out local and contemporary art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, the White Rabbit Gallery or the Carriageworks. And if you're a fan of Yayoi Kusama's work but a trip to Sydney isn't feasible any time soon, you can view her work at these 29 locations around the world. 

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