The New South Wales state budget next week will allocate $244 million towards a massive expansion plan by the Art Gallery of NSW.
The gallery wants to double in size under a $450 million plan called the “Sydney Modern Project” revealed by director Dr Michael Brand two years ago.
Tokyo architecture firm SANAA has designed a series of eight glass-walled pavilions that cascade over each other on across grasslands to the northeast of the existing gallery above the Eastern Distributor and down towards Woolloomooloo Bay.
The project also incorporates disused WWII oil storage tanks on the site, converting them into gallery spaces.
The cost of the project has since been revised down to $350 million and AGNSW chairman David Gonski said the rest of the funds needed will come from private donations.
The gallery says it is already has $70 million in pledges from the private sector and benefactors towards its $100 million target.
It hopes to begin a two-year construction phase in 2019 so the new site is ready for 2021 for the 150th anniversary of the Archibald Prize.
The taxpayer funding comes from $600 million allocated towards the arts from the government’s $3 billion sell-off of the state-owned “poles and wires” power network.
A further $100 million has been allocated to art and cultural projects in regional NSW.
But the AGNSW proposal has attracted some high-profile critics, including former prime minister Paul Keating, who called the 2015 announcement a “land grab” about money rather than art.
He accused gallery director of wanting “to build a large entertainment and special events complex masquerading as an art gallery”.
The project takes up all the public space to the north of the gallery, which is majority owned by The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, with the Roads and Maritime Services owning a little over a third and a small section owned by the gallery. Keating argued that the expansion plans should be to the south, over The Domain carpark, but that idea has been rejected by the director.
NSW arts minister Don Harwin said the gallery plan is worth $1 billion to the economy over 25 years and will create 240 full-time jobs.
“For too long NSW has lost out to Melbourne and even Brisbane when it comes to attracting major international art exhibitions but that will change now,” he said.
The AGNSW is around half the size of its contemporaries in Melbourne and Canberra and more than 90% of the collection has to be stored off site.
Dr Brand said: “The expansion will allow us to display many more of the greatest works of art in our collection, and also double school student visitors to 200,000 a year.”