Chau Chak Wing Museum announces opening exhibitions

14 May 2020
The University of Sydney has released details of seven exhibitions that will launch when Australia's newest museum opens its doors in November.
Image of Grace Cossington Smith's painting Northern Beach, an oil painting of a beach and its surrounding coastline

Grace Cossington Smith, Northern Beach, 1931, oil on board, from the Hon R P Meagher bequest.

Credit: University Art Collection, UA2012.84

The Chau Chak Wing Museum will bring together the University’s natural history, ethnography, science, visual arts, decorative arts, historic photography and antiquities collections. These collections were previously exhibited in the Nicholson Museum, Macleay Museum and the University Art Gallery. The new museum also introduces a temporary exhibition space to the University.

“With two thousand square metres of exhibition space, we will have triple the area available to display our diverse and internationally significant collections,” museum Director David Ellis said.

“This will allow us to display three percent of our total collections at any one time.

“We will be in the fortunate position of having 18 exhibitions that open with the museum. The exhibitions we have announced to date highlight the depth and breadth of our Nicholson collection, Macleay collection and the University Art Collection.”

“The Chau Chak Wing Museum also brings a new, 400 square metre, temporary exhibition space to the University. We are thrilled to be working with the northeast Arnhem Land Art Centres to bring the stories of the learnings and knowledge of the Yolŋu people to Sydney.”

The museum will be open to the public, free of charge, from 18 November. 

Image of a taxidermied cockatoo perched on a stand which will feature in the Natural Selection exhibition

Cacatua leadbeateri (Vigors, 1831); Widyagala [Wiradjuri language], Leadbeater's cockatoo will feature in Natural Selections 

Credit: Donated by Macleay Family 1865-1892; Macleay Collections; NHB.1649

The exhibitions

Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations

A major survey of artworks by the Yolŋu peoples of north-east Arnhem Land represents three generations of the Milingimbi, Ramingining and Yirrkala communities. Gululu dhuwala djalkiri brings to Gadigal land stories of land, knowledge and ceremony to highlight the connections stretching back over millennia and into the Dreamtime.

The Business of Photography: the 19th century studio

The commercial opportunities of photography became apparent in 19th century New South Wales, when Sydney’s first photographic studio opened in 1842. Commercial photographers soon established an ongoing presence as populations and prosperity grew after the 1850s gold rushes. From the travelling photographer with a portable darkroom to large-scale industrial enterprises, this exhibition draws from the historic photography in the Macleay Collection to examine the role of the commercial studio in 19th century Australia.

Roman Spectres

Featuring objects from the Nicholson collection of Roman antiquities – the largest antiquities collection in the southern hemisphere - Roman Spectres examines names, faces and Latin inscriptions to discover poignant glimpses into individual stories from the vibrant ancient Roman world.

Natural Selections: animal worlds

Trade, wonder and order drove human interest in collecting animal specimens in the nineteenth century. As museum collections formed and grew, they had an immense impact on how we understand the world today. Natural Selections draws us into the study of natural history and how museum collections continue to contribute to our understanding of species, their classification and their geographic distributions. 

The Mummy Room

Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death, but only if their bodies were preserved in a lifelike form. Mummification was a practical response to this spiritual problem. This permanent display presents the coffins and mummies of four people who lived in Egypt between 1000 BC to AD 100. The latest technology, including CT imaging, provides new insights into these ancient objects, helping us to understand more about each mummy – their age and beliefs, even their medical conditions.

Daniel Boyd: contemporary art projects #1

Renowned Indigenous Australian artist Daniel Boyd will present a new project, reflecting upon the origins of the museum as a product of the Enlightenment. This project is the first in a series of commissions inviting contemporary artists to engage with the University’s collections. Boyd’s installation will present selections from across the museum’s collections, displayed within a mirrored installation offering multiple viewpoints.


Over centuries, artists have represented the sea’s changing appearance and meaning – sometimes as part of a journey, sometimes as a site of contact, contemplation or pleasure. This exhibition examines a broad group of artists’ responses to the space where land meets sea. Coastline draws on the University Art Collection and features artists including Grace Cossington Smith (left), Arthur Streeton and JW Power.


Made possible by the generosity of Dr Chau Chak Wing and other significant donations the museum will encompass 8000 square metres over five levels. Aside from exhibition space it will include research and study areas, an auditorium, a café, and a state-of-the-art conservation facility. There is no entry fee.


Featured image (top of page): 

David Daymirriŋu Malangi (1927–1999)

Manharrŋu clan, Dhuwa moiety, Yolŋu people

Biw’yunnaraw warrakan ŋaṯili dawurr (black cockatoo feather fan) c.1984

feathers, beeswax, wood

University Art Collection, J W Power Bequest, PW1984.86;  © Estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd.

Verity Leatherdale

Manager, Faculty Media and PR

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