Museum of Contemporary Art’s $3 million commission ripe for selfie generation

The first Neil Balnaves Tallawoladah Lawn Commission will open to the public in September 2025 for a period of six months. The second will follow in 2026 and the third and final international commission will be staged in 2027.

An artist’s brief has been developed and a shortlist of notable international and Australian artists drafted. The selected artwork will be installed for six months and scheduled to avoid the crowd crush of the Vivid winter lights festival.

Koons was an established artist when he brought his petalled pooch to Sydney. This time around, the museum is looking for early career artists “still on their trajectory of opening out into the world”, Cotter said. “This commission could serve as a powerful moment within their career in the future.”

Neil’s daughter Victoria said the commission would be a fitting legacy for her father, who ploughed his wealth into The Balnaves Foundation, which he founded in 2006 to support the arts, education, and medical research across Australia.

In 2010, Balnaves was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his services to business and philanthropy.

“We were wanting to do something special and of a scale that would embody the man,” she said.


As a young, newly engaged couple, her father and mother Diane took to the water in 1968 to view Christo and Jean Claude’s wrapping of Little Bay, which like Puppy had been supported by fellow philanthropist, John Kaldor. “It opened his eyes to the impact of public art,” Victoria said.

Said son Hamish, the foundation’s chief executive: “Dad’s personality was big, bold, and dynamic. He loved the arts, and he loved access programs like Generation Next for teenagers here at the MCA, and he liked putting artwork out in the public sphere.”

The last major sculptural commission to grace the MCA lawn was Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror in 2012-13, a polished steel concave mirror that inverted the skyline.

Other activations that have inspired the project are the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and the rooftop of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Commissions such as these are rotated at these sites, with the London art project now going strong after 25 years.

Cotter revealed in November the gallery was considering paid public entry for the first time in more than two decades as it struggled with spiking operational costs and a decade of chronic government underfunding.

Cotter said the museum was doing a lot of work to convert curiosity seekers into an engaged art public, and draw more visitors to Circular Quay into the galleries.

“We are still in discussion at state and federal level to revisit our operational funding, which is at an all-time low. We are still looking at ticketing, we are keeping all those options open.”

MCA and the Balnaves Foundation are announcing the commission series the same month of what would have been Neil Balnaves’ 80th birthday.

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