Bundanon is a climate-resilient art gallery a few hours from Sydney

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Between the winding bend of the mighty Shoalhaven River and the foot of a mountain, a curious architectural structure rises. A charcoal-black bridge crosses the ravine, symbiotically connecting to a cavernous but sleek concrete bunker rooted into the hillside.

An underground art museum integrated into the landscape, resistant to fires and floods. A wildlife reserve. An architectural wonder that respects the environment. A time capsule containing a $46.6 million art collection. A place to learn, heal and connect with art and nature. Bundanon is many things, and it’s hard to properly describe it without experiencing it firsthand.

Bundanon is located just over two and a half hours from Sydney on the south coast, in 1000 hectares of bushland and parkland overlooking the Shoalhaven River. You can either just visit the gallery (add local meal and coffee at Ramox Cafe) or stay on deck overnight for the full experience. It is popular as a workplace and retreat for artists, or as a resting place for anyone looking to go bush. The redesigned site had a soft open in January 2022, and its offerings and visits continue to swell and grow despite the hurdles of extreme weather and Covid disruptions.

Bundanon incorporates radical solutions to climate change, being defensible against fires and floods

The art museum is home to a changing program of contemporary exhibitions and cultural experiences, with events, workshops and concerts also featured on site. The inaugural exhibition From impulse to action (January 29-June 12, 2022) features 12 new commissions from contemporary Australian artists working across a wide range of disciplines, responding to the bold ink drawings of legendary Australian artist Arthur Boyd. Under the watchful eye of Curatorial and Learning Officer, Sophie O’Brien, most of the works on display are created by artists in residence at Bundanon. There’s interactive basket-weaving work by man Worimi Dean Cross; a grungy dance performance in a faceless, animalistic costume by Jo Lloyd, filmed at the Art Museum during its construction; ceramics and paintings incorporating ocher and mud recovered on site at Bundanon; to towering charcoal drawings and delicate sculptural installations, including one by Emily Parsons-Lord, featuring locally sourced charcoal and a diamond forged from the ashes of the artist’s late mother.

Arthur Boyd’s influence touches everything here. Established in 1993, Bundanon itself is a gift to the people of Australia from Boyd and his wife, artist Yvonne Boyd, in one of the most significant acts of philanthropy in Australian arts history. Boyd is part of a long line of artists, and you can still visit the Boyd family estate and Arthur Boyd’s original studio at the Bundanon site*.

“From what I understood, [Arthur] was really a shy person. But he was very attached to the environment, he was attached to reconciliation and respect for the history of the First Nations peoples. He was very aware of the role that artists play in society. Yvonne once said of him that even though he liked being an artist, and that he was above all a visual artist, what he really liked was music and science,” says Sophie O’Brien.

“There is a spirit of generosity that must remain abundant, that was Arthur’s spirit. I think this spirit of commitment has an ethical foundation, and also a generosity about what you have, to share it, and also to preserve. All of these things that I see as parts of Bundanon that can be actively integrated into the programming and what we offer as an experience when you are here.

The new additions to Bundanon incorporate radical solutions to climate change, being defensible against fires and floods and with a net zero energy goal. The underground art museum and collection store houses valuable works of art in an underground building that protects the works from various climatic conditions and provides thermal stability in the form of the restored hill.

There is a spirit of generosity that must remain abundant, it was the spirit of Arthur

Designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects and constructed from fire-rated timber, the bridge is treated as flood proof infrastructure with architecture supporting the natural water flow system at the site. All water and electricity is produced on site, with solar panels running the length of the bridge, and rainwater is captured. Thirty-two rooms that can accommodate up to 64 people are interspersed with terraces and relaxation areas. The building is air conditioned with cross ventilation and mesh windows open the rooms to the natural surroundings for an outdoor experience (minus the bugs). Accommodation is minimalist but chic, with plush beds and small bathrooms with steamy showers wrapped in a small grotto of shiny black tiles.

You can fall asleep to the gentle sound of nature and the pattering of large raindrops on the tin roof. In the evening, find a portly wombat trudging along the moonlit lawn while sipping local wine. In the morning, catch a family of kangaroos grazing in the morning sun and take a walk to the pier.

Artists are at the heart of the place, but watching the ripples roll across the surface of the lake and listening to the chorus of distant frogs and crickets, you might realize that in Bundanon, mother nature is the greatest artist of all – we just need to find the perfect angle to frame it.

The Bundanon Art Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults $18, reduced rate $12, child members under 12 free. The Ramox Cafe is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn more about accommodation packages here.

* At the time of publishing, the Homestead and Arthur Boyd’s studio are currently closed due to road damage caused by heavy rainfall in the area.

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