Sculpture by the Sea – Largest Free to Public Sculpture Exhibition in the World

Jan 31, 2023 | Art, Articles, Travel

In most cases, if you want to visit an art exhibition, you have to pay a hefty price. For some exhibitions, the price can be extremely high. With that in mind, if you love art there are also free public exhibitions all over the world. And the largest among them is the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition that was initiated in 1997, and happens annually since then in Australia.

The exhibition in Sydney and Perth is the largest outdoor sculpture exhibition in the world. At Bondi Beach, it features sculptures by both Australian and overseas artists.

Held annually during spring in Australia, the exhibition lasts from late October to early November for three weeks. In 2014, there were between 450,000 and 500,000 people visiting the sculptures.

How it all began?

In 1995, David Handley, who is the founder of the exhibition, lived in Prague. He visited an outdoor sculpture park in Klatovy, and was inspired to do something similar in Australia. He came back home in 1996. In consultation with his friends, he picked the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk as a suitable location. Initially, he considered having sculptures and paintings, and naming the exhibition “Art by the Sea”. However, since the weather is unpredictable, he dropped the idea and went with sculptures by the sea.

It took David 10 weeks to put together the first exhibition with just a small budget. The first exhibition was held over one day at Bondi and gathered an interest of around 20,000 spectators and some media interest. David and his team received 189 entries from 138 artists, and featured 64 of them.

From then on, every year, they transform the coastal walk into a seaside art gallery with more 100 sculptures exhibited in the background of sea.


One of the goals of the exhibition is to foster and promote contemporary Australian sculpture. To do that, David and his team give awards to promising artists. Different foundations and sponsors donate money so that artists can receive awards.

The Helen Lempriere Scholarship is one of the most prestigious annual prize for sculptors in Australia. Helen was one of Australia’s leading female artists in the mid-20th century, and the scholarship is a realization of a bequest made by Keith Wood to honor her. She was his wife. Scholarships serve to advance artists career through study or research. Since it was established, the scholarship has provided more than $1.5 million in funding support for artists from Australia.

What makes the exhibition special?

The walk from Bondi to Tamarama is approximately 1.3 km long (close to one mile), and it will take you between 20 to 25 minutes at a casual pace. Walking you can see playful, amazing, surreal installations which have made the exhibition the largest free outdoor event in the world.

The exhibit follows the path of the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, with more than 100 sculptures exhibited by local and foreign artists. It is one of the rare events that promises you great beach, amazing water to swim, and art to watch.

Being that the exhibition is outside, it is prone to damage by weather. There have been several cases in which the sculptures have been damaged. For example, in 1998, rough conditions lead to six sculptures being damaged, including Ann Thompson’s $40,000 worth sculpture.

You can even volunteer

The event not only supports artists, but young people. Volunteers are an integral part of the exhibition, and they play a key role. They are also an essential part of the spirit and experience of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

Last year, almost 200 volunteers participated and donated more than 2,800 hours of their time. Volunteers get to be a part of an internationally-acclaimed exhibition, meet and join community of like-minded people, receive a certificate of appreciation and written reference, and most importantly, invaluable hands-on experience of how major culture event operates.

Outside Australia

While the event is traditional to Australia, Denmark also held a Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. In 2009, crown princess Mary and crown prince Frederik initiated a biannual event in the city of Aarhus. Mary was born in Australia, and she wanted to bring the tradition to Denmark. It is the only time the event was held outside Australia. Produced by the city of Aarhus, it is totally independent financially and legaly from the Sculpture by the Sea in Australia. The first two exhibitions in Denmark attracted more than 500,000 visitors, but the event was terminated in 2015.

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Thomas B.