Culture

How Melbourne Has Become A Modern Art Hotspot

It's not all laneways and street art.

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When Melbourne gets referred to as the ‘cultural capital’ or ‘arts capital’ of Australia (and trust us, it happens a lot), there’s usually mention of the graffiti and street art that adorns laneways throughout the city, and that has put Melbourne on the world map for its colourful urban fabric. But what about the rest of the art the city has to offer? From big-name galleries like the NGV to smaller artist-run initiatives and everything in between, Melbourne is home to a diverse spread of art from around Australia and the rest of the world. With regular art-focused festivals, activities and markets all happening year-round, there’s no shortage of reasons why Melbourne is one of the most exciting art hotspots in the world.


There’s no shortage of big-name galleries…

From the National Gallery of Victoria to Heide Museum of Modern Art, there’s plenty of large-scale art galleries in Melbourne where you can sink your teeth into some of the best art on offer from Australia and overseas. Split into two CBD locations, the NGV is the oldest public art gallery in the country, and is without doubt the best starting point for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the wealth of art Melbourne has to offer. Just on the other side of Federation Square, immerse yourself in art, film and digital culture at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), or venture back towards the heart of Southbank to find the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), housed inside the distinctive Wood Marsh-designed rusted steel building and known for being the only major public gallery in Australia focused on commissioning over collecting.

Elsewhere, find some of the country’s best photographic art at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in Fitzroy, or if you don’t mind venturing out a little further, it’s always worth a trip to Heide Museum of Modern Art, just east of the city in Bulleen. Founded in 1934 by John and Sunday Reed, Heide is home to a rich history of Australian art, with the core collection including works by some of the country’s best-known artists like Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan and Joy Hester.

Sculpture Park

(Heide Sculpture Park, Peter D Cole Red Hill, Black Hill, Green Hill 2006. Photograph: John Gollings)


…but there’s plenty of other options, too

Not to discredit the big guns, but there are so many other galleries worth visiting in Melbourne too – the trouble is deciding where to start. If you’re in the CBD, swing by Chapter House Lane, nestled in a large walk-by window space under St Paul’s Cathedral opposite Federation Square (because of its location, CHL is free and easy to access anytime between 7am and midnight – too easy!). Also in the city: One Hundredth Gallery is dedicated to new and emerging art; the RMIT Gallery is home to some of the best student work in the country with a rotating roster of exhibitions; not-for-profit gallery Blindside supports the contemporary art community across all manner of media; and the Birrarung Gallery at Bunjilaka (the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum) is dedicated to Aboriginal art from South Eastern Australia.

In the inner north, Fitzroy’s Gertrude Contemporary, founded in 1985, continues to foster some of the country’s best talents, while just across the road Seventh Gallery works closely with emerging artists to produce a continually impressive exhibition program year after year. New galleries are also constantly popping up all over town, like the pocket-sized Enough Space in Prahran, which launched in December with a diverse group exhibition and that aims to support emerging creatives in the city.

If you’re after something a little different, book a viewing at the Lyon Housemuseum, a private house in Kew with an art collection to die for: think wall-to-wall Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinini, Brook Andrew and more. Just make sure you pre-book your visit via the website.


Where else can you see Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei exhibited side-by-side?

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(Ai Weiwei, Chinese 1957–, At the Museum of Modern Art 1987 from the New York Photographs series 1983–93 silver gelatin photograph. Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei; Andy Warhol artwork © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.)

There’s a reason the NGV is the most visited gallery in the country. Not only does it have an incredibly diverse selection of over 70,000 works from all over the world and from throughout history, it also regularly plays host to world-class international exhibitions – some that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else on earth.

On December 11, the highly anticipated Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition opened its doors to present an exclusive look into the lives and work of two of the world’s most influential artists. It’s a breathtaking display that explores the parallels and intersections between Warhol and Ai Weiwei, whose respective bodies of work are different in so many ways, but whose conceptual approaches are surprisingly similar in how they both criticise and redefine the role of ‘the artist’ through cultural commentary and political activism. It’s a clever and lovingly curated exhibition with over 300 works and Melbourne is the first city to catch a glimpse of it. (Co-presented with The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, USA, the exhibition will move to the latter in mid-2016 after finishing up at the NGV in April.) Don’t miss Ai Weiwei’s giant sculptural installations – including a towering mass of nearly 1500 bicycles and a giant porcelain flower bed – and put half a day aside to indulge in the comprehensive video rooms.

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(Ai Weiwei, Chinese 1957–, Forever Bicycles, 2011, installation view at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio © Ai Weiwei)


There’s heaps to see outdoors

If you like to soak up the sun while you take in art, there’s plenty of outdoor galleries to visit around the city. Heide has a dedicated outdoor sculpture park with over 30 sculptures on display and a handy map to help navigate them. And if you’re into outdoor sculptures, the Lorne Sculpture Biennale is a picturesque way to see some of the country’s top sculptors present their work against the breathtaking backdrop of the Great Ocean Road (the 2016 Lorne Sculpture Biennale is set to take place from 12 March – 3 April, 2016).

About an hour northeast of Melbourne CBD, in Healesville, TarraWarra Museum of Art is home to an indoor gallery with a sprawling outdoor area overlooking the rolling hills of Yarra Valley. Sharing the grounds with TarraWarra Estate winery, it’s the perfect spot for an art-themed day trip complete with a glass of wine (or five).

A little closer to the city (just 3 kilometres to be precise), Herring Island sits in the middle of the Yarra River, near South Yarra, and is a haven for both art lovers and those just wishing to spend a day outdoors somewhere a bit different but not too far away from the city. Herring Island is only accessible by boat, but at $2 per person for the local punt service, it’s really not a problem at all.


There’s art festivals galore throughout the year

Melbourne is known globally for its huge range of cultural activities on offer, many of which have a huge focus on the arts. The biennial festival Next Wave disrupts the norm when it comes to arts programming, always delivering a jam-packed program of events with an eye for diversity and inclusion as well as envelope-pushing works. The next Next Wave will be happening in May 2016, with a line-up that already looks like it’s shaping up to be an exciting look into the new generation of Australian artists.

On a different scale – each year in Fitzroy, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival lights up the magnolia-lined Gertrude Street with site-specific projection art, and the community is invited to see the familiar street (as well as laneways, footpaths, buildings and even trees) through fresh eyes.

Melbourne is known for its thriving music scene, and each year one music festival in particular goes out of its way to offer a sumptuous spread of local and international art to support and enhance the musical components of the day. Sugar Mountain Festival, ‘a summit of music and art’, has been running since 2011 and recently moved from the Forum Theatre to the Victorian College of the Arts. This year the art line-up features the likes of Parisian light and sound manipulators NONOTAK, New York-based Australian filmmaker Daniel Askill (known for his Grammy-nominated music videos for Sia) and multi-disciplinary Melbourne architectural collective Sibling, among a host of others.


Artist markets are everywhere

Those keen to purchase a little piece of Melbourne’s artistic landscape will delight in the number of artist markets on offer around the city. The Rose Street Artists Market in Fitzroy is an institution: running every Saturday and Sunday since 2003, the markets are situated in a former junkyard off Brunswick Street and display the work of around 70 stallholders each weekend. On Wednesday nights over summer, try the graffiti-lined Blender Lane off Franklin Street in the city instead for its own weekly Artists Market, complete with live music and food stalls to keep everyone entertained.

On a larger scale, the Finders Keepers markets take over the heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens twice a year, filling the building’s grand interior with art and design from Melbourne and around the country. Complete with live music, two bars and a number of food and coffee stations, it’s easy to make a day out of this one.

(Lead image: Heide Museum of Modern Art. Arthur Boyd: Brides installation view, Photograph: Jeremy Weirauch.)

Qantas are proud partners of the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which is running until April 24, 2016. Keen for your art fix? Check out Qantas flights to Melbourne here.