It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that Melbourne has an incredible art gallery scene. We’ll also go ahead and assume your time is precious. Which really does make trotting to each and every one of the 100 galleries here nigh impossible. So, how on earth are you going to sort the wheat from the chaff in this art-strewn city? With a little help from our guide to Melbourne’s best art galleries…
Vivien Anderson Gallery
Melbourne is THE city to scope out – and support – work by Aboriginal artists. Your options are wide ranging, but if we had to choose just one collection? It would be curated work on show at the Vivien Anderson Gallery. This organisation has been championing Indigenous artists for three decades. And, many of those artists are still creating work to exhibit here. Expect to see work by creators from the country’s more rural and remote spots. Unlike some other galleries, you can just drop in during opening hours. No expectations, no appointment necessary – leaving you free to browse and enjoy the art.
National Gallery of Victoria
Australia’s oldest gallery is perhaps an obvious choice. But you really can’t leave a collection of this size and stature out of any art-infused itineraries. There’s a Rembrandt to peer at, for one thing. That’s not the National Gallery of Victoria’s only draw though. Expect major exhibitions, big names and many, many hours spent wandering the vast floors. The building itself is quite a looker, if you like your structures contemporary and angular. Though, looks can be deceiving, the Great Hall houses a stained glass ceiling which almost steals the show. An ever–changing set of exhibits – from contemporary to classics – ensures this national treasure always feels anything but fusty.
Orbzii tip: If all the musing, contemplation and critical thinking leaves you thirsty, it’s worth knowing the location of the best cocktail bars in Melbourne. If it helps, the Union Electric Bar is less than twenty minute walk away. A seat in the rooftop gin garden is a must.
Ian Potter Centre
If the National Gallery’s collection is a little too global for your tastes, the Ian Potter Centre may be a better choice. Housing the gallery’s Australian collection, it’s very much on brand for an art gallery mooch on foreign shores. Let’s face it, you didn’t travel all this way to see works you could catch at the Tate at some point. Do prepare your synapses for a barrage of mediums though. The usual suspects are all there, including, prints, sketches, watercolours and photography. But you’ll also get to see what Australia’s art and design community are getting up to with textiles, sculpture and all manner of decorative items. Though, it’s the Aboriginal and Indigenous art that will perhaps woo you most.
Orbzii tip: Spending hours indoors perusing paintings is undoubtedly joyous. But could leave you with a smidge of FOMO on the great Aussie outdoors lifestyle. Melbourne’s pools deliver a dose of urban fitness – and sunshine – without ever needing to stray too far from cultural pursuits.
Anna Schwartz Gallery
If you revel in the concepts conjured up by contemporary artists, you’ll do well to drop in to the Anna Schwartz Gallery. Though, the exhibits are really only half of the story here. Founder Anna Schwartz is credited as being a pioneer in Melbourne’s art gallery scene and pivotal in the city’s cultural blossoming. So it’s fair to say she knows her art. Even if contemporary work leaves you feeling flummoxed. Do pop in. You will at least feel something. Be bemused, inspired, gently buoyed or deeply moved. It’s all on offer in an expertly curated venue that supports local and international artists.
So far, your Melbourne art exposure has been limited to big names in big buildings. Let’s change that with a look at the local artists on display at Seventh Gallery. Very much a spot to see what Australia’s up-and-coming talent might be doing on canvas. Other mediums are of course on show. Seventh Gallery is also a by-the-artists/for-the-artists kind of venue. It’s also free to enter. So we’re really racking up the reasons to visit. Drop in. Exit through the gift shop for a souvenir – or original – and you could be supporting an earnest art student that’s finding their way or Australia’s next big thing.
This city may have an overwhelming number of art galleries for you to ponder the days away in, but do keep your eyes peeled as you flit from A to B. Melbourne’s urban walls have been daubed, painted and sprayed into murals, sculptures and even mini galleries. Graffiti may not be your muse, but it’s not just tags that cover the brickwork. International artists and celebrated street artists have innovated, created and shaped these walls – with even a few commissions here and there. Do look out for the public art too. We’ll tip you off to the ‘public purse’ in the Bourke Street Mall, which is, essentially, a giant purse. The others? Well, you’ll have to do some exploring. Track down some Melbourne street art during your stay. You won’t regret it.