Art in Melbourne: Big guns and local heroes

David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover (1973)PICTURE: BRIAN DUFFY

Think big. Really big. Big as Beijing, Bowie or the Great War. Yes, that big. And they’re all coming to Melbourne for a calendar packed with blockbuster storylines, intriguing characters and high drama galore.     

The National Gallery of Victoria  loves to steal the limelight, and the line-up over the next six months gives it ample reason to preen a little. Priceless Ming and Qing dynasty treasures from Beijing’s Palace Museum, in the Forbidden City, are on display in A Golden Age of China: Qianlong Emperor, 1736–1795 (until June 21) . 

Hot on its heels, the riches of Russia’s Hermitage Museum are this year’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces coup. Fresh from St Petersburg, Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherin the Great is a rich, lush extravaganza of 400 works from the personal collection of the long-ruling queen. Expect works from Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and Titian. Both are Australian exclusives and the frst time these exhibitions have left their respective homes.     

Balance all this international action with a dose of Australiana. Tap into your inner petrolhead to ogle the world’s fastest car back in 1971, the Chrysler Valiant Charger E49, or enjoy a fashback to your time in a Holden Monaro or Torana. Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car is a celebration of our classic car designs, with  23 iconic, rare and prototype vehicles on show (until July 12) . 

It’s not all looking backward, either. Transmission: Legacies of the Television Age explores how TV has infuenced art and contemporary culture, and looks forward to new technologies. It also includes a major new acquisition by Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch (May 15 - Sept 13) . Smaller fry are also catered for with a hyper-interactive kids’ show, Tromarama (May 23 - Oct 18, see  . 

Like most of the world, Melbourne remembers the 100th anniversary of the Great War but has a world-frst exhibition of more than 350 artefacts drawn from the vast collections of London’s Imperial War Museums. The WW1 Centenary Exhibition is now showing at the Melbourne Museum (until October 4, see . 

Melbourne’s Shrine of remembrancePICTURE: CRAIG RIDLEY
Tie it in with a visit to the Shrine of Remembrance, which has undergone a timely $45million renovation and now has several permanent and temporary exhibitions focusing on Australians in war and peacekeeping roles.     

If you prefer to fick your hips during art exhibitions, catch the only Australasian showing of David Bowie Is. Hailing from London’s Albert & Victoria Museum, this exhibition allows visitors to watch rare film, peruse album artwork and admire the wildly fabulous costumes worn by Bowie as he morphs from Brixton teen to supersonic superstar. Showing at ACMI in Federation Square (July 16 – Nov 1, see .     

But Melbourne’s art scene is not all of-the-scale blockbusters. Shh. Focus. And there, in the small spaces, in the hidden doorways and the unassuming rooms, Melburnians are quietly creating beautiful objects and thought-provoking conceptions. Find a detailed map of the city and navigate your way into independent galleries and artist-run initiatives across the city.     

With its curved, pink wall tiles and ornate signposting to long-dead public telephone rooms, the Degraves Street subway (also known as Campbell Arcade) was built to help workers coming from Flinders Street Station skip the crowds during the 1956 Olympics. Keep an eye on the walls for the Platform Artists Group’s regular exhibitions and performance art. Ten nip into nearby fortyfivedownstairs for performance art and two permanent galleries (45 Flinders La, Melbourne, see

Make time to spot the Next Big Thing, see the latest sculpture or taste new media at Flinders Lane Gallery (137 Flinders La, see . Set amid some of the city’s hidden street art, the Dark Horse Experiment artist studios are an unruly delight (110 Franklin St, Melbourne, see, while Twenty by Thirty Gallery is Melbourne’s smallest artist-run gallery. You’ve got to be on your toes to spot it. Located outside Melbourne’s smallest bar, Bar Americano, its exhibitions change on the first day of the month (20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne, of    Little Collins St) . 

And step out of the city grid to anarchic Collingwood’s The Compound Interest for a creative commune of publishers and print, fashion and lighting designers (15-25 Keele St,    

Blow away the Big City smoke with a drive into the country. Turn the wheel and aim for the Mornington Peninsula, just an hour from Melbourne’s GPO, for a seaside escapade. For a small town, Mornington sure steals a lot of air in the art world. 

McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery
Keep your eyes peeled on the drive for three gargantuan sculptures along the Peninsula Link freeway, commissioned by the McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery, in Langwarrin. Set on a 16-hectare block of bushland, the gallery ofers Australia’s richest sculpture prize. Te 2015 Montalto Sculpture Prize, worth $100,000, was won by Melbourne-based artist Matthew Harding. His award-winning sculpture, Void, is on display with 32 other works in an outdoor exhibition (until July 19, see    

It doesn’t stop there. Put the unassuming Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery , just 20 minutes away, on your must-stop list. Its modest frontage belies thoughtful curation, with esoteric art and ethereal seascapes on show in the upcoming exhibitions, Windows to the Sacred and Jo Scicluna’s Where We Begin (May 15 – July 12, 350 Dunns Rd, Mornington).    
And what is art without wine? Taste your way through some of the oldest vineyards in the region at the new Crittenden Estate Wine Centre, then fnd a little villa to call you own – at least for the night – on Crittenden’s serene grounds (25 Harrisons Rd, Dromana, see . 

Or pull up a pew in the bistro of a chic Red Hill jewel, Polperro Wines , with its new cellar door and villas, complete with open fres and vineyard views (150 Red Hill Rd, Red Hill, see . Perfect for a blend of good dining and great contemplation.     

Brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. 

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age's Traveller section. 

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