A Beginner’s Guide to Melbourne Art Galleries

Photography by Jessica Lehmann

We live in the best city in the world and it is a pulsating cultural hub. We have no shortage of cultural activities to immerse ourselves in. For those new to Melbourne, or those who have been here a long time but hoping to mesh with the hipster Brunswick crowd, read on to delve into the art galleries of Melbourne.



1/Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), 404 George St, Fitzroy

Photography is often said to be the most accessible form of fine art, and so the CCP is a perfect place to start your cultural journey. Opened in 1986, this not-for-profit organisation consists of five spaces in which both current and historically relevant photography is showcased, including works from both new and established artists in Australia and beyond. A fantastic feature of the CCP are the photography courses and lectures it offers at the forefront of contemporary art practice. This makes it a great place for curious minds, whether new to photography or veterans.



2/ National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road/Federation Square

Comprised of the NGV International and The Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is Australia’s oldest public art gallery and showcases a wide range of artworks from around the globe. The NGV is enormous in size and it is easy to spend a whole day wandering around the permanent collection levels which include painting, sculpture, indigenous art, fashion, textiles and multimedia. There are also regularly changing curated exhibitions. Furthermore, a huge upcoming exhibition from December 2017-April 2018 called the ‘Triennial’ was recently announced, featuring the work of 60 artists and designers from 30 countries, surveying the world’s best art and design, across cultures, scales, geographies and perspectives. Definitely one not to miss.


3/ Gertrude Contemporary, 200 Gertrude St, Fitzroy and 44 Glasshouse Road, Collingwood

The place for cutting-edge current art is Gertrude Contemporary. Located in a converted warehouse and fixated on the presentation and exhibiting of contemporary art as well as its creation. Twenty exhibitions are presented annually featuring work by Australian and international artists. Artist studios are located adjacent to the gallery, fostering a creative environment with strong focus on cultivating connections and interactions between audience and artist. They have also recently expanded to two sites, presenting major exhibitions in Fitzroy and solo projects by Gertrude Studio Artists at Gertrude Glasshouse, Collingwood. Gertrude is a place that can be revisited time and time again, offering new insights into contemporary art practice.



4/ SEVENTH, 155 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

SEVENTH is an experimental artist-run space aimed at consistently broadening the horizons of artists, curators, writers and subsequently, the wider public. It is voluntarily operated by a board of artists and art professionals who champion accessibility and affordability. There are four gallery spaces of varying sizes and a night-screen projector where an artistic piece is displayed each night and can be viewed from the street. Multi-disciplinary artistic forms are presented with a mixture of curated, group and independent shows. Each show has an opening night with an eclectic, upbeat crowd, which is a great opportunity to mix with local art aficionados.


 5/ Monash Gallery of Art (MGA), 860 Ferntree Gully Rd, Wheelers Hill

The MGA is the premier gallery for Australian photography. The grounds are beautiful and well worth a wander, particularly the sculpture park. But a pivotal feature of the MGA is its accessibility; a person who has little knowledge of art could walk in and be greeted by informative staff, a well-stocked bookshop and exhibitions often accompanied by detailed explanatory texts. The MGA also holds regular floor talks and education programs. The William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize and the subsequent exhibition is held annually. The prize is open to any Australian photographer, whether amateur or professional. All genres of photography are eligible, provided that the work has been produced in the last 12 months, with the winner receiving a $25,000 cash prize. The MGA spotlights the talent of Australian photographers, both contemporary and historical, and how they express personal, historical and political ideas.


6/Flinders Lane Gallery (FLG), 137 Flinders Ln Melbourne CBD

Flinders Lane is a commercial gallery representing mid-career, emerging and indigenous artists run by Gallery Director Claire Harris. There is no clear aesthetic or trends in this space. Rather, artists who have developed technical skills and cultural sensitivity are represented. There are two gallery spaces; a permanent viewing area and an extensive stock room that can be viewed online. Exhibitions throughout the year feature gallery artists in both solo and group shows. FLG also hosts Exploration, an annual survey of promising, unsigned artists and recent art school graduates. This is a place where the artworks have a certain level of profundity and the artist’s great skill and respect for the creative is evident.


7/Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), 111 Sturt St Southbank

One of the most impressive architecturally designed places in Melbourne, the striking Wood Marsh designed exterior of ACCA is reason enough to make the trip to the gallery. Focusing on contemporary and often challenging art, it offers an interesting space to explore artistic ideas not considered in many other historic institutions in a fun and exciting way. They also have a well-stocked bookshop for everybody’s artistic literary needs. ACCA has brilliant public programs with talks and tours allowing visitors to easily traverse an art show that is sometimes difficult to navigate.


8/Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Building F, Monash University Caulfield campus, 900 Dandenong Rd

Our very own university art gallery is a convenient stepping stone into the art scene. Have a free hour between tutes? Pop over to Caulfield campus and explore MUMA, with different exhibitions throughout the year, and you can undoubtedly find something that stimulates your mind. Free ArtForum talks on various art topics are regularly held by the Monash Art Design and Architecture department, often with high-profile guests, every Thursday at 1.00pm in the Lecture Theatre (G1.04) on Caulfield Campus. There are also various public programs including the stimulating ‘Boiler Room’ lectures. See their website for more details.



9/ The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne University, Swanston Street, University of Melbourne Parkville

Another university-affiliated art gallery, the Ian Potter Museum of Art, is focused keenly on educating visitors, particularly students, and has a strong relationship with Melbourne University’s academic departments. Often exhibitions include alternatives to traditional art forms. For example, the upcoming exhibition Syria: Ancient History – Modern Conflict from 28 Mar to 27 Aug is informed by the fieldwork undertaken by University of Melbourne researchers with a key focus on objects within the context of unrest. The Potter is worth a visit for those overwhelmed by abstract concepts often found in contemporary art spaces and enables visitors to engage with the work through various rigorous public programs.  


10/ C3 Contemporary Art Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

C3 is located in the basement of the beautiful Abbotsford Convent. It comprises of six exhibition rooms exhibiting a wide range of art forms. This hybridised public art and artist-run space encourages artists to exhibit risk-taking and experimental works making a visit here truly fascinating. Afterwards, make sure to stroll through the historic gardens and have a bite to eat, as vegan pay-as-you-choose restaurant Lentil as Anything always poses a good option.

This list is by no means exhaustive and everyone has very different and distinct art taste. Some feel enthusiastically passionate about contemporary art, while others love nothing more than a bathtub nude by Degas. Just as everyone enjoys different music or certain clothing styles for no apparent reason, art is an idiosyncratic experience. The most important point to be taken is to try new things and experience art as you would do any other leisurely activity, at your own pace with what feels right. Go forth and be enlivened!


PHOTOS attached:

  1. Exterior of SEVENTH Gallery, own photo
  2. Exterior of Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), own photo
  3. Exhibition shot of ‘Sister Corita: Summer of Love’, at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, own photo
Jessica Lehmann

The author Jessica Lehmann

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