The minimalist guide to art in Melbourne

Dome reading room, State Library of Victoria

Melbourne is an amazing city. I left it to move to Sydney just two years ago and my heart still often wishes it was there. But enough of my nostalgic wistfulness. This post is about you and simplifying your Melbourne art visit. Hot on the heels of The minimalist guide to art in Sydney, this post uses similar strategies to set you up for a Melbourne cultural experience that won’t wear you out. Because as we all know, visiting a big city like Melbourne can leave you with too many options. Where do you start? And how do you begin to see all the art?

Well, I don’t think it is possible to see all the art in big cities. There’s simply too much going on. And while that can be exciting it can also leave you with a sense of overwhelm or even FOMO, and you could end up eating your way through East Brunswick and ignoring the art options because you don’t know where to start. While I’m a big fan of both food and East Brunswick (swoon), Melbourne packs a serious cultural punch so best you hop right into it. Here’s my Minimalist guide to art in Melbourne to see you through your visit.

And like I said in the Sydney guide, in case there’s any confusion this is not a guide to minimalist art, but a minimalist guide to experiencing art in Melbourne. A way of making sense of all the options that will prevent you from feeling swamped with art choices.

If you want to control some of that art noise my tip is to use the following strategies:

Pick 3 of the big players. So in Melbourne this might mean the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) – but be warned, they have 2 sites – the one on St Kilda Rd (NGV International) and the one in Federation Square focusing (NGV Australia). Both are fabulous and within a 10 min walk from each other but you might like to consider these as 2 of your 3 big players given the time you will probably need to enjoy each. If you choose NGV Australia consider coupling it with a visit to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) for art, film and digital culture, because it’s right there in the same building. Another big player you might like to visit is the Melbourne Museum situated in the lush and peaceful Carlton Gardens. Choosing this option means you can head to Gertrude and Brunswick Streets, Fitzroy afterwards where a world of good food, book shopping, vintage clothes and other wonders await.

Alternatively pick 3 of the smaller players. Heide Museum in the north-east, set in beautiful riverside grounds and previously home to artists John and Sunday Reed, is a real jewel in the smaller player art options. You can read the story of Heide and its place in the mid-20th century art movement here. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in the south side arts precinct will delight as will the Immigration Museum in the city centre for very different reasons.

Pick 1 city and 2 regionals. It’s a day trip out of Melbourne but you will not regret the small effort required to get to the exquisite Tarrawarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley. Think fabulous art and views, views, and more views! Geelong Art Gallery is another day trip and afterwards you can visit the lovely Great Ocean Road beaches nearby (think the black sand and surf of Bells Beach). And in a completely different direction Ballarat Art Gallery will delight for many reasons, including the art (they are a significant player in the art scene), the train ride there and the history of the area.

Go indie. Try TDF Collect in one of my favourite neighbourhoods – Collingwood. This gallery is run by the incredibly talented Lucy Feagins from the The Desgin Files (TDF). Or for an experience that’s about much more than the art try quirky Montsalvat in Eltham in Melbourne’s north, home to the oldest artist community in Australia. For something on the other end of the spectrum Gertrude Contemporary in Fitzroy might provide the art buzz you’re looking for. The best thing about the galleries in the inner north is that you get to hang out in the neighbourhood afterwards. And there is so much going on there. Collingwood, Fitzroy, East Brunswick, Brunswick and Northcote all offer tons for the visitor looking for a slightly offbeat art experience.

Alternatively, visit a gallery attached to a university like the Ian Potter Museum of Art located on the Carlton campus of the University of Melbourne. The RMIT Gallery on Swanston St in the city is a wonderful space, full to the brim with interesting art. And right next door is the State Library of Victoria which often exhibits art and even if it isn’t doing so at the time of your visit you MUST pop in and see the extraordinary dome reading room (ceiling pictured above).

And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, here’s a reasonably complete list of museums in Melbourne. As with the Sydney list on Wikipedia, it’s not absolutely accurate or definitive but you might find it helpful as an overview.

Go forth and enjoy Melbourne. And don’t forget to indulge in some serious eating while you’re there. Three recommendations: Bar Idda for Sicilian, Brunetti for sweets, and the Wesley Anne for food, drink, and live music. It has the best garden open fireplace – perfect for sipping red wine on wintry nights.