WanderlustOdysseyThe Arts of Melbourne

The Arts of Melbourne

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The city that brims with passion and sophistication also offers a creative edge and innumerable variations of artistic expression waiting to be discovered. 

Art to See
There’s a sense of artistic freedom in Melbourne. Sure, art is generally open to interpretation, but in this city all kinds of art are welcomed and embraced, with plenty of room to grow and where exhibition spaces take many forms. 

  The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is Australia’s oldest public art museum, boasting collections from around the world ranging from ancient civilizations to the latest contemporary art. Ancient Egyptian artifacts are some of the earliest works acquired by the gallery in the early twentieth century, while the Greek and southern Italian vase collection is one of the finest in the country. NGV International also presents fashion and textile exhibits alongside photography, furniture and sculpture shows – reflecting a multitude of disciplines, eras, styles and inspirations. Prominent artists such as Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama and Rembrandt are featured in the collections. The vast gallery showcases artworks of various shapes and sizes, from delicate vintage tableware arrayed on cupboards and tables, period paintings hung in a high-ceilinged room, to a massive installation by Lee Bul in its own dedicated space. 

Just a short distance away is The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, dedicated to national artists from a range of disciplines – including indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artworks. Visitors can experience the story of Australian art and chart how the groundbreaking indigenous artworks lay the groundwork for current contemporary and urban artists. 

Representing pop culture is the Outré Gallery, located just above the GPO on Elizabeth Street. The alternative art space specializes in contemporary international pop, lowbrow, pop surrealism, street, tiki, modern folk, retro with a twist and underground art. Unlike a typical gallery, it boasts an ever-changing salon selection of original artworks, limited-edition prints and posters along with collectible goods such as books, curios, ceramics and vinyl toys. The gallery represents strictly selected artists with a known reputation within the genre, including artist and tattooist Angelique Houtkamp, power duo Kozyndan, the late Australian bohemian queen Vali Myers, and Melbourne’s very own diverse artist, Ghostpatrol. 

Between the two galleries, the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Federation Square celebrates the art of moving images, from film and television to digital culture. There are live events, film festivals and workshops throughout the year, together with international exhibitions including the popular ‘DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition’, which features never-before-seen concept drawings, models, original artworks and interactive displays from the studio that brought you “How to Train your Dragon”, “Madagascar”, and “Kung Fu Panda”. A permanent exhibition, ‘Screen Worlds’ tells the remarkable story of the moving image, a vibrant biography that explores 110 years of the history of the moving image divided into three core sections: ‘Emergence’, ‘Voices’ and ‘Sensation’. From pre-cinematic objects to today’s immersive media, ‘Screen Worlds’ contains screen-based and interactive displays, hours of moving image content and hundreds of original objects and memorabilia.

Another strain of Melbourne art is an urban movement that arose in 2000. Melbourne Street Art Tours treats you to some of the city’s ever-changing treasures guided by the street artists themselves. Daniel Lynch is a quirky artist who mainly uses found objects and other junk to create little “sentinels” placed in conspicuous locations not only to amuse but to highlight society’s tendency to over-consume. His extensive knowledge and passion make the tour thoroughly enjoyable as he narrates history, famed and hidden artworks and the technical aspects of art. 

The tour’s route is always changing, much like the ever-evolving art scene, but Hosier Lane is normally included as an iconic street art attraction. The AC/DC Lane is another noteworthy area, where you can find metal-themed sculptures. You can also view the two stencil artworks left by a well-known British artist and activist, Banksy, whose other works in the city have either been stolen or destroyed. The tour passes through Blender Lane and ends at Blender Studios, an art complex where you may get the chance to see resident artists at work – including Scott Selkirk, a contemporary artist working with timber, resin and 3D printing.

Street art in Melbourne is unique in many ways. Somehow, the graffiti-laden walls don’t turn it into a ghetto at all. Most artworks are legal within limitations; some are commissioned or even “curated” by the citizens. Visiting artists can ask the local artists which spots can be painted over or exhibited on, and there are no limits to the definition of art itself. Maybe that’s why art grows so much, making Melbourne a destination where international street artists gather to have fun and leave their mark.

Art to Taste
Among the popular spots is Gazi, a Greek restaurant run by celebrity chef and restaurateur George Calombaris, whom you might recognize from televised cooking competition “MasterChef Australia”. It can be found near the city’s main square, a warm kind of taverna with hanging terracotta pots and Greek music. Authentic Hellenic dishes are served in sharing portions alongside modern reinterpretations. Take care with the dips and the sweet, toasty, pan-fried saganaki, as you might get full before the main dishes arrive. The loukoumathes, Greek donuts covered in honey, Nutella and crushed almonds may well be the highlight for the sweet tooth.  

If you’re craving for sweet treats, Brunetti is an iconic pasticerria serving traditional cakes, handmade chocolates and gelati along with Italian-style coffees and savories. There are rows and rows of delicacies, but the bite-sized sweets and cookies selections are pretty and light so that you can taste many at one time.  

But the real treat for sugar addicts is ‘Queenie’s Sweet Dreams’ tour. Run by Andrew Prior, a former contestant on “MasterChef Australia” who now channels his obsession with food by introducing the best eats. The first stop of the tour is LuxBites, where the famous layered Lolly Bag Cake is up for grabs, along with other delicacies such as the Caramel Cravings and Meringue Monster. The tour continues with the best sweets and dessert shops with tastings here and there, from the quirky cakes at Zumbo, delectable éclairs at French Fantasies, the sweet art at Burch & Purchese, mouthwatering macaroons at La Folie, to the sweet and savory treats at Ganache Chocolate, whose owner will proudly show you around the kitchen. If you’re lucky, he may offer a chocolate-making class where you can, of course, request a taste. 

The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is a different kind of culinary experience, where the romance of plush dining aboard a European train is recreated in the refurbished trams. The interior drips old-timey charm, clad in velvet, brass and elegant music. You board the tram at a designated spot and ride it around the streets of Melbourne while enjoying non-stop drinks, including Australian wines and a seasonal lunch, early dinner or late dinner. 

Make sure to spare an entire day for a trip to the Yarra Valley, located n an hour away from Melbourne with stunning scenery and famous for its wine, dairy and artisanal food. Your first stop can be the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery, developed by entrepreneurial foodies Ian and Leanne Neeland. They recruited chocolatiers from Belgium and France to craft their own product range made from locally-sourced provisions and the highest quality Belgian couverture chocolate. You can watch the team work in the kitchen from the large window on one side, while on the other side is a café and a vast shopping area offering chocolate products from truffles and tea to body care. Agonizing over souvenirs? The unique Bush Tucker range, which uses native Australian ingredients such as wattle seed, bush tomato, paper bark oil, mountain pepper, wild honey and lemon myrtle, are perfect as thoughtful giveaways. 

The next stop is the Yarra Valley Dairy, offering handmade farm goat and cow house cheeses for diverse palates. Among the signature cheeses is the Vintage Savourine, mature ash white mould goat’s milk cheese. Drop in for a quick sampling and shopping or try the popular cheese plates, smoked trout and charcuterie items. 

Moving onto the wineries, Domaine Chandon marries innovation with the traditional techniques of its founder, French champagne maker Moët & Chandon, to produce sparkling Australian wines such as chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. A wine tour takes you around the winery, including the factory, the barrel cellar and the riddling hall where thousands of bottles are set on special racks in the process of consolidating the sediment.

Rochford Wines is another winery worth a visit not only for its quality wines and wine tasting paired with cheese and antipasto, but for the myriad of activities including the hot-air balloon and super car drive. The Segway tour takes you gliding among the grapevines while you learn about grape growing, and there’s also an off-road track if you’re up to the challenge.

Art to Explore
A half-an-hour train ride from downtown Melbourne via the Sandringham line will take you to Brighton Beach, one of Melbournians’ favorite seaside destinations. The main attraction is the colorful row of iconic bathing boxes lined up along the beach, a remnant of the Victorian era. Nowadays they’re used as storage spaces, changing rooms or small party venues with barbeques. These simple structures retain classical Victorian architectural features with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs and have no modern amenities such as electricity or water. Each bathing box is painted uniquely by its licensee following strict guidelines provided by the Bayside City Council and the Brighton Bathing Box Association. It’s best to visit when the sun is up to make the colors pop for your photographs.

But you can’t be done exploring Melbourne just yet. Every city has secrets to which only the locals are privy, but the Hidden Secrets Tours allows you to indulge in the Melbourne that even many of them miss. A chipper and knowledgeable guide leads a walking tour through the lanes and arcades, sharing a little bit of everything and the best of innovative and entrepreneurial businesses selling clothes and confectionary to magic spells, some of them just off the beaten track. Tour highlights include a visit to Basement Discs, where you can discover new and rare music, the Melbourne City Rooftop Honey that offers tastings of delicious honey produced by urban beekeepers, and Koko Black with its fine handcrafted chocolate treats and warm drinks. 

The tour also includes a visit to the historical Nicholas Building and its diverse tenants. A small contemporary art space dedicated to photography, the Edmund Pearce Gallery, is tucked in the corner of the second level, along with Kimono House, which offers beautiful Japanese textiles and crafts. L’ucello supplies vintage and contemporary haberdashery and fancy goods, and Buttonmania is an adorable one-stop shop for all your buttons, belts and buckles needs. Still on the same floor, the Anno Domini Home feels like stepping into a dark corner of another world, filled with beautiful brocade skulls and patchwork limbs to vintage doctor tools. The store is manned by its founder, Andrew Delaney, a pleasant gentleman, artist and stylist who expresses his aesthetics through Victorian gothic fashion, art and living pieces. 

After a long walk, a horse drawn carriage is a romantic and relaxing vantage point for drinking in city sights. A Classic Carriage Co. can take you on a memorable ride with dashing steeds and impeccably dressed coachman, snug under the blanket as you pass by Melbourne’s theaters, gardens, monuments and other points of interests under the city lights. If it’s your last night in Melbourne, viewing the vibrant city this way will imprint memories that will last a long time. 

Travel Pointers
How to Get There:
Qantas serves international flights to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. From there you can take a taxi or SkyBus to reach the city.

Where to Stay:
Somerset on Elizabeth 
250 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: +61 3 9660 5448

Getting Around:
Get a “myki” card and easily travel on Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses. The iconic city circle tram route 35 is free to ride and offers automated commentary at points of interest around the perimeter of CBD. You can also try hopping on one of the blue bikes available for hire.

For more information click 

photos by
Tourism Victoria
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
Domaine Chandon
Cita Arsita Farani