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Three Melbourne Art Galleries

If you ask any other Australian what they think of Melbournians, the word 'arty' comes up as often as 'coffee'. We're known for our black skivvies as much as our long blacks. On Saturday we went out on an art safari taking in three very different galleries which confirmed this reputation, but also stretched it to breaking point.

First up was Heide gallery – the sprawling property of the Boyd family which is a daytrip in itself. The Modern Times exhibition currently visiting from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum races through Australian modernism (1917-1967). I was impressed to see the size of Australia’s involvement in this world art movement and even more pleased to hear they've developed a podtour to help you visit. Early in the exhibition a snapshot of Albert Tucker in Jack Kerouac’s New York apartment gives you an idea of Australia’s artistic influence. It’s a good companion to the current Brack exhibition. Swimwear and swim culture are a little over-represented, so bigger trends in architecture don't get quite enough time. But I was surprised to see Canberra’s Academy of Sciences (better known to ANU students as the Martian Embassy) in the same context as the Opera House – both use the sphere as their model apparently. A collection of Australian jazz records on the daggy Swaggie label also point to a much bigger culture than couldn't quite be squeezed into Heide’s space.

But size isn’t everything as Hell Gallery proves. It’s squashed into a backyard and first story of a house next door to Coles. The space is well taken advantage of by Dan Moyihan’s current exhibit: In and Out and No Funny Business. The artist has installed his version of a heist of the nearby supermarket complete with a mocked hole through the wall into the freezer. A spray of frozen peas shows the successfulness of the project. We were lucky to be there as the artist himself wandered through, blushing and bemused. He told us the grungy tools-down staff room the thieves have set up was a result of ‘many smokos I’ve suffered through’.

Finally on the way home we stopped off at Smith Gallery – a newer place in Melbourne's inner west. We’d gotten a flyer about Elizabeth Wirth’s exhibition but couldn’t work out how her spidery images were conceived. With an absence of family photographs, the artists has re-imagined them using lace and other fabrics. The effect is eerie black and white portraits sketched out in webs of material that are unpicked to their component materials as you get closer. You can only get the effect by seeing it, which really should be the aim of any gallery – to get you to spend your Saturday stretching the senses towards art.

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  1. I heard recently that Heide has an original copy of the Ern Malley papers.


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