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"The winter season harnesses the changing light," says Ingrid Rhule, an exhibition designer at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). "It definitely changes your experience of the gallery."
None more so than stood 14 metres below its Great Hall ceiling, a 52-metre long static kaleidoscope of tangerine, royal blue, purple, shamrock, canary and clear hand-chiseled glass that beams divinity via the calming June, July and August light.
Equally, the reflective outdoor sky matches the cool of the gallery's welcoming Waterwall, as fingers and palms interrupt the continuous ripples that stream down the roof-to-floor glass.
Winter is when the NGV truly erupts with international life, as it did when the 1968 bluestone building unveiled its Melbourne Winter Masterpieces extravaganza on May 24 with Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality & Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape.
"It's a really interesting pairing of these antiquities with this Chinese contemporary artist that come together in an amazing spatial experience," says Rhule. "Cai is very much interested in Chinese history and has responded to the warriors with the creation of 10,000 porcelain birds that are suspended from the ceiling, almost like a scroll drawing that you would encounter in space. He's also done some spectacular gunpowder drawings. Visitors are going to be struck by the craftsmanship, storytelling and epic scale of the works."
Located on Melbourne's Arts Precinct, the St Kilda Road promenade encompasses an array of cultural delights: The Australian Ballet; the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Opera Australia; the Melbourne Theatre company resident at the Arts Centre Melbourne next door, its illuminated spire a 162-metre beacon at night (it smouldered purple when Prince was in residence in 2016). Margot Fonteyn's pointe shoes nurtured at the Australian Performing Arts Collection within; Chrissy Amphlett's Saba-designed black schoolgirl style tunic displayed at its Australian Music Vault.
"We have a lot of venues that are in close proximity to each other, and so it's very easy to move around. You can plan a day in Melbourne without having to think about it too much. There are a lot of opportunities for visitors in one venue or in others very close by."
A seven-minute walk, breathing in the crisp winter air, leads to the angular rust-red Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, a hive of ambitious local and international works. Parallel, the Malthouse Theatre, a former brewery, dazzles with drama such as Nick Enright's adaptation of Cloudstreet.
An installation at the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art
Back on St Kilda Road, a 10-minute stroll, hand-in-hand, coats closed tight, across Princes Bridge connects to the NGV's second building, the three-level Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Positioned in the city's Federation Square, an abstract cluster of restaurants and bars, and from May 2 - August 31 a rooftop pop-up ice-skating and igloo village. There is an Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and national art focus, and the current exhibition, 100 assorted media works by contemporary artist Rosslynd Piggott, is deemed a standout by Rhule.
"As well as our main institutions, the other fabulous thing about Melbourne is its galleries a little further out in the suburbs, like Heide in Bulleen, and TarraWarra Museum of Art, a one-hour drive from the city. At both, you get to experience art as well as architecture. Each are affected by the seasons, and so you get the changing colours of the sculpture and gardens."
During the cooler months, art extends its tentacles to celluloid. Australian, short, foreign, restorations and indie films coupled with director talks, inhabit cinemas for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) from August 1-18 — a pre-session laksa in Elizabeth Street, a must.
The iconic Carlton Gardens comes to life with art in late August.
Over three consecutive nights, August 22-24, experience Carlton Gardens, Treasury Gardens and Birrarung Marr like never before, as three unique creative experiences are unveiled. Artists from across the city and across the globe will take you on journeys mysterious and mesmerising. Melbourne's iconic cultural institutions will, once again, come alive with their own special programming, open for extended hours. A designated UNESCO city of Literature, beginning August 30 - September 8, local and international writers blitz the city from for the Melbourne Writers Festival.
"It's such an extraordinary opportunity to have this diversity of events all in one place. When I go to MIFF I seek out a documentary. At the writers' festival, I find authors who can articulate their way of thinking. In winter there's underground things going on too, like classical music being played in a car park. I get inspiration from all sources. These are the sorts of things I look out for."
When not choreographing exhibition spaces, revisiting the NGV's Alexander Calder exhibition, or enjoying dumplings and YERING Station wine at the NGV's Friday Nights Australian bands and performers series (an adjunct in the Great Hall to after-hours Terracotta Warriors access), Rhule enjoys the atmosphere of Napier Quarter cafe, Fitzroy, 15 minutes from her home in Collingwood.
"It's a hub for artists and designers. A creative community that connects with shared values. The food, coffee and wine are incredible. If you are in Melbourne, you should definitely go there."
Ingrid's Top 6 Winter Exhibitions in Melbourne
1. NGV: 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces Exhibition – Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality & Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/terracotta-warriors-cai-guo-qiang/
My team and I have designed an exhibition that hopes to amplify the way people see the ancient terracotta warriors alongside the poetic artwork of contemporary artist Cai Guo Qiang. I would love for people to see these works in a new light.
2. NGV Designing Women https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/designing-women/
An exhibition that presents the awesome aptitude and skill of women in art & design that I think everyone should see. This is an exhibition that showcases just some of the many talented female artists and designers in the NGV collection.
3. Neon Parc: Darren Sylvester https://neonparc.com.au/exhibitions
Melbourne has a vast array of independently run small galleries that support and provide opportunities to emerging and established artists. A must-see this winter is the Sarah Scout gallery.
4. Lyon HouseMuseum (New Housemuseum Galleries) http://lyonhousemuseum.com.au/
Combine the love of art and architecture all in one. The Housemuseum Galleries opened in March 2019 and display the private collection of architect Corbett and Yueji Lyon. A visit to the original house museum requires planning and booking, but the new galleries are open to the public.
5. Fiona Lynch Work Shop gallery http://fionalynch.com.au/workshop/
I visited the Fiona Lynch Work Shop gallery for Design Week, and while it is a small gallery space, it's a standout. Has a beautifully curated selection of works. It will encourage you to explore Melbourne and its creative hubs.
6. NGV: Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/alexander-calder/
Perfectly balanced compositions, both sculptural and works on paper, some fine and delicate yet others raw and solid. It's not often you have the chance to see such a collection of extraordinary works in your own hometown.
Indulge in Melbourne this winter. Plan your visit at visitmelbourne.com