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Seven Epic New Melbourne Art Exhibitions That Will Get You to the Galleries This Autumn

Cast your eye over eight of the original terracotta warriors, walk through a neon field of contemporary Chinese art and see John Lennon's legendary glasses IRL.
By Concrete Playground
May 06, 2019

Seven Epic New Melbourne Art Exhibitions That Will Get You to the Galleries This Autumn

Cast your eye over eight of the original terracotta warriors, walk through a neon field of contemporary Chinese art and see John Lennon's legendary glasses IRL.
By Concrete Playground
May 06, 2019


Cast your eye over eight of the original terracotta warriors, walk through a neon field of contemporary Chinese art and see John Lennon's legendary glasses IRL.

Led by the opening of the NGV's annual winter masterpieces show, the month of May looks bright as another host of must-see art exhibitions take place across Melbourne. Head to Melbourne Museum to catch a glimpse of Mick Jagger's stage costume soundtracked to songs of the 60s, get deep in ancient tattoo customs at the Immigration Museum, and get a rare glimpse at what's been called the 'eighth' wonder of the world. 

Covering topics as diverse as climate change to generational change in China, these seven exhibitions will more than satiate your art and culture cravings this month. Drop by a gallery after work or make a day of it and an exhibition on the weekend — there's great art happening everywhere from Newport to Bendigo.

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    Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality

    Back in 1982, Melbourne played host to one of China’s most important ancient artworks: a collection of statues known as The Terracotta Army. Crafted between 221–206 BCE and first discovered in the Shaanxi province in 1974, it made its international debut at the National Gallery of Victoria — and now, 37 years later, it’s returning for the NGV’s 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series. The five-month exhibition will feature eight warrior figures and two life-size horses from The Terracotta Army, alongside two half-size replica bronze chariots that are each drawn by four horses. They were created during the reign of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang and were buried near his tomb more than 2200 years ago.

    The pieces coming to Melbourne only represent a fraction of the entire work, which numbers more than 8000 figures in total. If you’re wondering how big of a deal the statues are, the answer is very. The Terracotta Army is considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century and has also been described as the ‘Eighth’ Wonder of the World. Displaying at the NGV from May 24 to October 13, 2019, the selected pieces will be accompanied by more than 150 other ancient Chinese treasures sourced from museums and Shaanxi archaeological sites. Expect to rove your eyes over priceless gold, jade and bronze artefacts that date back more than 3000 years, charting China’s artistry across the country’s formative period.

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    A Fairy Tale in Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection

    Showcasing large-scale and never-before-seen works from Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery‘s collection, this exhibition explores questions of identity and personal and cultural memory. Featuring 26 Chinese and Taiwanese artists from across two generations — the first post-Mao generation and a younger generation for whom the Cultural Revolution is ancient history — A Fairy Tale in Red Times is an examination of the dramatic generational change in Chinese society and culture, and its impact on contemporary art as well as, more generally, today’s China.

    Works include Shi Yong’s A Bunch of Happy Fantasies (2009) installation of upside down neon-lit Chinese characters and the eponymous A Fairy Tale in Red Times (2003–07): a collection of vibrant, large-scale photographs by husband and wife duo Shao Yinong and Muchen. Plus, pieces never exhibited before in Australia will be on display, including Zhu Jinshi’s large scale immersive installation The Ship of Time (2018) made from 14,000 sheets of xuan paper, 1800 pieces of fine bamboo and 2000 cotton threads; and Mao Tongqiang’s Order (2015), a stainless-steel installation shot repeatedly with bullets. The exhibition is a collaboration between White Rabbit’s founder Judith Neilson and the NGV — and it’s the first time the NGV has dedicated an entire exhibition to works from the Sydney gallery.

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    Identity and ink are front and centre at the Immigration Museum’s upcoming cross-cultural exhibition, Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks. Kicking off on Friday, May 24, and running through until October 6, the series explores both modern and ancient tattoo customs, through an intriguing program of photography, installations and parties.

    The program dives into ideas surrounding tattoo art and its links to identity and self-expression for communities across the globe. Catch contemporary installations curated by Ukrainian Australian artist and tattooist Stanislava Pinchuk (aka Miso), featuring works from the likes of Zaiba Khan, Angela Tiatia, Paul Stillen and Miso herself. Explore the idea of sacred Samoan tattoos (a 2000-year-old tradition), catch an installation created using deck chairs by artist Brook Andrew, and discover a collaborative work that sees immigration paths tattooed onto the bodies of those who made them.

  • 4
    Yandell Walton: Shifting Surrounds

    Standing in front of a wavy ocean, watching rain fall and just staring at a body of water are some of life’s most calming experiences. That said, simply soaking in their beauty is difficult to do when you start thinking about the fragile environment that’s responsible for all three. In digital installation Shifting Surrounds, Yandell Walton combines nature’s majesty and the eco-reality — with her display contemplating the planet’s shifting environments, as caused by climate change.

    As part of the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 festival, presented with the Centre for Projection Art and on show at The Substation until Saturday, July 20, Shifting Surrounds also aims to shine a light on humanity’s connection with ecological and physical systems, the current technological climate and just what is rapidly altering our world. It also examines the idea of earth entering a new geological age, called the Anthropocene. Basically, consider it eye-catching food for thought. Developed by Walton across a series of onsite residencies over 2017–18, Shifting Surrounds also lives up to its name in another way, too. The installation responds to the architecture of the building, so prepare for quite the immersive sight.

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    Revolutions: Records and Rebels

    If you’ve ever wanted to take a deep dive into some of the most iconic moments of the late 1960s, here’s your chance. A major exhibition is devoted to the huge international impact of these five momentous years has landed at Melbourne Museum. Dubbed Revolutions: Records and Rebels, the exhibition originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and it pulls together over 500 objects sourced from the famed art and design museum, as well as international loans and Melbourne Museum’s own impressive collection.

    It’s a captivating exploration of 1960s youth culture and how collective action at the time spurred revolutionary shifts all across the Western world, from the tunes to the fashion to the political protests and defining moments and events like Woodstock. You’ll revisit these game-changing elements in the context of their lingering impact today, five decades on. To that end, expect to catch a rare glimpse of items like Mick Jagger’s signature stage costume, John Lennon’s legendary glasses, handwritten lyrics for ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and even a guitar that was smashed on stage by Pete Townsend of The Who. Closer to home, historic items will reference pivotal Australian moments of the time, such as the anti-Vietnam War protests and the recognition of Australia’s First Peoples in the 1967 referendum. State-of-the-art audio guide technology will feature a carefully curated musical soundtrack played through Sennheiser headsets, changing according to your position in the gallery. Think, Jimi Hendrix’s live Woodstock set, Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and a whole lot of The Beatles, interspersed with interviews, videos, film screenings and light shows.

  • 2
    Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape

    A controlled explosion took place in a Williamstown warehouse last month — in the name of art, of course. The sound of gunfire was simply part of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s massive new work. Transience II (Peony) is a 31-metre artwork created from gunpowder, fire and silk. It’s the largest piece in Cai’s latest exhibition The Transient Landscape, which will be presented as part of NGV International’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces from May 24 through October 13.

    To create Transience II (Peony), Cai layered 11 sections of silk and drew colourful patterns in gunpowder throughout each. He then ignited the design, with the explosions meant to depict a blooming peony. This type of work is not new for the artist, who has used gunpowder in his art for over 30 years. Cai regularly draws inspiration from ancient Chinese culture and philosophy, using Chinese inventions like gunpowder, porcelain, silk and paper to show how history can inform contemporary art. Transience II (Peony) is just one of three brand new works that Cai has created for the exhibition, which will also feature porcelain peony sculptures and an immersive installation of 10,000 suspended porcelain birds. The Transient Landscape will be presented in tandem with Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality.

  • 1
    Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits

    The tree-lined streets of Bendigo sometimes seem like they could be straight out of a royal parade. And when you consider Bendigo Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, that’s actually quite fitting. Featuring more than 200 works loaned from London’s National Portrait Gallery, this exhibition delves into the legendary figures and historical moments from five British dynasties — the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians and the Windsors.

    Highlights include landmark paintings, photographs and sculptural works depicting King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth II, King George III, Princess Diana and Prince William — among many others. You’ll also find some personal effects on display, pulled from Historic Royal Palaces, the Fashion Museum in Bath and the Royal Armouries, including George IV’s royal christening gown and the coronation gloves of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953). Opening Saturday, March 16, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits will allow you to stroll through 500 years of regal history and see works from many historically significant artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lord Snowdon (Princess Margaret’s husband). The exhibition also adds a contemporary flair with more recent works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Chris Levine and Annie Leibovitz on display, too.


Top image: A Fairy Tale in Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection at the NGV, shot by Tom Ross. 

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