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Eight Powerful and Immersive Melbourne Art Exhibitions to Step Into This Spring

See everything from seven-metre-tall bronze sculptures to award-winning portraits to mesmerising digital art by way of Tokyo.
By Concrete Playground
September 23, 2019
By Concrete Playground
September 23, 2019


See everything from seven-metre-tall bronze sculptures to award-winning portraits to mesmerising digital art by way of Tokyo.

The arrival of spring means you'll have more motivation to leave the house more — even if it's just to get into a gallery. Luckily, the array of exhibitions currently — or ones that will soon be— on display in Melbourne are anything but static. You'll be able to get your steps up as you wander through an inflatable labyrinth of tunnels and colours or testing your body at Lucy McRae's interactive NGV retrospective. Just remember to take a breather between each one as you gallery hop around the city.

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    The National Gallery of Victoria’s 2019 program continues to pull in the big guns, and that list now includes Brooklyn-based Kaws (aka Brian Donnelly), who’s brought his instantly recognisable pop-culture sculptures to Aus. Kaws is best known for his large-scale sculptures, vivid murals and distinctive, pop culture-inspired characters. You’re probably familiar with his reinterpretations of iconic figures like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and The Smurfs, all reworked with those signature Xs over the eyes.

    While it’s a stable of work that’s laced with a healthy dose of humour, this NGV exhibition, entitled Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, focuses on the rest of those underlying emotions. You’ll get a glimpse at how KAWS celebrates generosity and explores our need for companionship, offering up an antidote to the world’s current ‘Age of Loneliness’. Off the back of solo exhibitions at the Yuz Museum Shanghai and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2017, as well as the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation earlier this year, Kaws’ NGV presentation has plenty of never-before-seen goodies. It features a sprawling collection of his pop culture reworkings, human-size figures and collaborative pieces, while a newly commissioned monumental work will be the artist’s largest bronze sculpture to date: Gone (2019), a seven-metre-tall bronze sculpture standing imposingly in the NGV’s Federation Court.

    Image: Tom Ross.

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    TeamLab: Reversible Rotation

    Tokyo-based art collective Teamlab — made up of mathematicians, architects, animators and engineers — will take over Tolarno Galleries with a mesmerising installation for this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Teamlab’s Digital Art Museum in Tokyo — or see countless Instagram Stories from your friends who have been — you’ll know what to expect. This new work, titled Reversible Rotation, will be a four-screen work featuring sculptures of light and “cascades of shimmering luminescence”, which will make you feel as though you’re standing on a floating wave of light.

    Unlike Teamlab’s museum in Tokyo, entry to this exhibition will be free. However, like the Tokyo museum, we anticipate there will be lines. You can’t book, so rock up early and be prepared for a wait — the gallery will be open from 10am–5pm weekdays and 1–5pm on Saturdays.

    Image: Borderless, Teamlab. 

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  • 6
    Petrina Hicks and Polixeni Papapetrou

    This September, the NGV is showcasing two exhibitions from two celebrated Australian photographers: Polixeni Papapetrou and Petrina Hicks. While the exhibitions will be separate — and give you ample time to appreciate and mull over both artists’ bodies of work — they will both be on display at the Ian Potter Centre from September 26 until March 2020. 

    Bleached Gothic is the first major survey of Hicks’s work, and includes over 50 photographs and motion works from the past 15 years. Hicks explores the complexity of the female experience through enigmatic and surreal photographs. Her work poses question into the visual and cultural representation of women throughout social climates in a series of photographs relevant to the experiences of today. You’ll probably recognise Shenae and Jade, which depicts a young girls with a budgie in her mouth. 

    Papapetrou’s exhibition — Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou — is the first major retrospective from the Australian photographer, and includes works prior to her death that have never been exhibited in Melbourne. The series showcases photographs of her daughter Olympia, from her birth until her mother’s death last year, and explores the representation of children in their contemporary settings. 

    Image: Petrina Hicks, Shewolf I (2016) from theThe California Works series, courtesy of the artist, Michael Reid, Sydney, and This Is No Fantasy, Melbourne.

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  • 5
    Architects of Air: Katena Luminarium

    If you’ve got a thing for bouncy castles and the likes, you’re going to feel quite at home tripping through the latest immersive installation from Nottingham’s Architects of Air. Famed the world over for their glowing, inflatable ‘luminarium’ structures, the artists are headed to Narre Warren’s Bunjil Place to show off their latest creation, Katena Luminarium. Once you enter the maze of geometric domes and tunnels, all bathed in a swirling colour palette of glowing light, the moniker makes perfect sense. It’s named after the catenary curve, which is the shape of a chain suspended, and is inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s design for the Sagrada Familia.

    You’ll start your journey through Katena in an airlock chamber, opening into a tunnel of domes filled with over 100 catenary curves. The mind-bending main dome boasts an intricate fine mesh shape, ablaze with over 200 colour highlights, including a vibrant green apex. While you can’t actually bounce in it, you can wander through, or simply find a curve, settle in and soak up the supposed calming and energising effects of the ambient space.

    Images: Alan Parkinson.

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  • 4

    Breakups are hard. But, they also makes for some pretty great stories. And you’ll unearth plenty of those heartbreaking tales when the Museum of Broken Relationships rocks into town. The internationally acclaimed, Croatian-born exhibition has come to Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s love-themed 2019 program. It’s currently on show at the CBD’s No Vacancy Gallery, showcasing a thought-provoking collection of real-life relationship relics.

    For the museum’s Melbourne pop-up, curators (and exes) Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic are pulling together an assortment of local stories and pieces, as well as objects from the exhibition’s permanent collections in Zagreb and Los Angeles. Expect to find symbols of heartbreak, nostalgia and ended relationships — and the captivating stories behind them.

    Image: Tracey Ah-kee.

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    Archibald Prize 2019

    Widely touted as Australia’s most prestigious portraiture prize, the Archibald Prize is a curated collection of the year’s best portrait paintings. This year, the lineup includes 51 talented finalists who were selected from a record 919 entries. After an obligatory stint at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the exhibition will move to TarraWarra Museum of Art. All the winning portraits and finalists will be on display until November 5.

    The works depict an eclectic mix of subjects, from celebrities and politicians to artists and authors. Tony Costa’s portrait of fellow artist Lindy Lee, simply titled Lindy Lee, took out the top gong — and $100,000 cash along with it. Meanwhile, Tessa MacKay was awarded the 2019 Archibald Packing Room Prize, chosen by the packing room team, for her hyperreal portrait of actor David Wenham, called Through the Looking Glass. Both of which will be on display, of course. Plus, you’ll see a painting by Vietnamese-Australian artist, actor and writer Anh Do, a portrait of Paralympic champion Dylan Alcott by Sydney-based stencil artist Kirpy, Carla Fletcher’s cosmic work of Del Kathryn Baron and a hyperreal self-portrait of a nude, pregnant Katherine Edney.

    Top image: Lindy Lee by Tony Costa.

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  • 2

    Ever pondered what the human body might be like a couple more decades into the future? What sort of weird and wonderful things it’ll be able to do by the time next century rolls around? Award-winning Aussie-born, Los Angeles-based artist Lucy McRae sure has, and she’s offering a peek at her most captivating musings in a new free exhibition at NGV Australia, titled Lucy McRae: Body Architect. As a designer, science fiction artist, filmmaker and ‘body architect’, McRae’s on a constant journey of contemplation, her work reflecting on the future of human existence through collaborations with everyone from scientists, to pop musicians.

    Running until February 2020, this survey of her work — which has strong The Fifth Element vibes — dives deep into these questions, showcasing a body of work that will not just pique the interest of art lovers, but sci-fi fans and philosophers, too. For Lucy McRae: Body Architect, you’ll see the artist’s filmmaking skills at play in seminal work Institute of Isolation: an observational documentary exploring the concept of isolation and the impact it might have on people when experienced for decades at a time. It’s questioned through the lens of space travel and how human resilience might be tweaked in order to better handle it. Meanwhile, immersive work Future Day Spa will see you hanging out in a vacuum pressure chamber, which mimics the feeling of being hugged tightly, boosting relaxation levels in the process. You can also get your own face up on the gallery’s walls — and tweak it — with Biometric Mirror.

    Images: Tom Ross.

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    Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion

    Bendigo Art Gallery is currently honouring one of the most influential fashion icons of all time with Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. A pioneering 20th century designer hailing from Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga was considered one of the leaders of haute couture — and hundreds of his designs are making their way to Australia this winter.

    For this exclusive exhibition, Bendigo Art Gallery has collaborated with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Expect over 100 garments and hats designed not only by Balenciaga, but also by his 30 contemporaries and apprentices at the design house — who include the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Hubert de Givenchy. Along with the designer pieces — including pieces worn by actress Ava Gardner, mononymous 50s model Dovima and 60s fashion icon Gloria Guinness — visitors will gain access to Balenciaga’s house through archival sketches, fabric samples, photographs and fashion show footage.

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Image: Kaws, Gone, shot by Tom Ross.

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