Melbourne is arguably the cultural capital of Australia, which is typified by its extensive range of art galleries. Intertwining the streets of the city you can almost stumble across a gallery on every corner. Sometimes it feels like you are in one of the great artistic European cities like Paris, Florence or Amsterdam, where you are always within arms reach of world-class art.
With so many different galleries to visit, we’ve put together a list of the places you shouldn’t miss. From world-renowned exhibitions, local independent collections to interactive experiences, we’ve got you covered with our pick of the best galleries Melbourne has to offer. So grab a friend and book a day out to see some of the city’s most amazing art!
With its brutalist architectural design, the National Gallery of Victoria’ s International building sits on the southern edge of the city’s Yarra River and has up to one and a half million guests grace its floors every year. Founded in 1861, the NGV is Australia’s oldest and most visited gallery and best of all the permanent collection is free to the public all year round.
Boasting up to 75,000 works that form the basis for the gallery’s activities and exhibitions, the collections style ranges from Australian, Indigenous and international art as well as design and architecture. From classic to contemporary, if there’s a blockbuster exhibition in Melbourne, it’s sure to be at the NGV, with the gallery exhibiting everything from Van Gogh, Ai Wei Wei, Jean Paul Gaultier and Andy Warhol.
For the little ones, the NGV is a great place for growing minds, with an interactive kids zone that changes seasonally and helps kids explore and foster an interest in art.
Sitting up the road at Federation Square is The Ian Potter Centre, home of the NGV’s Australian and First Nation artists work collection. The space offers local and international guests the opportunity to learn about Australian history and culture through the different points of view and interpretations of artists from across the continent. Through photography, print and drawing, fashion and textile and decorative art, Australia’s history is represented in this gallery.
Made up of several gallery spaces over three levels, this extensive collection of Australian artwork ranges from the colonial period through to contemporary art and regularly hosts temporary exhibitions for local Australian artists past and present. Be sure to visit the spaces dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artwork, highlighting their often misrepresented and unheard voices.
A 3000sqm immersive gallery experience like no other. The Lume does for art as the IMAX does for film. Projected four storeys high on over 150 state-of the-art projectors, this 360 degree interactive show weaves together powerful artistic imagery over a range of surfaces to present a completely different way of experiencing art..
The Lume is best known for bringing to life the history of art greats such as Van Gogh and Monet in recent times. Intertwining the colours, history, sounds, stories, and of course, the artwork of these greats makes for an incredible visual experience you can enjoy standing, sitting, walking around and even dining within the expansive space.
Housed just behind Acland Street in the heart of St Kilda, Linden New Art is a not-for-profit gallery that focuses on supporting mid-career artists. The gallery is free to the public and puts on exhibitions year round that focus on inspiring and thought provoking work.
This gallery brings the community together, exemplified most by its annual postcard show.
The Linden postcard series sees over a thousand mini masterpieces, each work measuring 8 x 10” exhibited throughout summer. An open-entry exhibition, the postcard show offers artists at all career stages an opportunity to show and sell their postcard-sized pieces.
Affectionately known as ACCA to Melbournians, the Australia Centre For Contemporary Art is one of the city’s most recognisable buildings, with its rusty-red facade and award-winning architectural design by Wood Marsh. This not-for-profit centre showcases local and international artists across all mediums and is known to push the boundaries of what most would commonly consider to be art.
One of the country’s leaders for setting the agenda for contemporary art, ACCA aims to both push boundaries and lead the community in conversation on cultural issues both international and closer to home. ACCA’s adventurous and provocative approach to its exhibitions and commissions has helped launch many artists’ careers and is worth the visit to see the building alone.
One of the new kids on the block in Melbourne’s arts precinct, Buxton Contemporary has quickly become the go to place for art lovers with some of Melbourne’s best permanent modern art collections. Sitting across the road from the NGV, it’s the perfect place to enjoy some world-class contemporary art in a more intimate setting than some of the bigger neighbouring galleries.
The quality of art doesn’t let visitors down. Being part of University Of Melbourne’s Victoria College of the Arts, the gallery houses the private art collection of Melbourne property developer and collector Michael Buxton. The artwork here forms the inspiration for the gallery’s exhibitions, performances, research and education program.Entry to Buxton Contemporary is free and open to the public year round.
Having represented some of Australia’s most well-known artists, Anna Schwartz is one of the biggest names in the art world. Her gallery has been showing artists on Flinders Lane since 1986. A visit to an Anna Schwartz gallery exhibition is an opportunity to see work at the forefront of the country’s art scene.
This high-end contemporary art gallery has a proud tradition of finding and cultivating artists from here and abroad, and features exhibitions that both push boundaries and concepts. The gallery also has a publishing arm called SCHWARTCITY, and is fiercely committed to the cultural development of Melbourne.
Formerly based in Port Melbourne, Melbourne Art Rooms, better known as MARS Gallery now calls Windsor home, continuing its tradition as a space for local and international artists to exhibit. Under the helm of director Andy Dinan, the gallery is renowned for its fearless and adventurous approach to art and expression.
The commercial gallery represents some of the country’s brightest emerging and established contemporary artists. The versatile space was designed by JAM architects, with state of the art, environmentally conscious design offering a multi level exhibitions experience for the collector, curator, artist and curious members of the public alike.
Located in RMIT University’s architecturally unique Storey Hall, the RMIT Gallery has been showing local and international artists since 1977, when it presented a series of works by iconic local artist John Brack. Right nearby Veriu Queen Victoria Market, this building has had colourful history, being the site of many social and political protests, and in recent time a major contributor to Melbourne’s art culture.
Open to the public, the gallery presents many engaging and thought-provoking programs throughout the year, with contemporary exhibitions featuring both established and emerging artists. Being part of the RMIT University, the gallery plays a pivotal role towards its students’ experience, showcasing the school’s research outcomes, exhibitions and related events.
Originally established by Melbourne’s photography community as a not-for-profit, the Centre for Contemporary Photography is now the city’s premier photography gallery. Throughout its history the space has played a major role in supporting photography-based artists, bringing the medium into the public conversation since 1986.
The gallery provides a number of different services for artists that work in photography and videography, supporting them with educational experiences, exhibition opportunities, commissioned research projects and a space for established artists to experiment in their practice. With five exhibition spaces, the gallery’s program features a diverse range of photo based art from emerging and established artists in both group and curated exhibition forms.
The Footscray Community Arts Centre has been the cultural hub of the west for almost half a decade. FCAC, as it’s affectionately known, brings the local and Melbourne arts community together to celebrate cultural expression and contemporary art, with an emphasis on catering to all walks of life and all levels of artist.
Sitting opposite the mighty Maribyrnong River, the site hosts workshops and events as well as exhibitions throughout the year. Being a hub for the western community, the centre is passionate about its diversity program, with an Indigenous advisory group and elders in residence as well as offering day programs for people with disabilities to become involved in art.
There’s no doubt that Melbourne is home to some of the best art galleries in the country. Whilst this list represents the best of Melbourne’s galleries, there are still many local and independent galleries popping up all over the city that are worth looking out for. If you’re up for some exploring, why not try a street art walk showing some of the city’s finest and most renowned street art
We hope this list has piqued your interest and inspired you to check out some art on your next visit to Melbourne. If you’re in town to see some art and looking for a place to stay, Punthill Flinders Lane and Punthill Manhattan are located right in the heart of the city just a stroll away from Melbourne’s arts precinct.