Audiences discovered Melbourne’s hidden visual art treasures when galleries across the city opened after hours.
As public galleries have discovered with events such as Art after Dark at the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Bar at the Art Gallery of NSW, opening galleries after the sun goes down brings in a whole new audience.
From students who don’t wake until mid-afternoon to overworked professionals who don’t leave the office until late, there are plenty of people who don’t think about going out until a time when galleries are usually closed.
Already stretched in their limited hours, it’s tough for small private galleries to follow suit, so joining forces in Nite Art is a fabulous concept.
For the audiences who moved from gallery to gallery there was a sense of treasure hunt and of being a tourist in one’s own city, discovering places we never knew existed – or always meant to visit.
There were crowds inside many little known spaces and it was pretty special to climb up to the seventh floor of the aging Nicholas Building in Swanston Street and find crowds on the stairwell and queues for tiny gallery spaces.
With 21 participating galleries and 56 artists, stretching from Federation Square to North Melbourne, nobody could be expected to cover the gamut in three hours, certainly not after a working day. But the organisers cleverly organised the event into precincts, and for the dedicated it was possible to give a dozen small galleries at least a decent level of attention and take in a couple of curators' talks if you planned your night well.
In ArtsHub territory in Guildford Lane, one of my favourite works was not in a gallery at all: the wayfinding lighting installation created by RMIT Interior Design students, led by Meme Design Directors Megan Housnlow and Melanie Beynon. The carefully placed neon tubes which lined the brick walls in striking geometric patterns directed human traffic, dressing the grungy, usually-hidden laneway with celebratory colour and giving the streetscape a sense of occasion.
Inside, the Guildford galleries presented an eclectic collection of screen, sculpture, installation and paint. Worthy of special mention was the extravagantly titled Framing everyday negotiations: never confuse movement with action, a work that is much better than its name suggests. Jacqui Shelton’s performance piece cum video at Screen Space shows her attempting hopelessly to stem a tide with sandbags as a subtitled conversation about crying plays below. It’s beautifully set and the sense of pointlessness and despair is compelling.
At the other end of the city – both geographically and demographically – the established Lesley Kehoe Gallery inside the elegant architecture of 101 Collins presented ink originals and lithographs by the 100 year old Japanese artist Toko Shinoda. The most established and accomplished artist we saw at Nite Art, Shinoda crosses the border between Japanese lithography and Western Abstract Expressionism. Her work has a deep inner peace and sense of balance that bears long meditative attention. The exhibition is beautifully presented with powerful portraits of the artist, ceramics and ikebana enhancing the art.
Among the many hidden gems inside the Nicholas Building was Robert Ashton’s landscape photography at Edmund Pearce. The magnificently detailed bush and coastal triptychs are finely wrought and deeply appealing. In fact they were so popular it was hard to move far enough back to get the perspective these works demand.
Eliza Jane Gilchrist’s Skin and Bones at Blindside is a humourous and creative exploration of the body and its relationship to clothing. Gilchrist fuses shirt and spine, melding the inner and outer self in a witty and thoughtful subversion of fashion and materialism. In other effective works, she plays with gravity, creating striking balances of shoe, string and stone. I predict this artist will go far. She certainly deserves to.
Nite Art is a fabulous concept and as a first attempt it worked extremely well. I’d hope to see a few improvements next time: more dramatic public art to give us a sense of occasion; a decent app with a better interactive map; and enough paper maps (many galleries ran out). Food stalls wouldn’t go amiss either.
Founder Deborah Stahle and her team are to be congratulated for a creative and effective event. We certainly hope it becomes part of the annual calendar, as they intend.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
21 galleries across Melbourne
24 July, 6-11pm