A Brief History of Melbourne's Ian Potter Centre

Inside the Ian Potter Centre
Inside the Ian Potter Centre | © Piter Lenk / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Monique La Terra
14 September 2020

Located in Federation Square, the Ian Potter Centre houses the National Gallery of Victoria’s Australian and Indigenous art collection across three levels, in more than 20 galleries. From the Colonial Period, to the Heidelberg School Impressionist Movement, to contemporary Australian art, NGV holds a collection of more than 20,000 Australian works, with approximately 800 pieces on display.

Artists on display

The Ian Potter Centre’s art collection comprises photography, prints, sculpture, decorative arts, drawing, fashion and textiles. Among the pieces permanently on display are Frederick McCubbin’s The pioneer (1904) and Tom Roberts’s Shearing the Rams (1890), as well as The Joseph Brown Collection. Other artists to keep a keen eye out for are Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Arthur Streeton, Albert Tucker – all from the Angry Penguins – Margaret Preston, Bill Henson, Howard Arkley and Fred Williams.

On the ground floor, there is a permanent Aboriginal collection showcasing the work of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders including William Barak and Emily Kngwarreye.

Current exhibitions

Temporary exhibitions are displayed alongside the permanent collection across all three levels at the Ian Potter Centre. Current exhibitions include John Olsen: The You Beaut Country; Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950; Bruce Armstrong: An Anthology of Strange Creatures; Glenn Murcutt: Architecture of Faith; Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori: Dulka Warngiid – Land of All; and Artist’s Hand: Collectors’ Eye: The Angel Gift.

Sir Ian Potter

Businessman, financier and philanthropist Sir Ian Potter (1902–1994) set up The Ian Potter Foundation in 1964 in support of Australian culture, two years after he was knighted for his contributions in the field of finance. Leaving a lasting impact on Australian business, science, medicine and culture, Sir Ian Potter’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit live on with organisations named in his honour, including The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, the Ian Potter Children’s Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, and the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne.


Opened in 2003, the Ian Potter Centre was designed by Lab Architecture Studio in collaboration with Bates Smart architectural firm, who together conceived the design for the entire 3.6-ha (8.9-acre) corner bordered by Flinders and Swanston Street, now known as Federation Square. Their winning design was selected from 177 entries. Although the appearance of Federation Square is loathed by many, the Ian Potter Centre has earned the designers The RAIA National Award for Interior Architecture and the Marion Mahony Interior Architecture Award.

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