The Best Contemporary and Modern Art Galleries in Melbourne

Melbourne's Lyon Housemuseum boasts a large collection of Australian contemporary art
Melbourne's Lyon Housemuseum boasts a large collection of Australian contemporary art | © Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Melissa Pearce
23 September 2019

Australia’s second largest city Melbourne is renowned for its enthralling arts scene. With its vast wealth of cultural and artistic institutions, it’s no wonder that it is often referred to as the cultural capital of Australia. Here are the top 10 contemporary art galleries in this bustling metropolis.

Melbourne is a great place to visit for anyone looking for interesting art experiences – the city is home to all kinds of galleries, as well as countless underground studios and art spaces. It’s impossible to go to Melbourne and not see a striking work of art in one form or another, whether it’s one of the city’s many outdoor sculptures, a piece in a gallery, or some of the street and graffiti art for which the city has become famous.

Heide Museum of Modern Art

© Stephen Dwyer / Alamy
Located in the Melbourne suburb of Bulleen, the Heide Museum of Modern Art has been flourishing since the property was purchased by John and Sunday Reed in 1934. The renovated farmhouse attracted some of the most prolific figures in Australian art and culture at the time, and has since become one of the most respected houses of modern art in Australia. Consisting of the Heide Collection as well as temporary exhibitions, the museum upholds a tradition of promoting living contemporary artists. Artists are predominantly Australian, but there’s also a noteworthy international influence. Now stretching over three buildings (Heide I, II and III), the museum’s history can be gleaned from its architecture, with the old beautifully renovated Heide I standing in stark contrast to the black zinc exterior of Heide III. In addition to the museum, the public also has access to 15 acres (six hectares) of garden, and a park with 30 sculptures by a number of well-known artists.

Gertrude Contemporary

Art Gallery
Gertrude Contemporary opened in 1985 and is centred around not only the presentation and exhibiting of contemporary art, but the creation of it as well. Focusing on newly commissioned works and initially involved in the Australian contemporary art scene, the gallery has more recently included a diverse range of international works that are displayed across its three gallery spaces. The gallery has an impressive catalogue of renowned artists, and holds regularly changing exhibitions and impressive educational programmes. It has also helped shape the careers of many artists – since Gertrude’s founding in 1985, 85 percent of artists who have represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, or have been included in the Biennale‘s international exhibition, are its studio and exhibition alumni.

National Gallery of Victoria

Art Gallery
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
© Peter Scholey / Alamy Stock Photo
Made up of the NGV International and The Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is Australia’s oldest public art gallery and proudly exhibits a wide range of artworks from around the globe. A visually striking building, the slate exterior is enveloped by water as you walk towards the open entrance and are greeted by the gallery’s famous Waterwall. Sheets of glass are brought to life by rainwater collected on the roof of the NGV International building, which is recycled through the drainpipes and water treatment plant. With water shortages in Australia an on-going concern, it is innovative design ideas such as this that make the NGV stand out.

Centre for Contemporary Photography

Art Gallery
© Peter Ptschelinzew / Alamy
The Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is an educational, enjoyable way to experience contemporary photography. Opened in 1986, the not-for-profit organisation consists of five spaces, in which it showcases current photography from new and established artists, both Australian and international. Upon entering the centre, galleries one and two flow seamlessly into a larger third gallery space, which is followed by a fourth, more intimate room. The fifth exhibition space is the ‘Night Projection Window’, a nighttime window space that lets onlookers get a peak at a chosen artist’s work from the outside – seven nights a week. The CCP also hosts a number of photography courses and lectures for those inspired by the exhibitions to try their hand at photography.

Lyon Housemuseum

Art Gallery
Interior gallery of Lyon Housemuseum, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
The Lyon Housemuseum was designed by Corbett Lyon, one of its founding patrons | © Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The Lyon Housemuseum consists of two parts – the original house museum, where founding patrons Corbett and Yueji Lyon live, which is open for pre-booked tours on certain days each year, and the new public Housemuseum Galleries. These opened in March 2019 and showcase both national and international art exhibitions, as well as architecture and design shows. Both spaces were designed by Corbett Lyon himself, an architect, and the striking, geometric designs are worth a visit in themselves. The Lyons’ collection of Australian contemporary art consists of more than 350 works by over 50 artists, and is one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Artists include Brook Andrew, Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinini, Callum Morton, Shaun Gladwell, Daniel von Sturmer and Daniel Crooks.

Mailbox Art Space

Art Gallery, Building
Mailbox Art Space, in the city’s Flinders Lane arts precinct, invites artists to create site-specific work – in a series of restored mailboxes! The mailboxes are located in Pawson House, a historic heritage building, and the artists also get to make works for the surrounding area. The small size of the mailboxes makes it a truly unique way of showcasing art, and is also a challenge to the artists. Each mailbox varies slightly in scale, meaning the works have to be completely tailor-made. It’s an innovative space in which to host exhibitions, and a nice juxtaposition between a historical building and contemporary art.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

Art Gallery
© Regina Lui / Alamy
The ACCA acts as one of the prime contemporary art spaces in Melbourne, providing inspirational up-and-coming artists with generous spaces in which to express their inventive and daring concepts. Works from the range of artists vary, from installations of sound and sculpture to performances like Jaqueline Donachie’s ‘Melbourne Slow Down’ project, in which cyclists strapped bottles full of chalk to their bicycles and rode towards the ACCA from the outskirts of the city of Melbourne. Fun, yet thought-provoking ideas such as this are evidence of how ACCA offers the public a fresh look on contemporary artistic practices – in an exciting way. ACCA is also well worth a visit to admire the striking architecture of the building, designed by Wood Marsh.

Maroondah Federation Estate Gallery, Ringwood

Art Gallery
Established in 2001, Maroondah Art Gallery can be found a bit outside the city centre in Ringwood in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. It has a community focus and is located inside the cultural centre at Maroondah Federation Estate. The gallery exhibits works of historical importance, as well as more recent contemporary works across a selection of media. Although predominantly interested in the medium of painting, it has also showcased indigenous works, as well as contemporary works of fashion, jewellery and photography.

RMIT Gallery

Art Gallery
RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia
RMIT Gallery is the main art gallery of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology | © Picture Partners / Alamy Stock Photo
On the fringes of Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District), the buzz of student city living is reflected in and around Storey Hall, which houses the RMIT Gallery, the main art gallery of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Much of the building has been refurbished with an artistic flair, but the gallery can be found through the original sandstone entrance up bluestone steps. Throughout the gallery, there is a focus on public art and design, with a number of programmes and publications running alongside the exhibitions to complement them. As well as distinctive visual art, the RMIT also showcases new media, sonic art, design, popular culture, technology and multidisciplinary artistic practice.

Buxton Contemporary

Art Gallery

Buxton Contemporary is one of the newest art galleries in Melbourne. It opened in 2018 at the Victorian College of the Arts, the University of Melbourne’s art school. As well as its four exhibition galleries, it boasts the largest outdoor screen in Australia dedicated to the display of moving image art. The Buxton collection, which was donated to the university by art collector and property developer Michael Buxton, contains more than 350 major artworks and focuses on contemporary Australian art, making Buxton a great place to visit for those who want to discover the country’s most exciting artists. And it’s not just exhibitions on the programme here – Buxton Contemporary also uses the collection as inspiration for performance, research, teaching and publishing.

Cajsa Carlson contributed additional reporting to this article.

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