Discovering the best contemporary Melbourne art usually involves traipsing through the inner city to tiny arts spaces and commercial galleries. Exhibitions last a couple of weeks or a weekend or sometimes just a day. The galleries are down laneways and back streets, up rickety stairs and unreliable elevators. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, chances are you won’t find it. But the NGV’s new summer blockbuster Melbourne Now is bringing 200 Melbourne artists into the state gallery, many for the first time. Across contemporary art, architecture and design, the show looks at how the creative folk who live here are influenced by the city, and on the flip side, how Melbourne’s many artists shape the city and its culture.
Time Out's ten picks
Lauren Berkowitz originally trained as a sculptor working, as sculptors often do, with toxic, unsustainable materials. Berkowitz is interested in environmentalism as a theme but also as a principle for how she makes her own art. Her earthy, minimal installations are made from natural and recycled materials (think towers of plastic bags and carpets of colourful seeds). For Melbourne Now Berkowitz will create a "sensory indoor garden" of edible plants.
Daniel Crooks explores the visual expression of time and is best-known for elaborate videos that distort spatio-temporal reality. He radically slows down or compresses parts of the video so that the images begin to swirl and morph, taking on the appearance of paint. As Crooks says, he’s "trying to treat time in a very physical way, trying to think of it as a material in itself."
Destiny Deacon got into photography in the 1980s because she was sick of white dudes taking pictures of "naked black kids in lily ponds". Deacon appropriates and parodies these kitschy stereotypes of Aboriginality (black dolls and ‘golliwogs’ make frequent appearances). She shoots on old cameras, casts family members and uses cheap props from charity shops, and the result is a weird, funny and unflinching exploration of Aboriginal identity.
Julia deVille is a jeweller and sculptor fascinated with death and mourning. Her pieces mix taxidermy, precious metals and gems in a luxurious, hyper-gothic Victoriana style. deVille doesn’t use pristine specimens, the dead animals are found or donated and often already decomposing. For Melbourne Now, deVille is creating a contemporary cabinet of curiosities that will explore the ethics of our relationship with animals.
Marco Fusinato grew up in the late-'70s, and the punk music and radical politics of the day were a major influence on his art. (In one work Fusinato secretly recorded himself in music shops, playing distorted guitar at full volume until beleaguered staff threw him out). His new work is an immersive installation of noise and light, so powerful "you’re going to feel something".
Rory Hyde is interested in the role of the architect in the 21st century. As an architect, but also writer, researcher, broadcaster and academic, Hyde explores the relationship between architecture and ideology, environmentalism, social activism and public engagement. For Melbourne Now, Hyde’s building a large geodesic dome made of living plants grown in upturned Ikea bins, or as he calls it a giant "chia pet".
Anastasia Klose documents the difficult, embarrassing and banal moments of life - break ups, bad jobs, boredom, unemployment. She reveals intimate details about her life in all its silly, touching tediousness. As Klose says, "I like to make art about the artist as a human being rather than an artist." True to form, Klose is moving her living room (and herself) into the NGV for the full five months of Melbourne Now.
The Hotham Street Ladies create installations and sculptures from an assortment of mumsy materials, like baked goods, icing, crochet and sprinkles. (In 2011 they entered an Amy Winehouse inspired "Dolly Varden" cake into competition at the Royal Melbourne Show; it was disqualified). Together the ladies will transform the foyer of NGV Australia into a hundreds-and-thousands showered share-house.
Reko Rennie’s eye popping paintings meld motifs and techniques appropriated from street art, Aboriginal art, pop art and advertising. Rennie grew up in Footscray and never had any formal visual arts training; he learnt to paint as a young graffiti artist in the '80s and '90s. Combining stencils, spray paint, photography, neon and traditional iconography, Rennie uses his art "to express my identity as an Aboriginal man in contemporary society."
Stuart Ringholt’s art is impossible to define. He spent his time at a recent Venice Biennale in a giant prosthetic nose, he conducts group therapy "anger workshops", and most recently he’s been giving naturist art tours in which he and all the participants are starkers. If you had to summarise what Ringholt does (which you can’t), you’d say he makes art about what it means to be human in the 21st century.