Many of Melbourne’s best-loved locales are closely guarded secrets. From laneway clubs to back-street pubs, we have a special affection for out-of-the-way places and word-of-mouth recommendations. This must make the Johnston Collection one of the most ‘Melbourne’ museums around.
The director of The Johnston Collection, Louis Le Vaillant, agrees. “A large part of the museum’s appeal is its mystery. You need some insider knowledge.” Nestled in a small residential street in inner-Melbourne, the museum’s address is a secret. To visit you need to book in advance and meet at a pre-arranged location where a bus will escort you to your final destination. It’s not your average trip to the museum, but then the Johnston Collection is not your average museum.
The Johnston Collection is the legacy of dapper 20th century antiques dealer William Johnston. Throughout his life Johnston accumulated an impressive selection of fine artworks and decorative objects (and a good many houses too), all of which he left to the people of Victoria on his death in 1986.
Johnston’s old house – Fairhall – is now a lively museum for his lovely Georgian, Regency and Louis XV collection. The museum also features a program of exhibitions, lectures and workshops, and often invites special guests to rearrange the interiors of Fairhall.
The current exhibition – After the Meal: A Taste for Excess – was created by Melbourne-based architect and restaurateur Pascale Gomes-McNabb, who designed the memorable interiors of Cumulus Inc. and Cutler and Co, among many other fine-dining establishments.
Working with some of Australia’s best known chefs, Gomes-McNabb has arranged each room in Fairhall as if you’ve stumbled upon the (beautiful) remains of an opulent meal. Amidst tables heaving with glass and gold there are mouth-watering visions of exotic cocktails, gamey roasts and deconstructed desserts.
In keeping with the theme of hedonistic indulgence, After the Meal features a huge number of pieces from the museum’s 1200 strong collection, making it a great taste of what the Johnston Collection has to offer.
Pickup by courtesy bus from the foyer of the Hilton on the Park Hotel, 192 Wellington Pde, East Melbourne. Bookings essential.