Museum Reviews National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potters Centre Melbourne Australia

National Gallery of Victoria has two branches, of which the National Gallery of Victoria Australia, also known as the Ian Potter Centre, is located in the Melbourne’s modern Federation Square.

The Centre comprises over twenty galleries devoted exclusively to Australian art from its European roots to the modern developments and acquiring distinct identity, as well as devoting separate spaces to traditional and modern Aboriginal art.

The permanent displays include works by Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, John Perceval, Margaret Preston, Bill Henson, Howard Arkley, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Fred Williams as well as Aboriginal masters William Barak and Emily Kngwarreye.

The indigenous galleries are particularly enlightening, and were perhaps the best of the displays of Aboriginal art I saw in Australia. I have to confess that I didn’t find myself being particularly moved by the indigenous Australian art, either because it spoke in a language that was unfamiliar or because it spoke of unfamiliar things. Aesthetically, a lot of it was attractive in a very decorative way, especially the Western Desert pointillist works now so perennially associated with native Australian art even though the tradition is only forty or so years old. But as far as meaning is concerned, the myths and stories of Australia left me cold. The insistence on calling a myth “dreaming” seems very pretentious and most of the art was usually presented in a interpretative tension between being treated as simply “art” and as ethnographical, anthropological objects of educational value.

This long digression had a point here, which is that the indigenous galleries in the NGV: Australia seem to avoid this tension, and although the Aboriginal works were separated in their own galleries, they were largely treated without the patronising ethnographic angle.

I found the space inside Ian Potter Centre rather sterile and less welcoming than the National Gallery of Victoria International building. It felt more like a commercial gallery full of works for sale than a public display one, although the staff members were more helpful and friendly than in the St Kilda building.

As the St Kilda branch, the Ian Potter Centre had a Kids Corner, a free activity centre for children, with specially prepared themed installations as well as a space for creative play with children’s workshops on weekend and school holidays.

Entrance to the Ian Potter Centre is free (although flagship temporary exhibitions may have charges) and it is located in the very centre of Melbourne, easy to get to by walking or public transport.

All in all, an interesting gallery and definitely worth a visit if you are curious about Australian art, be it the artists with European roots or indigenous ones.