Best contemporary art galleries in Melbourne

People walking through art gallery

Blanche Clark

Posted May 12, 2022

Viewing art can make you happier, and the nation’s cultural capital offers everything from Indigenous art to cutting-edge installations. Here’s a guide to eight of Melbourne’s best art galleries.

There’s no shortage of amazing art galleries in Melbourne, and the city is destined to be home to the largest public gallery dedicated to contemporary art and design in Australia.

The NGV Contemporary, a 30,000 sqm landmark scheduled for completion in 2028, will unify Melbourne’s Arts Precinct, linking the NGV: International, Southbank Theatre and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. The NGV Contemporary will also have a public garden the size of the MCG that will extend to the Yarra River.

But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. You can also see inspiring and thought-provoking contemporary work at smaller public galleries, private galleries and artist-run spaces.


Render of contemporary art gallery

Daytime render of winning concept design for NGV Contemporary by Angelo Candalepas and Associates. Image: Darcstudio/ NGV

RACV Visual Art Curator Ellen Wignell, who oversees the RACV Art Collection, says smaller galleries offer the chance to slow down and engage with art in a deeper way.

“Across Melbourne, not just in the CBD, you can see some of the best work being produced by contemporary artists in Australia today,” Wignell says.

“There are unique destinations such as Heide Museum of Modern Art, which has links to some of Australia’s greatest 20th century artists, and the Koorie Heritage Trust, which supports and showcases contemporary Aboriginal artists, as well the privately run Lyon HouseMuseum Galleries in Kew.”

For those dubious about the benefits of visiting art galleries, several studies over the past decade have found that when you like an artwork your brain releases the hormone dopamine, which results in feelings of wellbeing.

So, if you’re ready to discover some of the best contemporary art galleries in Melbourne, here are Wignell’s top picks.


Couple viewing art with curator

The Koorie Heritage Trust has cultural education programs, as well as free exhibitions.
Image: Visit Victoria

Eight of Melbourne's best contemporary art galleries

Koorie Heritage Trust

Located in the cultural heart of Naarm (Melbourne), the Koorie Heritage Trust promotes and celebrates contemporary Victorian Aboriginal art and artists. A stone’s throw from NGV: Australia (where you can see a permanent display of Indigenous masterpieces) the Koorie Heritage Trust distinguishes itself by being a not-for-profit First Nations owned-and-managed arts and cultural organisation.

“The Koorie Heritage Trust has beautiful exhibitions covering contemporary art, fashion, jewellery making, and traditional weaving,” Wignell says.

The gallery is also a haven if you need a break from work or shopping in the CBD. Exhibitions run for a couple of months, so check the website for the latest information.

Yarra Building, Federation Square, Corner Swanston & Flinders Streets, open daily (except public holidays), 10am to 5pm, free entry.

Heide Museum of Modern Art

In 1934, art patrons John and Sunday Reed opened their farmhouse to a circle of artists, writers and intellectuals and created their legacy, an arts hub that has evolved to become Heide Museum of Modern Art (pictured top of page).

“The history of the gallery is amazing ,” Wignell says. “The name Heide was a nod to the Heidelberg School of Artists of the late 19th century, and the Reeds attracted artists such Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Perceval and Albert Tucker into their fold.

“Heide is now one of the hubs of Melbourne, but back in the ’30s and ’40s it was on the outskirts of the city and seemed very far away and bohemian.”

Many of Heide’s exhibitions are linked to its rich history. Entry fees apply for the museum, but it’s free to wander around the sculpture park, which features 35 permanent sculptures, and Sunday Reed’s preserved gardens.

7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen, open Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays, 10am to 5p, book online.

Modern art gallery

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art has a long-standing tradition of adventurous and provocative exhibitions. Image: Visit Victoria

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

ACCA’s building is itself an artwork. The rusty steel façade pays homage to South Melbourne’s industrial past and contrasts dramatically with the shiny metal and glass panels inside, setting the scene for exciting and challenging art experiences.

“ACCA is a block away from the NGV but often overlooked,” Wignell says. “It’s a great place to see cutting-edge, contemporary artists, and thought-provoking international artists as well.”

There are also regular talks, lectures, performances, screenings, music and events, and free exhibition insights with ACCA's expert team most Sundays at 3pm.

111 Sturt Street, Southbank, open Tuesday to Friday, 10am-5pm.  

Gertrude Contemporary

Gertrude Contemporary is not-for-profit gallery and studio complex that has been supporting contemporary artists for more than 30 years. First located in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, it’s now in a former glass works factory in Preston.

“This is off the beaten track for many people, but worth the trek if you’re interested in contemporary art,” Wignell says. “It can be quirky or challenging, but it’s a rewarding gallery. You will see something that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.”

Wignell says many of the artists who exhibit here go on to show at ACCA and the NGV.

“It is a good place to meet new or upcoming artists, and also gives you the chance to follow their careers,” she says.

21-31 High Street, Preston South, open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-5pm.

Linden Gallery

This is a great gallery to pop into for a leisurely hour while in St Kilda, or for an annual visit to see the famed Linden Postcard Show.

Linden Gallery is in a beautiful heritage building that is tucked away in the back streets of St Kilda,” Wignell says. “They are best known for their Postcard Show, which sees their walls plastered with postcard-sized artworks. Anybody can apply to enter, and there’s always lots of engaging works.”

Exhibitions change every eight weeks and are supported by artist events and programs. If you have children, there are art activities online, which are great for school holidays.

26 Acland Street, St Kilda, open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-4pm.


People viewing photography

The Centre of Contemporary Photography showcases the work of emerging and established artists. Image: Visit Victoria

Centre of Contemporary Photography

Photography has been around since 1839 and has evolved from recording faces and places to being a way for artists to explore their creative ideas, resulting in work that is abstract and intriguing for the viewer.

The Centre of Contemporary Photography is a beautifully architecturally designed building that houses has changing exhibitions of both national and international artists,” Wignell says.

“The space is dedicated to photography, video and related fields, and you’ll see a broad range of contemporary practitioners here, from emerging artists, professional photographers diversifying their practice and established artists pursuing new directions.”

404 George St, Fitzroy, Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-5pm

Arts Project Australia

Arts Project Australia is a social enterprise that supports artists living with intellectual disabilities. It has earned an international reputation for its innovative exhibitions and programs. The gallery is located in a new arts precinct in Collingwood, while its studio is in Northcote.

“They have engaging exhibitions highlighting the work of their studio artists, and often feature guest curators to explore different themes,” Wignell says.

Arts Project’s group exhibitions offer a chance to appreciate the diverse mediums and styles employed by the artists, who all have distinctive practices.

Level 1, Collingwood Yards, Perry St building. Enter via 30 Perry St. Wednesday to Friday, 11am-5pm and Saturday and Sunday, noon-4pm

Lyon Housemuseum

Hidden down a suburban street in Kew, Housemuseum Galleries has a fascinating and unique history. Since 2009, Architect Corbett Lyon and his partner Yueji have opened their hybrid home and gallery, Lyon Housemuseum, to the public for viewings of their exceptional Australian art collection.

Then, three years ago, they opened the purpose-built Housemuseum Galleries next door, and apart from a hiatus during COVID, it has been a much-lauded space for national and international exhibitions of art, architecture and design.

“Their exhibitions are drawn from their personal collection and networks,” Wignell says. “They have open days, hold talks, and the Housemusuem Galleries are like an extension of their private residence next door.”

A new exhibition presenting selected works from the Lyon Collection, including new acquisitions, is on until 13 November 2022.

Housemuseum Galleries, 217 Cotham Road, Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-4pm. Entry $10 per person. Gallery is closed public holidays. Original Housemuseum tour dates to be announced.

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