Nine of the best art galleries in regional Victoria

Front of Geelong  Gallery

Clare Barry

Posted May 03, 2021


Take an art-led day trip or weekend away exploring Victoria’s regional galleries.

Travel-starved Victorians hardly need an excuse to explore their state, but as the weather cools an art-led adventure could be just the thing to transport us to some less-travelled corners.

Our regional galleries punch above their weight and after a year marred by the pandemic, this year’s autumn-winter season is making up for lost time with some beautiful and thought-provoking exhibitions.

Victoria has more public art galleries than any other state, supporting local artists, bringing high-quality contemporary art to town, and enriching their local communities with impressive permanent collections that better some metropolitan public institutions.

“Galleries are set in their communities and they reflect them,” explains RACV’s head of visual arts Mardi Nowak. “They produce shows that are very much about what’s important to their community, so from a visitor perspective it gives a real insight into what’s going on in the area.”

She adds that many regional galleries have been around much longer than some of their Melbourne counterparts, creating hubs for the arts via philanthropy and bequests. They are also cornerstones of the community, with staff and volunteers sharing gems of insider intel to visitors keen to make the most of their visit. “They know where to get the best coffee, the best wine, a new restaurant to try.”

All of this adds up to rich pickings for day-trippers, weekend escapees or those following an art-led gallery trail. So why not side-trip from the Grampians to drop in on Ararat’s textiles collection, hop a train to Bendigo for Mary Quant’s ’60s stylings, add a surrealist edge to a winter Mornington Peninsula sojourn, or mix Yarra Valley grape grazing with contemporary art at TarraWarra’s Biennial or WILAM BIIK.

Mardi has a history of touring exhibitions to regional galleries so we asked her to reveal some of her favourites. But any regional public gallery will have plenty to offer the curious visitor – at the very least a uniquely local perspective on art, and a delicious bakery recommendation, too, if you’re lucky.

Painting by David Boyd of people and trees in hues of blue and yellow

At Benalla Art Gallery’s Re-gathering: David Boyd, Dreamland, 1971, oil on composition board, 45.2 x 60.6 cm. Gift of Wooleen Pty. Ltd., 1980, 1980.13, © Estate of David Boyd / Copyright Agency, 2020, Benalla Art Gallery Collection.


Nine of the best Victorian regional galleries for art lovers

Horsham Regional Art Gallery

Housed in a distinctive brick art-deco building, Horsham’s gallery punches above its weight on the regional scene, says Mardi. “Their temporary exhibitions are always really cutting-edge and very thought-provoking, and if you’re interested in Aboriginal art and want to know more about the local scene they’re very knowledgeable.” Horsham’s specialty is Australian photography, and the gallery holds works by the likes of Olive Cotton, Bill Henson and Tracey Moffatt in its permanent collection. 

On now: The National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition Body Language (until 16 May) explores Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity through works by artists including Mary Kemarre and Vernon Ah Kee. Presence/Absence (until 28 June) showcases Australian contemporary and historical photography from the Horsham Regional Art Gallery collection.

While you’re there: Try Cafe Chickpea for lunch and Bonny and Clyde’s Pizzeria for dinner, bushwalk in the Grampians or explore western Victoria’s nearby Silo Art Trail.

Ararat Art Gallery TAMA – Textile Art Museum Australia

“Ararat is all about the textile,” says Mardi, in both its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, and has been the gallery’s focus since textiles made the leap from craft to art in the early 1970s. Ararat’s acquisitions include quilts, tapestries, baskets and experimental mixed media works. Set in a Victorian-era town hall building, which has been recently redeveloped, there are multiple gallery spaces with plenty to take in.

On now: Inga Hunter: Works from the TAMA Collection, until 23 May. Obsessed: Compelled to Make (until 18 July) is an Australian Design Centre national touring exhibition.

While you’re there: Visit the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, and if you’re driving from Ararat to Horsham, factor in a photo stop at the Giant Koala at Dadswells Bridge.

TarraWarra Museum of Art

Set in a stunning modernist building with a sculpture garden and winery on site, TarraWarra’s collection focuses on modern and contemporary artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Callum Morton.

On now: TarraWarra Biennial: Slow Moving Waters (until 11 July) shows new commissioned work from 25 hand-picked artists including Raquel Ormella, Nonggirrnga Marawili and Jonathan Jones. 

Upcoming: From TarraWarra’s First Nations Curator Stacie Piper comes WILAM BIIK (31 July to 7 November), exploring an “unsevered connection between First Peoples of South East Australia and their Country, over thousands of generations”.

While you’re there: Trace the path of art project untitled (seven monuments) which marks the historical boundary of Coranderrk Aboriginal Station. Also drop into Habituel in Healesville for coffee and handmade bread, tarts and pastries, or Four Pillars Gin for award-winning tipples, and stay at RACV Healesville Country Club & Resort.

A room with green walls with a woman painted on a wall

At Geelong Art Gallery: Rone The Green Room (Omega Project) 2017. Archival pigment print on 310 gsm Canson Baryta; A/P. Collection of the artist. ©Rone.


 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Set in Mornington’s Civic Reserve, this gallery is known for its  “always insightful” exhibitions, says Mardi, with a focus on paper-based artworks. It runs the National Works on Paper prize and exhibition. The collection includes old master prints and drawings, modern works by Arthur Boyd and a growing body of emerging and established Australian artists.

On now: The Overwintering Project: Westernport (until 23 May) focuses on the migratory shorebirds of Westernport. 

Upcoming: Surreal Landscapes (29 May to 22 August) will include loans and newly commissioned works from nine artists. Wall Drawings (1 September to 21 November) will situate newly commissioned wall-based works by 11 artists throughout the gallery.

While you’re there: Wander through the brilliant sculpture park at Pt Leo Estate, then stay the night at RACV’s stunning Cape Schanck Resort.

Benalla Art Gallery

As home to the Wall to Wall Street Art Festival, Benalla has reimagined itself as something of a town-wide gallery. The Benalla Art Gallery itself is set in the botanic gardens and its collection includes Australian impressionists such as John Russell and E Phillips Fox, Heidelberg School artists and works by Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Gordon Bennett.

On now: Re-gathering (until 20 June) looks at the local community’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic via works from its permanent collection and the RACV Art Collection. Robert Jacks: Rhythmic Compositions (until 1 August) explores a leading proponent of Australian abstraction. 

While you’re there: Coffee up at Rustik Cafe and Foodstore, have dinner at the North Eastern Hotel, and take in the North East Victoria Silo Art Trail

Wangaratta Art Gallery

With Wangaratta Woollen Mills operating in the city for 95 years, and still supplying yarn to commercial and hand-knitters, it’s fitting that Wangaratta's gallery focuses on textile art. It runs a biennial award and exhibition for Australian textile artists.

Now showing: Therese Shanley: From Tullamore to Finch Street (until 16 May) offers a local’s perspective. Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award and exhibition (5 June to 15 August) will showcase Australia’s textile talent.

While you’re there: Have brunch at Bertsy and Co. near the gallery, take a wander to ogle Wangaratta’s beautiful and blessedly intact heritage homes, pop into local Art Gallery on Ovens, or make a side trip to nearby historic Beechworth.

Front of Bendigo Art Gallery's entrance in orange and white stripes

Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary (until 11 July) is the Bendigo Art Gallery’s latest blockbuster fashion exhibition.


 

Art Gallery of Ballarat

Australia’s biggest and oldest regional gallery opened in 1884 when the city was a-boom with gold and its original opulent gallery spaces juxtapose with an award-winning modern annexe. Its 11,000-strong permanent holdings range from a comprehensive collection of Australian paintings to works on paper, including political cartoons.

Now showing: Robyn Stacey: As Still as Life (until 4 July) turns a fresh eye on the still-life tradition. Morris Cohen (until 1 August) shows the gallery’s collection of work from Ballarat-born pastellist Cohen for the first time.

While you’re there: Get your coffee fix at Fika Coffee Brewers, wine and graze at Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, and check out the original Eureka Flag at the Eureka Centre. Make a weekend of it staying at RACV Goldfields Resort.

Geelong Gallery

Colonial paintings are a strength of Geelong Gallery’s permanent collection, including works by Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Eugene von Guerard, along with modern and contemporary artists including Clarice Beckett, John Brack and Jan Senbergs.

Now showing: RONE in Geelong (until 16 May) is the first major survey of Geelong-born street artist Rone and includes murals painted onto gallery walls as well as early stencils and portraits, and large-scale photographs of his murals in abandoned buildings.

While you’re there: Fuel up at the Hot Chicken Project, and line up a tasting paddle at Little Creatures Brewer

Bendigo Art Gallery

Nineteenth-century international and Australian art are among Bendigo Art Gallery’s strong points, but you’ll also find work from the likes of Tim Maguire, Margaret Preston and Patricia Piccinini. Bendigo’s gallery is also known for bringing blockbuster international fashion exhibitions including Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion and Grace Kelly: Style Icon to Australia.

Now showing: Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary (until 11 July) is the gallery’s latest big-ticket fashion exhibition.

While you’re there: Pick up coffee and a pumpkin bloomer at The Good Loaf, wander the city streets for an eyeful of grand boom-era architecture, and check out Chancery Lane’s cafes and street art.


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