For art’s sake: Regional outdoor galleries

Travelling Well | Gabriella Coslovich | Posted on 10 December 2018

Outdoor galleries and sculpture parks are drawing visitors to Victorian country towns.

Arriving at Point Leo Estate on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula comes with a grand sense of occasion. At the end of a long ascending driveway flanked with vineyards, a monumental black gateway rises up, like a minimalist Arc de Triomphe, or a remnant from an ancient civilisation.

This imposing steel curve is the work of the late sculptor Inge King and it signals, in no uncertain terms, that one has arrived at a place that takes its sculpture seriously.

Outdoor sculpture in a grassy field by David Hannah with a cow standing next to it

Greg Johns' work To the Centre. Photo: David Hannah.

Melbourne shopping centre magnates the Gandel family opened the estate to the public a year ago with an enticing combination of wine, fine dining and a sculpture park set against the sweeping backdrop of Westernport Bay. 

“It’s Instagram paradise,” says the sculpture park’s curatorial adviser, Geoffrey Edwards, former director of the Geelong Gallery.

King’s Grand Arch is among the estate’s most photographed objects – people love posing in the middle of that huge bow, arms outstretched. Social media, that ever-reliable source of things to do with one’s free time, helps drive new visitors to the estate, so Geoffrey is not complaining. 

Once inside the sculpture park (a $10 entry fee applies), photo opportunities multiply: 50 or so works by leading international and Australian sculptors range across the property, linked by paths that wind around the estate’s vast, undulating lawns. 

Australian artist Michael Le Grand’s Tsunami – swirling ribbons of blue steel – is so popular with selfie-seekers that it’s now guarded by a low railing. My favourite is the Swiss-Italian artist Ugo Rondinone’s Sunrise east march, a manically grinning, silver-faced ghoul that pops up to greet you after you pass through an arch of cypress trees. The lead role, for now at least, goes to Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s Laura, a seven-metre-high, calmly colossal, female head, after which the estate’s award-winning restaurant is named.

There has to be more sculpture per capita on the peninsula than anywhere else.

This summer, Laura will share the spotlight with several bold new installations, including a site-specific commission that marks Indigenous Australian artist Reko Rennie’s first large-scale sculpture.  

The Melbourne-based artist is known for his vibrant geometric iconography that evokes the ceremonial designs of his forebears, the Kamilaroi people of northern New South Wales. His creation for Point Leo Estate is a knockout. Painted in dazzling stripes of pink and black, the work combines a seven-metre-high, diamond-shaped shield and two hard-edged boomerangs to form the shape of a star – hence its title, Mirri, Kamilaroi for star.

Point Leo Estate has brought sculpture on the Mornington Peninsula to new heights, adding to the Montalto Vineyard sculpture trail, a mere 10-minute drive away, and the McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery in nearby Langwarrin, not to mention the striking public art that glides into view on the edges of the EastLink freeway to the peninsula, priming drivers for the experience to come. 

“There has to be more sculpture per capita on the peninsula than anywhere else,” says Neil Williams, the curator of Montalto’s sculpture trail. “I have no proof but that’s how it feels.” 

Montalto’s owners, John and Wendy Mitchell, launched the acquisitive Montalto Sculpture Prize in 2003. Back then, the award money was $8000. In 2019, the winning sculptor will receive $40,000. 

 Ugo Rondinone’s Sunrise east march scultpure. Silver head with malformed shape and pointy teeth

Ugo Rondinone’s Sunrise east march (2007).

graffiti of a girl's face by Adnate on the side of a large building.

SEC building in Benalla by Adnate. Photo: Andrew Haysom.

Todd Stuart’s 2012 figurative bronze sculpture which depicts a man walking with all his limps and a sphere in the space where his torso should be

Todd Stuart’s 2012 figurative bronze.

Over 16 years the Mitchells have acquired 31 sculptures that are deftly placed through Montalto’s grounds, waiting to be discovered in bushes, wetlands and alongside vines, orchards and rose gardens. 

In the early days, Neil says, people travelled to Montalto primarily for the food and wine, and chanced upon the sculptures while ambling through the vineyards. Now it’s the other way around – visitors come specifically for the sculpture trail, and end up having a glass of wine or a meal.

Increasingly, art is driving tourism in regional Victoria, whether through philanthropic ventures such as the Gandels’ and Mitchells’, or with the support of governments that recognise the social and economic benefits that the arts bring to regional communities. 

In the dry, flat expanses of Victoria’s Wimmera-Mallee region, the Silo Art Trail, which stretches across 200 kilometres and links six small towns, has drawn thousands to see gigantic portraits by big-name street artists painted on disused grain storage towers. 

We are selling stubby holders like they are going out of fashion.

The tiny town of Brim – population 171 according to the 2016 Census – kick-started the silo trail in late 2015 when Canberra-born street artist Guido van Helten immortalised four of the town’s hard-working farmers in 30-metre-high portraits. 

“Social media is what got it all moving and it was seen all over the world,” says Brim farmer Shane Wardle. Before photos of the Brim silos took off on Facebook, the mainstream media wasn’t interested, he says. “Then all of a sudden they were ringing us.”     

Three years on, the silo art is still pulling crowds, Shane says, with the town’s sole general store “selling a lot of pies, pasties, cakes and coffees to tourists”, and doing a smart trade on memorabilia. “We are selling stubby holders like they are going out of fashion.” 

Over in Victoria’s north-east, art is also vital to the rural city of Benalla, which will host its fourth annual Wall to Wall street art festival from 5 to 7 April in 2019. In 2017, the festival attracted about 6000 visitors over three days. 

“We know that cultural tourism is a growing sector and that people are interested in immersive experiences, which art product gives them,” says Jilian Mulally, manager of arts, communications, tourism and events at the Benalla Rural City Council.

It’s widely acknowledged that the Bendigo Art Gallery led the way when it came to showing what was possible in regional Victoria. Under the directorship of Karen Quinlan (who in December 2018 takes up a new position as director of Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery), art tourism boomed, with people lining up for exhibitions such as 2012’s record-breaking Grace Kelly: Style Icon. 

In the late 1990s you didn’t talk about international exhibitions coming to the region.

Over three months, 152,000 visitors flocked to Bendigo to see the glamorous clothes worn by Grace Kelly in her roles as Hollywood actor and Princess of Monaco. 

The gallery’s reputation has grown to such an extent that Karen was approached by London’s National Portrait Gallery to host its Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits exhibition (opening in March), as the exclusive Australian venue.

“In the late 1990s when I started here, you didn’t talk about international exhibitions coming to the region,” Karen says. “Breaking into that space for me was a big achievement and the gallery has never looked back. We don’t do international blockbusters on the scale of the NGV, but we have certainly developed a niche for ourselves.”

Buoyed by Bendigo’s success, governments are investing in other cultural projects in the regions. In January, building starts on the new $40 million Shepparton Art Museum, with money coming from all tiers of government. Designed by seminal Melbourne architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall, the new five-storey building will be more than an art gallery. It will include a roof-top viewing deck, a cafe, event space and visitor information centre, and is envisaged as a community hub and gateway to Shepparton. 

“The new building will be a beacon,” says museum director Rebecca Coates, “a place for people to gather, to tell stories, and foster community pride.” 

It’s not just multi-million-dollar developments that can act as beacons for the community. On the Bass Coast in Gippsland, the tiny waterline towns of Pioneer Bay, Grantville, Tenby Point, Corinella and Coronet Bay were transformed by a project that involved the creation of a series of open-air light installations, or ‘Luminous Galleries’ at the water’s edge. 

The Luminous Galleries continue, carried on by residents with a new-found confidence in their own creativity, and in each other.

With the help of skilled artists, they discovered their own artistic skills, creating whimsical, magical and poignant light installations, from a field of glowing mannequins flamboyantly dressed in recycled materials to a moving installation about war and armistice. 

The Victorian Government’s Small Town Transformations initiative provided $350,000 from 2016 to 2018 for the project, and the effects were far-reaching, attracting visitors to the towns, but also uniting the towns themselves. While the funding for the project has ended, the Luminous Galleries continue, carried on by residents with a new-found confidence in their own creativity, and in each other. 

 “I met neighbours that I’d never met before,” says Tenby Point local Jean Coffey. “I feel like I belong to the community now.”

And at Cape Schanck...

With its stunningly sculptural design, the new Cape Schanck Resort on the Mornington Peninsula is an apt setting for sculpture from Point Leo Estate’s prize collection. In a partnership with RACV, select works from the Point Leo collection will be loaned to the resort, with Todd Stuart’s 2012 figurative bronze among the first to be enjoyed by resort guests.

  • STAY WITH US: RACV’s Cape Schanck Resort makes a great base to explore art in the region. Stay in an Ocean View Room from $294, room only. Find out more at

Escape to the Mornington Peninsula at the RACV Cape Schanck Resort