BY TERRY WARD
Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, Australia’s second largest city and widely regarded as the country’s capital of culture. And, while it may not have all the glitz and glamour of Sydney, with her stunning harbor beaches and coves and the iconic Sydney Opera House, Melbourne enchants visitors in its own, exceptionally inclusive way.
Visitors descend on the city for its unique counter-culture vibe, fabulous restaurants and inspiring art offerings that range from world-class museums and galleries to an internationally celebrated urban street art scene.
If you’ve come for art that’s accessible, you’re indeed in the right place.
With free entry to its permanent collections, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne sees more visitors than any other gallery in Australia and is the city’s oldest and largest. The roughly 75,000 pieces in the collection here range from works by Australian and indigenous artists to the decorative arts as well as pieces by European masters such as Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse.
To enjoy the city’s most within-reach art, however, you hardly need to step inside a gallery. Strolling around the streets of Melbourne is enough to get you up close and personal with the city’s unique sense of expressionism.
Melbourne is considered among the very best cities in the world to see such a vast and varied array of street art. From the beachy neighborhood of St. Kilda to the creative, bohemian hub of Fitzroy, almost any place you venture in this city comes to life with a kaleidoscope of different styles including incredible murals, stencils, installations and paste-ups.
And, Melbourne’s street art movement traces its arrival on the national and international scene back to an anti-establishment push of the early 2000s. Many of the original works by those early graffiti artists now fetch thousands upon thousands of dollars on the international art scene.
For a good place to start your own tour of Melbourne’s ever-evolving street art, make your way to Hosier Lane, near Federation Square and the Flinders Street Station. Hosier Lane is one of Melbourne’s famous bluestone “laneways,” a term that refers to the city’s beloved arcades and alleyways that make up the heart of its vibrant streetscapes. This spot is considered the epicenter of Melbourne’s street art universe, and you can get ready for a color explosion as you stroll the pedestrian-friendly street here.
Hosier Lane’s walls are an ever-changing canvas where absolutely every square inch is covered with colorful murals and street art graffiti, all of which have not only been embraced by the local community, but approved by city authorities, too.
Of course, you’ll hardly have this stretch of prime street art real estate to yourself. Count on a constant stream of fellow onlookers along Hosier Lane, angling their phones to capture their own images and, naturally, posing for that perfect Instagram backdrop. You can take a guided tour to hear the stories behind the wild swirls of color and fascinating depictions, but even if you don’t, just being a witness to such a cacophony of color is pure delight. Be sure to peer inside window frames and behind grates — the art is in every nook and cranny here. And, before you leave Hosier Lane, make a stop for wine and tapas at the popular Spanish style street side bodega, Bar Tini.
More gritty inner-city beauty awaits, with over 60 laneways across Melbourne creating ideal canvases for artists to work their magic. Indeed, this is a city where street art is a legitimate art form. And, its sheer accessibility really resonates with the visitors who come from all around the world to see it.
Named after one of Australia’s most famous rock bands, ACDC Lane, off Flinders Lane, is a must-hit for music lovers. Much of the street art here pays homage to musicians from around the world, and throughout the decades, many of whom you’re certain to recognize. During a stroll, you can play name that band or musician while admiring the artwork, then make time to see who’s performing at the lane’s legendary Cherry Bar, one of the city’s top live musical venues. Adjoining ACDC Lane, Duckboard Place is covered with more brilliant murals and is the place to go when hunger strikes, thanks to the eclectic restaurant offerings that range from Indian and Chinese to Danish fare (Lee Ho Fook is a favorite for Asian fusion).
While the idea of street art is that it’s ephemeral — you never know if that mural you loved last year will still be there today or has since been covered over — there is one particularly iconic work with some permanence in Melbourne that’s worth seeking out.
After undergoing a loving restoration in 2014, a mural by famous New York artist Keith Haring draws visitors to Johnston Street in the neighborhood of Collingwood, to see a huge wall of his iconic human figures jumbled together in the puzzle-like way that’s the artist’s calling card.
Look high, look low, look any place there is to look — street art is celebrated absolutely everywhere you go in Melbourne. And, for gritty beauty that’s evolved into one of Australia’s most important cultural movements, this is the city where you can turn a simple stroll into an artistic experience.
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