Melbourne Now on its way back

Rhonda Dredge

Visual art has become a centrepiece of the next election with 200 Victorian artists set to benefit from a second Melbourne Now exhibition, announced on October 18 by the state government.

The exhibition will be staged at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, a decade after its predecessor in 2013.

Minister for Creative Industries Steve Dimopoloulos announced the new Melbourne Now and its “ambitious survey” approach.

Some see the original exhibition as a turning point in the state’s visual arts push while others were critical of its trade fair vibe.

A record 753,000 people attended the exhibition, only to be beaten in number by the subsequent Triennial, which in turn added momentum to a new gallery project.

The new FOX NGV Contemporary will be completed at Southbank in 2028, cementing Victoria as a winner in the visual arts stakes.   

The Minister said that artists had been busily working on their projects during the lockdown and that the Melbourne Now show would be “a place that exhibits the best of ours”.

Gallery director Tony Ellwood confirmed that that Melbourne Now was “a complex game-changer” that generated both the Triennial and Fox.

He announced next year’s themes which include photographs that push the boundary of the medium, a Design Wall showing products from the past decade, Fashion Now, Jewellery Now, Style, Vessels, Print, civil architecture, a community hall with 22 films, and a performance program.

The first Melbourne Now included artists from around Australia but “this will be exclusively Victorian,” he said, reflecting a stronger state identity that has emerged of the lockdown.

Many of the chosen few were at the launch, wearing their small gold NGV medallions around their necks to signify their participation.

Some artists were present back in 2013 and countered criticism that display areas were allocated to artists like stalls at the Melbourne Show.

“I didn’t mind,” said artist Stewart Russell. “I was given the Great Hall. I made screen-printed flags. I would never have got to fly them on the Westgate Bridge without NGV backing.”

One of the new genre-bending photographers is Danica Chappell who works with camera-less abstraction in a colour darkroom and creates her works by touch.

During the lockdown when she couldn’t get into her studio, she did monoprints which involved blind pressure. Her work accentuates process over product or representation.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a performance artist whose carefully choreographed video will reference famous cellist Jaqueline Dupre.

“I don’t want people to laugh at me lip syncing Elgar but to get the references,” he said, keeping his own identity under wraps.

The something-for-everyone approach can be a risk. Some of the architectural exhibits in the first Melbourne Now were industry focused, contributing to the trade fair critique.

“That’s a bit harsh,” Ellwood countered.  “We are putting ourselves out there. No other state gallery has done anything like this.”

Melbourne Now, NGV Federation Square, March 24, 2023. •


Caption 1: The Melbourne Now cast.

Caption 2: Director Tony Ellwood.

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