From Bizarre to Surreal

I thought my glasses were playing tricks on me, but it was just the wild street art of eclectic Melbourne.

By: By Graham Simmons

THE DETAILS

Where to Stay
If the Vibe Savoy Hotel Melbourne were any more minimalist, it wouldn’t be there at all. Located opposite Southern Cross rail station, the Vibe Savoy breathes style.
www.vibehotels.com.au

If the Vibe Savoy Hotel Melbourne were any more minimalist, it wouldn’t be there at all. Located opposite Southern Cross rail station, the Vibe Savoy breathes style.

Urban St Kilda is one of Melbourne’s funkiest hotels — a chic establishment in the heart of St Kilda’s main street and close to beaches and the central business district. Its Hub Bar is a popular meeting spot.
61-3-8530-8888
www.urbanstkilda.com.au

The Artworks
Melbourne Docklands Art Journey is a walking trail taking in over 25 permanent sculptural installations, ranging from the bizarre to the beyond-surreal. Download a copy of the brochure Art Journey from www.docklands.com.au . The brochure says that "due to the scale of the area, a combination of viewing the art by boat, car and foot is recommended."

Melbourne Docklands Art Journey is a walking trail taking in over 25 permanent sculptural installations, ranging from the bizarre to the beyond-surreal. Download a copy of the brochure Art Journey from www.docklands.com.au . The brochure says that "due to the scale of the area, a combination of viewing the art by boat, car and foot is recommended."

Melbourne Walks: Pick up a copy of the brochure "Walk number 4: Arcades and Lanes" from the Melbourne Visitor Centre. This details a suggested walk of about 1½ hours, taking in the lanes and alleyways of Melbourne’s CBD.

A set of striking sculptures (Silence by Adrian Mauriks) enlivens the boardwalk at New Quay // (c) Graham SimmonsI thought my glasses were playing tricks on me. But when I tried to take them off, I found that I wasn’t wearing any. In fact, it was Melbourne that was playing the tricks.

Visitors to Melbourne are apt to believe this city was designed by Salvador Dali. Its funky, open-air sculptures and contemporary street artworks have attracted worldwide attention.

Just walk along the Melbourne Docklands Art Journey and you’ll encounter more than 25 permanent sculptural installations that range from bizarre to beyond surreal.

Other parts of Melbourne are renowned for their street art, too.

“The city of Yarra has more galleries and art collectives for its size than anywhere else on earth, and the public art scene is equally lively,” said Phil Hall, curator of Melbourne’s Contempora sculpture and public art festival. “Every little street and laneway in Yarra has its own mix of street art.”

Melbourne’s central business district (CBD) is home to some of the city’s finest street art. Check out the rubbish bins in a little cul-de-sac off Degraves Street; these elevate tagging to an art form. Other CBD street art can be found in Hosier Lane and Federation Square.

Yarra’s suburbs — Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond — are the best places to take in every form of art, from sculptures to murals. Kindness Lane, near the corner of Victoria Street and Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, is a particularly nice spot.

To really understand the importance of these works requires a close examination, according to Geoff Hogg, director of the Art in Public Space program at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

“You have to look at the deeper resonances of public space — social, geographical and political,” Hogg said.

Hogg places the Melbourne street art and sculpture scene within a vastly bigger historical canvas.

“In the late 1800s, wealth from the gold rushes saw a lot of public art created in Melbourne,” he said. “The Burke and Wills monument and the interior of the Exhibition Buildings are prize examples of how history is built into the fabric of the local environment.”

Later, Hoff said, public murals and mosaics came into vogue. In the 1930s, artist Napier Waller was commissioned to create a glass mosaic facade for Newspaper House. Titled “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth,” it reflected on the modern telecommunications of its time.

Not all street art is one and the same, however.

“The difference between graffiti and public art is that the former is usually illegal,” Hall explained. “Graffitists are out to make a statement, and this is usually done on the run. My role is to act as a go-between, getting street art recognized by securing commissions for public art works.”

So when is street art considered art as we know it?

“When good art in public spaces engages the viewer, it provokes thought about the physical and social environment,” Hogg said. “There is a connection between street art and public sculptures.”

There is, however, still some distance between graffiti and public sculpture.

“Taggers and commissioned sculptors are often coming from different directions,” said Hall. “We’ve tried putting graffiti on top of mobile sculpture-works, but I don’t think the public is quite ready for this as yet.”

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