Often referred to as Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne boasts renowned wining and dining possibilities, non-stop programs of festivals, musical extravaganzas, sporting spectacles, and hosts major art exhibitions. We’ve delved into the heart of this great city to find the best free art Melbourne has to offer.
1. Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – ACCA
Nestled in the heart of Melbourne’s art precinct in Southbank, the ACCA is a leading contemporary not-for-profit art gallery. Arguably one of the most recognisable buildings in Melbourne, this mighty red-rust structure showcases group exhibitions of sculpture, video, installation, photography, print and paint.
2. NGV International
Located at 180 St Kilda Road, The National Gallery of Victoria is Melbourne’s most well-known gallery. It boasts over 70,000 artworks from all disciplines. Large, international exhibitions often take stage (currently Degas is being exhibited, with David Hockney up next) but the NGV permanent and free collections are well worth viewing. The permanent collection includes a Rembrandt, a Bonnard and a Tiepolo.
3. Gertrude Contemporary
Located on Gertrude Street Fitzroy, this ultra-contemporary gallery showcases up and coming Melbourne and international artists. After visiting this gallery, prepare to have your mind wonderfully opened with ambitiously creative concepts.
4. Heide Museum of Modern Art
Heide Museum of Modern Art is a unique space – a synthesis of indoor and outdoor environments, a place of modern and contemporary art and design with a rich and colourful art heritage and social history.
If you can muster a journey to the suburbs, Heide houses Melbourne’s modernist art scene as well as a superbly preserved modernist house in 16 acres of sprawling parklands, once owned by art collectors John and Sunday Reed. This is both an important piece of Australian art history and a vital contemporary art gallery. Entry to the Gardens and Sculpture Park is free and the cost for admission to all galleries is $14 adult and $10 concession.
5. ACMI – Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Located in Federation Square, ACMI celebrates, explores and promotes the moving image in all its forms – film, television, games and digital culture. It boasts a vibrant calendar of major exhibitions, film programs, live events, creative workshops and education programs. While not all exhibitions are free, they host a free and permanent exhibition space called ‘Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture’ constructed to educate the public about the moving image. There is also a sliding door of changing free exhibitions, currently screening is Del Kathryn Barton’s ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’.
6. Centre for Contemporary Photography
Established in the mid 1980s as a not-for-profit exhibition and resource centre, the CCP still holds photography courses for beginners and those wanting to enhance their skills. There are five spaces within the building and at night, especially if you’re drinking at the Marquis of Lorne, you can view a range of works from emerging and established photographers from the Night Projection Window.
7. NGV Ian Potter Centre
Located in Federation Square, you’ll find the Ian Potter Centre, another branch of the NGV that houses Indigenous art from the colonial period as well as modern and contemporary art. Open Tuesday through to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, experience the permanent collection on the ground floor and ensure a visit to level three for the changing exhibit.
8. No Vacancy Gallery
Located at The Atrium, No Vacancy Gallery is a small room with new exhibitions running fortnightly. You will be treated to a range of contemporary shows from print-making, to graffiti, prints and sculptures.
9. City Library
Located on 253 Flinders Lane, Level 1 of the City Library showcases a wall of changing paintings, prints and moving images. Down to the ground floor you will find dispersed niches of glass displays showcasing scultpures. Afterwards, relax downstairs with a book, magazine or newspaper in this delightfully quiet haven in the middle of the city.
10. State Library of Victoria
Located in the heart of the city, Swanston Street, this majestic library offers much more than just books. On level one you’ll find a shrine to Australian art: paintings, prints, sculpture drawings, ceramics and photography. You can also sit down for a free game of chess, too.
11. Anna Schwartz Gallery
Located on Flinders Lane, Anna Schwartz is a leading contemporary art dealer specializing in high-end art. She has had a hand in creating names and careers, and has represented some of the country's most respected contemporary artists.
12. Sutton Gallery
Located on Brunswick Street, the Sutton Gallery may not be the largest in town, but it is however, possibly one of best contemporary art galleries. Due to its size, it only exhibits one artist at a time and is well worth a visit.
13. Seventh Gallery
Located on Gertrude Street, this multi-room, not-for-profit gallery is artist-run and features young, contemporary local artists from a range of disciplines and levels. You’ll find emerging as well as more established artists sharing the same space. Definitely worth a visit.
14. TarraWarra Museum of Art
Okay, so it’s a bit of a drive but 100% worth it. Located in Healesville, the scenery both in the gallery and outside is nothing short of stunning with the private collection owned by the adjoining TarraWarra winery. This not-for-profit gallery features work from the Australian modernists to the current day. Notables from the private collection are John Brack and John Olsen. It’s $5 entry but if you hold a student, concession or a pension card, it’s free.
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