Day Trips: Art Galleries of the Northeast

Iconic: The Benalla Art Gallery is an excellent starting point for a guided tour of the Victoria region. Photo by contribution

For several years, four of us from different parts of the northeast would take a day trip to an art gallery. We have done this several times a year.

If our husbands could head out for the day to play golf anywhere in Victoria, we had no hesitation in traveling a long distance to see the latest blockbuster or a special art exhibit.

We talked and laughed like magpies all the way to our destination, saw the exhibition and discussed it at length over lunch, then talked again all the way back to finally arrive exhausted but exhilarated.

One of us is an artist.

His artist’s eye sometimes prompted us to consider the linear and colorful details of a painting, which made us look deeper and, in turn, appreciate the works more.

We all had our own opinions and no one ever limited our comments to “Oh, I like it” or “I don’t like it.”

After years of visiting the Benalla Art Gallery for vernissages and hearing artists discuss their works or why a special exhibition was held, we have been receptive to a wide range of works by art.

But art is not just paintings.

Over time we have visited Bendigo Art Gallery on several occasions to see their successful fashion exhibitions, especially loving the Balenciago exhibition of the V and Aand the very first Piinpi Contemporary Indigenous Exhibition which combines fashion and art.

I think I read that it will soon be exhibited in Paris, a big hit.

This year, the Bendigo special exhibition will be Elvis: Live from Graceland (March 22 to July 17). Don’t be square, be there.

From time to time we went to the NGV or to Federation Square to see exhibitions by Australian, American or European artists.

The Dutch Masters and Monet exhibits were fantastic.

We took a long trip to McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery near Frankston to see the latest sculpture acquisition.

There are now over 100 sculpture works scattered around the park.

The architectural firm that designed the McClelland Gallery also designed the Benalla Art Gallery.

If you go, extend your trip to Merricks and admire the incredible carvings surrounding Pt Leo Estate Winery.

Most are from international sculptors, some are very tall.

We visited what is now the Heide Museum of Modern Art on the outskirts of Melbourne.

This was first established by Sunday and John Reed, patrons of modernist artists from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Artists in Reed’s “circle” included Sidney Nolan, Sam Atyeo and Myra Dyring, Albert Tucker and his wife Joy Hester, and John Perceval.

Later artists, poets and writers including Charles Blackman, Robert Dickerson, Judith Wright, Barrett Reid and others extended Heidi’s reputation and became known as the “Angry Penguins”.

The Reeds’ adopted son, Sweeney, continued to invite artists and poets into the 1960s.

Visiting Heide today, in the park surrounding the small wooden house of the Reeds, it is hard to imagine the unusual community that has settled there and the work that has resulted from it.

Most notable is the Kelly series of paintings by Sidney Nolan whose ownership eventually became controversial.

These works now belong to the National Gallery of Australia.

The Benalla Art Gallery has a wonderful collection of limited edition lithographs from the Kelly series of paintings.

We also visited Montsalvat, Australia’s oldest continuously operating artists’ community or commune, in Eltham (open Thursday-Sunday, 10am-4pm), the Wagga Gallery to see the National Glass Collection, and the Shepparton Art Museum and its pottery collection.

The new SAM has much, much more.

Lunch was an important part of our day.

Sometimes we ate at the café in the gallery but more often in small restaurants nearby that we had heard about or that had been recommended to us.

These are too numerous to mention, but need I just say that Italian or French cuisine often beckons.

We loved our day trips, our interest in art nurtured by the Benalla Art Gallery.

Having already mentioned line and color in art, the next human figure exhibition with works drawn exclusively from Benalla’s own collection will be a must see.

—Suzie Pearce

Mildred D. Field