You can’t call yourself a true Melbournian till you’ve stuck your hand on the Waterwall at the National Gallery of Victoria (AKA the NGV International). It’s something every Melbourne local remembers from their childhood.
But the NGV has changed over the years. When we were kids it was somewhere you went to stare at Baroque oil paintings, touch nothing and be very, very quiet. If it wasn’t for a giant glass wall of cascading water, it would have been hard to get kids to go at all.
Tony Ellwood changed all that. The Directory of the National Gallery Of Victoria done the impossible: he’s made art fun. Genuinely fun. During the gallery’s recent Triennial exhibition, over 200,000 kids rocked up (hardly any against their will). The NGV now hosts pop-up bars, live music, interactive exhibitions and cultural icons for all ages. It’s more inclusive than it used to be, less starched and stuffy. You’re as likely to find a 17 year-old student sketching in a notebook as a 70 year-old couple looking for finger sandwiches.
The NGV exhibitions rotate pretty regularly, with larger, show-stopper programs coming on-board every 4-6 months or so. The Winter Masterpiece series is always something to look forward to. This year it’s featuring highlights from MoMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art), as well as Friday night jazz sessions. Later in the year it’ll be the works of M.C. Escher.
Anyone can browse the standing collection for free at the NGV. It’s one of Melbourne’s truly great rainy Saturday afternoon activities. As is lying down on the carpet in the Great Hall and looking up at Leonard French’s incredible stained glass ceiling (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere).
After your wanderings, make sure to check out the NGV Design Store. You can get the usual assortment of exit-through-the-giftshop merchandise, but there’s also a fantastic collection of photography, architecture, illustration and design books. A collection that even outstrips Metropolis Bookshop in Curtain House.
Dining options at the National Gallery Of Victoria have also improved over the years. In the 1990s you were lucky to get a pot of tea and some chicken sandwiches. Now you can get seasonal cafe fare at the Garden Restaurant, out the back, or a cracking selection of pastries, cakes and desserts at The Tea Room on Lvl 1 (try the éclairs—sinfully good).
Perhaps the person we should be thanking most is Roy Grounds, the original designer of the NGV back in 1962. He’s the one responsible for that almost brutalist concrete exterior, the perimeter pool, the Waterwall and the overall tone of the space. Easily one of our all-time favourite buildings in Melbourne.
You want the perfect Melbourne day? A morning stroll through the Botanic Gardens. Lunch at Pellegrini’s. A little shopping. And then an afternoon wandering in the NGV. Doesn’t get much better than that.
The NGV closes promptly at 5pm, seven days a week (unless there's a special evening event). Keep an eye on their new exhibitions for all the info. Your best bet for parking is the Arts Centre carpark, just across the street.
Image credit: Visit Victoria