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Start with Art: An unguided tour through Melbourne

Local Events
8th December 2023

Since everything’s better with an air of discovery, this is a set of starting points, where every beginning is a piece of public art and a gateway to the rest of your journey.

If you want to truly experience a city, the best thing to do is get lost in it; without expectation, pick a direction and go forth. Discover. Stumble. Gawk. Act natural. Be aware. Get into trouble. Get out of trouble. Caffeinate. Laugh. Eat. Repeat.

Admittedly, this sort of blind adventure is more tailored to those who are moving to a new city and have all the time in the world to figure out where they belong in their new neighborhood. But if you are just passing through, and you do have a full day to spend, then leave your maps at home and explore. Guidebooks and online reviews can flavor experience with expectation, sometimes for the better, but oftentimes, for the worse. When it’s unexpected, food tastes better, the air is sweeter, and the otherwise mundane can seem sublime.

Another inconvenience of reality is that we do not always have a full day to wander aimlessly. The question then becomes, where do you start?

The presence of public art in a city indicates that a pulse flows beneath the shiny glass and paved surfaces inherent in a metropolitan city. It exists in unexpected places, and it elevates the surrounding area, whether it’s an intersection or a park. Often passed by, unnoticed, or unadvertised, making public art the drop point of an excursion and a focal point of your day in an unexpected way.

So in the spirit of getting lost in a city, while being respectful of the limited amount of time you may have to explore, we have a few points of interest to anchor your journey. Melbourne is awash in art, from postered up alleyways engulfed in murals and graffiti, to public sculptures in the center of the city. Like beach wood stranded on sandbanks, sculptures, murals, and monuments dot the Melbourne streets.

“Forward Surge” by Inge King

Located in Southbank, and in the middle of the Arts Precinct, the heavy and imposing black waves that jut out of the earth, are perhaps the most famous piece of public art by the darling of Melbourne, Inge King. Within spitting distance is Alexandria Gardens, the Yarra River boardwalk, and if you go on a Sunday, the Sunday Market, which is the best place to stock up on artisanal and local tastes and treats. Nearest stop on the PTV is Arts Precinct/St Kilda Rd.

Start here: 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia

“Architectural Fragment” by Petrus Spronk

It’s hard to look at this without imagining the final scene in Planet Of The Apes. Located smack dab in the center of Melbourne’s city center, Petrus Spronk certainly seems to be thumbing his nose at overwhelming capitalism surrounding the artwork, by dropping a sinking library in the middle of the CBD. There’s no shortage of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and institutions like State Library Victoria within a stones’ throw from the work.

Start here: 328 Swanston St. Melbourne 3000

“Cow Up A Tree” by John Kelly

It’s a cow in a tree! Make your own assumptions and interpretations about this seemingly literal sculpture that sits on the edge of the Yarra River in Docklands. Is it about colonialism? Climate change? Who’s to say? (Hint, it may be about WWII). Anyway you cut it, starting your adventure here will put you in prime river-side patio territory for a cocktail or dinner at any one of the several establishments located in the shadow of Marvel Stadium.

Start here: 131 Harbour Esp. Docklands 3008

“Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenne” by Brook Andrew and Trent Walter

A well established city like Melbourne has a feeling of permanence, almost as if it has always existed, and with its inertia, will always exist. But, as is the case with every modern city, it’s built on top of layers and layers of history that goes unappreciated and often purposely glossed over, because the truth can be hard to stomach. “Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenne” is a memorial to indigenous people who lost their lives as they tried to protect their land and people from colonial intrusions. It’s deep and heady, and at the same time, enlightening and a healthy shock to the system. So if you start here, take a moment to appreciate where you stand. From here, you can wander in any number of directions towards Chinatown, or the Melbourne Museum, and continue your journey inward.

Start here: Cnr Victoria St and Franklin St. Melbourne 3004

So if you find yourself sitting in your hotel room, looking for some inspiration beyond your chef-inspired room service, crystalline swimming pools, steaming spas, and epic views, take an unexpected excursion to one of the many starting points laid out in this article. The art is waiting, and where it takes you is unpredictable.