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Visitors return to the Arts Precinct

Visitors return to the Arts Precinct

By Rhonda Dredge

It wasn’t a rush but a trickle as visitors returned to the Arts Precinct in the first week of December as galleries and museums gradually re-opened to the public.

Most Melburnians, including artists, are still catching up with friends they haven’t seen for months.

A few were out and about, including a couple who spent their lockdown in Sydney.

“We went home in March and came back two weeks ago,” Alice Clark of West Melbourne said. “We left our furniture and clothes here.”

Within an hour of ACCA opening its doors on December 5, Alice and Celeste Vestige were scanning the QR code and preparing for Overlapping Magisteria, an exhibition that uses installations to refute the logic of empiricism defined by biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

“I love art,” Celeste said. “It challenges you.”

Three days earlier Buxton Contemporary opened with Exogenisis, an exhibition of work by the Otolith Group formed in London in 2002.

The exhibition explores various alternative realities connected to the feeling of being an alien. All four works are screen-based.

The biggest disappointment of the re-opening was that only arts industry people were allowed into the Grad Show at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in specially-organised tours.

The first week of December is usually the biggest for the Arts Precinct in terms of visual art visitors because of this show, which attracts thousands who love to read the culture of the next crop of artists entering the scene.

This year the show was smaller because many students deferred. It went ahead however, against the odds, with 154 students expressing their views on the pandemic and matters close to the heart.

Simone Slee, head of VCA art, said that VCA students were actually lucky. They were allowed to return to campus on October 23 in time to install the show.

“It’s a miracle we went ahead,” she said. “We just got permission to open on Monday.”

Monash and RMIT graduate shows, by comparison, could only be viewed online.

Art has to be seen in person and directors of galleries are aware that they offer havens to visitors, not just members of exclusive clubs.

ABC radio has been dealing with the flak, with Virginia Trioli taking up the issue of parents being unable to view the work of their offspring in graduate shows.

Educational institutions have different rules to galleries, Simone said. At RMIT, all visitors to the campus are required to wear masks even when they’re outside. At least this does not apply to the VCA.

The range of rules has not stopped all visitors to the Arts Precinct but numbers are down.

The bar at the Malthouse is open and a choir was practicing in the courtyard in early December, Betwixt has a good trade at lunch time and drama students are visible.

NGV International will open on December 19.

In the meantime, both Buxton and ACCA have mounted exhibitions that deal with global ideas, not just those disconnected to the pandemic.

It was encouraging to see visitors finally returning to the precinct with the opening of these institutions to view their museum-quality work •

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