Since the Australian collection moved out of the National Gallery of Victoria to a new home in Fed Square (of which more later), the old gallery on St Kilda Road has had more room to show off its international collections. These now sprawl through the brutalist 1980s bunker, walled with concrete of forbidding grey and ringed by a moat filled with chlorine and tossed coins.
When I was there there were two blockbuster exhibitions on, pulling in the punters. The biggest draw was a new David Hockney show (which I thought a bit flat) and the other was a retrospective of the whimsical work of fashion designers Viktor and Rolf (fun!)
I visited the museum’s permanent collections as something of an afterthought, and was surprised to find these the real highlight. The European collection includes (minor) works by Francis Bacon and Picasso, running from ancient Greece to medieval pietas to art deco and modernism.
The equally impressive and quite large Asian collections included Tang dynasty funeral guards (above), Tibetan and Gandaran Buddhas, Khmer stone sculpture and some quite lovely avant garde contemporary Japanese bamboo craft. But the real surprise is the rich Mesoamerican collection, a small but impressive selection of Aztec, Olmec and Toltec clay heads, bowls and religious figures. I never expected to see that here. A real unexpected Melbourne highlight.