In what the press titled "A Moving Occasion," the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne shut down last week and its collection -- approximately 70,000 works -- was moved for safekeeping to the city's Museum of Victoria on Russell Street. The dramatic event, marked by a street festival on June 26-27, kicks off a much-anticipated renovation and expansion of the 1968 museum structure. The $136-million project is designed by Milan architect Mario Bellini with Metier3 of Melbourne, with completion slated for the end of 2001.
Bellini's design preserves the National Gallery's bluestone exterior as well as one of its best loved features, its entrance waterwall. Crafted by the museum's original architect, Roy Grounds, the waterwall separates the museum's quiet interior from the hubbub of the street outside. The new museum is also to feature a glass-roofed entrance foyer, new galleries for temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection, two new lecture theaters and a high-tech multimedia room. The redeveloped gallery will provide 35 percent more space overall, including a 26 percent increase in exhibition space. The Great Hall's 20-ton glass ceiling, designed by Leonard French and affectionately known as the carpet in the sky, will be retained.
In the meantime, selected works will be on display at the temporary location, the original home of the NGV, which opened there in 1861. The interim facility has been dubbed the "National Gallery on Russell." Future plans call for splitting the national collection into two parts, with native works going to the new Museum of Australian Art at Federation Square, just across the bridge over the Yarra river from the NGV.
Pieces of the demolished internal walls of the gallery's Cole Court, engraved with the museum's name, were sold as souvenirs at $5 per stone -- and quickly sold out.
ORIETTA L'ABBATE is an architect based in Melbourne.