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Heide Museum of Modern Art

Even if you don’t like modern art, Heide is well worth a visit.

At the risk of sounding like a Philistine, I will declare that I don’t especially enjoy modernist or abstract art. Nevertheless, one place I always enjoy visiting in Melbourne is the Heide Museum of Modern Art in the north-eastern suburb of Bulleen.

Northerly view of Heide II, as seen from the extensive gardens.

Heide is one of those enjoyable gallery and garden venues where one can stroll around endlessly discovering interesting works in a vast garden, have a picnic lunch, tour the gallery or admire the architecture. In fact, it is very similar to the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park in Langwarrin, but with a lesser emphasis on outdoor sculpture. With Melbourne’s crippling drought finally ended and some beautiful spring weather of late, the gardens at Heide are looking absolutely splendid at present.

The rotunda at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

I first went to Heide in 1996 on a high school excursion and immediately fell in love with the place. I wasn’t so enamoured with the gallery, but the gardens and the architecture held considerable appeal, and the significant history of the site was not lost on me either. We were permitted some free time to explore the gardens and I made the most of the opportunity to discover hidden works of art and learn why Heide was held in such high regard by Melbourne’s arts community.

Heide was built as a farm house and purchased by John Reed (a solicitor) and wife Sunday Quinn (née Baillieu) in 1932. Both Reed and Quinn had a broad appreciation of the arts, in particular the late 19th century “Heidelberg School” painters and the modernist art movement that was emerging in Melbourne at the time. Progressively, they opened their house up to a circle of artists, writers, musicians, poets and garden enthusiasts and Heide became a major focus for the Melbourne arts community throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.

Wahlenbergia stricta growing at Heide Museum of Modern Art

Significant Australian artists such as Sam Atyeo, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Michael Keon, Sidney Nolan, Danila Vassilieff, Mirka Mora, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval and Mike Brown enjoyed the hospitality and support of the Reeds at Heide. Sidney Nolan painted most of his famous Ned Kelly paintings in the Reeds’ lounge room!

In the 1963, the Reeds commissioned Victorian architect David McGlashan to design a new home for their property, which would be known as Heide II. Built from Mount Gambier limestone and designed in the modernist style of the period, the building was created in part to exude an air of mystery and agelessness whilst functioning as a home and gallery space. McGlashan’s design went on to win the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ bronze medal in 1963 and is considered one of Victoria’s most influential modernist buildings from that period.

One of the walkways at Heide II.

What I like most about Heide II is the design of the building, which includes a series of L-shaped limestone walls that effectively create mini outdoor galleries. The walls function to highlight individual works of art, but in combination with selected plantings actually serve to reinforce the strong architectural features of the house. If nothing else, it is fun to walk between these ‘rooms’, discovering the hidden treasures within.

In 1981, the Museum of Modern Art was established on the property and Heide II was opened as a public gallery. In 1991, Heide III was opened which extended the gallery space. In 2005-6, parts of the Heide site were redeveloped so that an education centre could be built, extensions made to Heide III and the addition of new outdoor sculptural works incorporated into the landscape.

Cow sculptures in the gardens at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Today, the Heide Museum of Modern Art remains a significant centre for displaying modern art. Both a permanent collection and periodical exhibitions are displayed in the gallery. Outside is a vast property filled with sculptures, landscaped gardens and plenty of quiet places to explore or rest. One can also take a guided tour of Heide II.

Patrons at the Heide cafeteria.

Heidi Museum of Modern Art is located at 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen and is open from 10am until 5pm Tuesdays to Sundays inclusive. Entry to the grounds is free.

If you’ve not been to Heide of late, I highly recommend a visit!



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