Coup d’art in the Yarra Valley
How Healesville is making an exhibition of itself
THERE has been an invasion of the Yarra Valley. Forty-one big names have flown in and set up for a month’s stay. There are actors, artists, writers, a sports star, chef, lone sailor, astronomer and governor-general. All the luminaries are at TarraWarra Museum of Art as subjects of the country’s best-known portrait competition, the Archibald Prize, and this will be Victoria’s sole showing of the 2011 touring exhibition.
Set amid the grazing land, vineyard and bush reserve of the TarraWarra Estate near Healesville, the museum — a beautiful contemporary building of strong lines, monoliths and curved glass — was established eight years ago by estate owners Eva and Marc Besen ( whose daughter Naomi Milgrom is half of another formidable arts team with husband John Kaldor).
Visitors usually see works from the Besens’ valuable collection but until the end of this month these have made way for Archibald portraits of memorable faces such as actors Robyn Nevin and Richard Roxburgh, novelist J. M. Coetzee, supermodel Gemma Ward, chef Matt Moran, athlete Cathy Freeman, solo sailor Jessica Watson and Ben Quilty’s award-winning portrait of Margaret Olley, who also sat for William Dobell’s Archibald Prize winner in 1948.
A key feature of the exhibition is the wide diversity of styles: it’s an art course in an afternoon, ranging from stark, cartoon-like paintings to works of photographic perfection and ornate, textured detail.
With the arrival of this exhibition, art seems to be everywhere in the Yarra Valley. Yarra Glen’s community-based Not the Archies exhibition has local portraits of every calibre appearing in shop windows. In Healesville, the vibrant Artist’s Lounge (which made a splash recently by displaying a nude artist’s model on a chaise longue in its window) and Three Stories Artspace also run workshops and sell art supplies.
The new Healesville Contemporary Art Space is crowded with paintings, installations and, the day I visit, a week before its opening, there’s even a glitterball deer’s head among the mix.
Art Space’s operators are coowners of Mt Rael restaurant ( lunch and dinner four days; brunch on weekends) and accommodation, minutes from TarraWarra. The restaurant’s spectacular valley views are echoed in five snug, well-equipped suites, with breakfast hampers of local produce included.
Other excellent restaurants in the valley are at TarraWarra (lunch six days), Yering Station ( lunch daily), Mandala Wines (lunch five days; dinner Saturdays) and Yarra Valley Dairy, which boasts a sumptuous cafe. The Domaine Chandon estate and the region’s several boutique brewers are all worth a visit.
Balgownie Estate, another cellar door, has high-end, corporatestyle accommodation, a chic restaurant and the luxe Natskin Spa. Among Natskin’s eight spa salons is an alluring double massage suite with two geisha baths, colour therapy lights and a private door to a little leaf-screened terrace that is spectacular by candlelight at dusk.
Sculptor Ernst Fries (responsible for the coat of arms at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court) offers accommodation with a difference at Art at Linden Gate, two mud-brick garden apartments close to his gallery of intriguing works and local paintings.
A sign outside the Artist’s Lounge reads, ‘ ‘ The artists are taking over.’’ Nellie Melba, lying at rest in nearby Lilydale Cemetery, surely would be pleased. Judith Elen was a guest of Yarra Ranges Regional Marketing and Tourism Victoria.
TarraWarra Museum of Art is hosting the Archies exhibition