Coup d’art in the Yarra Val­ley

How Healesville is mak­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of it­self

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH ELEN

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.

JOHN GOLLINGS

Tar­raWarra Mu­seum of Art is host­ing the Archies ex­hi­bi­tion

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