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Bohemian Melbourne exhibition celebrates Melbourne’s artistic spirit

Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, Liz Ham, 1997
Credit: Copyright Liz Ham

Media release

This is an archived media release. Links were correct at the time of publication, but may have changed or expired.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

“For more than a century and a half, Melbourne has spawned networks of creative iconoclasts – poets, painters, novelists, performers, satirists, filmmakers, rock ’n’ roll stars – as famous for their subversive, controversial lifestyles as for the work they produced.” 

- Tony Moore

The State Library of Victoria will explore the counter-cultural and creative identity of Melbourne in its upcoming exhibition Bohemian Melbourne this summer.

Opening on 12 December, Bohemian Melbourne will weave the story of Melbourne’s bohemian scenes, subcultures and identities from the mid-19th century until today. The exhibition celebrates artists, writers, poets, performers, musicians and filmmakers who made their mark on Melbourne over the last 150 years including the likes of Marcus Clarke, Percy Grainger, Barry Humphries, Mika Mora and Nick Cave. 

Bohemian Melbourne features a cast of colourful characters including well-known Melbourne iconoclasts – like Albert Tucker and Joy Hester, Tim and Betty Burstall, Frank Thring and The Skyhooks – and lesser known avant garde figures like Vali Myers and Val Eastwood. The exhibition also explores modern day bohemians such as goths, punks, burlesque and street artists.

Along with individuals, the exhibition delves into places that have etched themselves into Melbourne’s history such as Heide, Montsalvat, the Savage Club, La Mama, the Pram Factory, the Crystal Ballroom and the Nicholas Building.

Bohemian Melbourne draws on the State Library’s own vast collection, as well as public and private collections brought together for the first time. The exhibition features generous loans from the National Gallery of Victoria, Arts Centre Melbourne, National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland, the Grainger Museum collection, the University of Melbourne, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and many more.

Bohemian Melbourne brings together paintings, photographs, prints, books, diaries, letters, costumes, posters and album covers along with a diverse selection of rarely seen film and video from the National Film and Sound Archive, the ABC and numerous independent filmmakers. The exhibition has been curated by the State Library of Victoria with advisor Tony Moore, Monash University historian and author of Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians. 

State Librarian and CEO Sue Roberts said Bohemian Melbourne offers an insight into Melbourne’s identity as a city of romantics and rebels. 

“This exhibition speaks to how the city sees itself, and to the people and places that have defined its heart,” she said. 

Senior curator Clare Williamson said the exhibition illustrated how bohemians can be found in every generation from the 1860s through to today. 

“Every generation feels nostalgic about its own unique bohemian legacy, but this exhibition shows how the spirit of bohemianism has endured through 150 years of Melbourne’s history,” she said.

Bohemian Melbourne will be a free exhibition in the Keith Murdoch Gallery at the State Library from 12 December 2014 until 22 February 2015. 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a summer program of live music, film screenings, art workshops, walking tours, talks and pop-up performances. 

Bohemian Melbourne

12 December 2014 – 22 February 2015

State Library of Victoria