The Space – Heide Museum of Modern Art

Published:  May 11, 2012
Alison Copley
The Space – Heide Museum of Modern Art

Heide Museum of Modern Art
Bulleen, Melbourne

The story of Heide Museum of Modern Art is a great one. It’s 1934 and art lovers John and Sunday Reed seek out a six-hectare former dairy farm close to Melbourne and name it Heide, after the nearby town of Heidelberg. They renovate and gradually open up their home to a cluster of like-minded artists such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester.

Their generosity extends over the next few decades and another building is added in 1963. Heide II is “a gallery to be lived in,” a beautiful modernist home designed by David McGlashan – and more artworks are acquired. The Reeds’ home and activities become a focal point for progressive art and culture in Melbourne, through the establishment of the Contemporary Art Society and other endeavours.

Finally in 1980 (in line with their original aim), the Reeds sell their land and a body of their art collection to the Victorian Government and in November 1981, Heide opens as a public museum. Sadly, both Reeds pass away the next month, just 10 days apart.

Now, 30 years on, Heide is thriving. I’m curious if it’s managed to maintain its original spirit, but am reassured by Heide director/chief executive officer Jason Smith that it still stays close to the Reeds’ grounding ethos. “We continue to support contemporary artists as a fundamental principle since its establishment by the Reeds, and we promote the importance of new art, new thinking and real innovation. Like the Reeds, we are interested in the kind of images, objects and ideas that we haven’t experienced before,” he says.

To house the growing collection, Andrew Andersons was brought in during 1993 to start work on a new gallery wing, Heide III, which was extended in 2005 to include more exhibition spaces.

The museum stays afloat through a combination of local, state and federal funding and an assortment of other donations. It manages to keep the crowds coming, not only to view its growing modern and contemporary art collection, but also to experience the built environment. As many will agree, the lure of Heide is not just the art, but also its architecture.

Each building is so strikingly different – from Heide I, a French Provençal-style cottage, to Heide II, a modernist white limestone masterpiece, to Heide III, the largest of the gallery spaces, which features a black titanium zinc façade. Wrapped around the buildings are a series of the Reeds’ original gardens which are now Heritage-listed. Despite adding a sculpture park, café and education centre, Smith explains that Heide isn’t quite finished yet. “Into the future we will need four or five more galleries built onto the existing Central Galleries of Heide III to regularly display art from the collection that’s simply unable to be shown in Heide II.”

With so many other galleries and art spaces popping up around Melbourne and beyond, there’s definitely something about Heide that keeps people intrigued. According to Smith, the drawcard is twofold: “Heide’s unique and fascinating integration of social and art history, plus the fact that it was once a private home, draws people.”

Photography: John Gollings.

From desktop magazine.

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