Continuing its trend of bookstores that double as lifestyle destinations, Book Xcess’ newest flagship store in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is set to become the city’s hottest hub for arts and culture. Tucked on the second floor of Rex KL, the store opened in November 2021 and is home to thousands of books. But even non-bibliophiles have a reason to pay a visit, thanks to its cool aesthetics and architecture.
While parts of the space have been renovated, much of the old layout and fixtures from the venue’s days as a theatre have been retained, providing some very cool photo opps for the Gram.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
The store’s entrance houses a section dedicated to children’s books and young adult fiction. The shelves are built with a low overhead clearance, so it feels like you’re entering a maze of sorts.
Large floor to ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural sunlight to filter in and afford visitors with stunning views of the surroundings.
Ascend the staircase — which is intentionally left in a raw and exposed state, with chipped concrete and peeling paint — and you’ll come to the main area, which features rows upon rows of towering shelves, built to resemble a labyrinth, and with books stacked from floor to ceiling. The high ceilings give the space an airy, lofty feel, and it just looks great architecturally. It’s no wonder influencers have been coming here in droves to take photos.
Mind your step while exploring the place—since they’ve kept the original floor plan (ie tiered, to accommodate for theatre seating), it’s easy to accidentally stumble down the steps. There are warning signs around, but if you have kids it’s best to be cautious, as the steps are pretty high.
If you’re coming from the main floor, look out for this little door near the cashier which leads to a stairwell and loops back into another section of the store. There’s a glass walkway here leading through a narrow corridor, which is pretty cool looking.
Also within this space is Rex KL’s new rooftop bar and restaurant, Shhhbuuulee, which serves small plates alongside sake, high balls, and wines. I came during the day so it wasn’t open, but would love to come back for a visit.
What else is there to do at Rex KL?
Plenty! Rex KL is one of those creative spaces where you can easily wile away your time, and they also regularly host cool events and exhibitions. There are some good F&B options within too.
BOOK XCESS @ REX KL
80, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Selangor
Opening hours: 10AM – 10PM
Getting to REX KL
The nearest train station is the Pasar Seni LRT station. From there, Rex KL is a 5 minute walk.
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I think I’ve mentioned this many times before on my blog, but i’m not exactly good with my hands. There are people out there who have a natural affinity for this sort of thing (painting, pottery, fixing lightbulbs, cooking, etc.) — I, sadly, am not one of them.
As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, and while I could spout obscure trivia about ancient Egyptian religions, theories on evolution and how dinosaurs could have gone extinct, I couldn’t make or fix anything to save my life. I also sucked at sports. In short, I was (and still am), a big nerd. In an RPG, I’d probably be the wizard or some sort of priestess; all brains and no brawn. INT5, AGI, STR and DEX 0.
The hobbies I enjoy (and can stick to) tend to involve pursuits of the mind, like reading and blogging. Also, being an INTP with the attention span of a goldfish, I tend to flit from one hobby to another — usually whatever catches my fancy at the moment (I dabbled in drawing comics, making figurines, soap making, candle making). My interest usually fizzles out if:
a) I don’t get the hang of it within 2 sessions, or
b) I find that it’s actually pretty easy, and I get bored lol (I do sound like a fickle and hard-to-please person, don’t I?)
So when I ordered an embroidery kit a couple of months ago, I surprised even myself. The idea of repeatedly poking a needle and thread through a piece of cloth didn’t exactly scream excitement, but I was bored of being stuck at home (thanks, COVID!) and wanted to do something different.
A couple of weeks prior, I had ordered some air-dried clay in a horribly misguided attempt at making polymer clay jewellery. After the first few pieces ended up looking like they came out of Satan’s butthole, I promptly gave up. My embroidery kit seemed set to end up in the same place; at the bottom of a box in a corner, together with the rest of my failed ‘projects’.
I actually found stitching to be… oddly satisfying. And it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, even for my sausage fingers. Sure, I couldn’t pull off dainty, tiny stitches, but the ones I made seemed good enough for ‘everyday use’, so to speak. It was challenging enough to keep my interest, but not difficult to the point where I’d give up.
One of my biggest weaknesses is wanting fast and easy results — if I don’t pick up something immediately (or within a few tries), I tend to get discouraged and lose interest. To prevent this from happening, I chose a piece with an easy pattern: one that used basic, easy stitches even beginners could follow, but would still look nice enough for display.
The first piece came together nicely, and although I messed up some parts, it still looked pretty good. Knowing how bad I am usually with handicrafts, and seeing that it was my first time, I felt a tiny surge of pride at the results.
Which prompted me to order another kit. And another.
At the time of this writing, I have completed three pieces, with three more to go. Not counting all the equipment and thread I bought separately.
My second piece had a bit more colour, and I learned a few different stitching techniques.
While I enjoy embroidery as an activity for relaxation – there are a couple of takeaways from this new hobby of mine, which I think are good to reflect on.
It’s okay not to be perfect
I am a perfectionist, and I often think that whatever I make doesn’t match up to the standards that I have in mind (A lifetime of being told you’re not good enough will do that to you). As a result, I often miss opportunities to showcase what I have, because of my pervasive fear of rejection and failure. That, and I refuse to present anything short of (what I think is) perfection. I miss out on a lot of things because my lack of self confidence holds me back; even if I have a great idea, I overthink things and end up not voicing them out at all. It’s true what they say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
That’s just it though – in the real world, perfection rarely exists. Even when I was posting my second embroidery piece, I kept criticising my own stitching, despite other people telling me that it looked okay. It’s a bad habit, but being more aware of it means that I can actively take steps to prevent myself from getting into that head space. So yeah, it’s okay for that stitch to not be completely straight; I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. If anything, it adds character to the piece and shows that it’s made by a human, not a machine.
As mentioned earlier, I have a short attention span and little patience. Unlike people who feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach a milestone after months (or even years) of hard work, the same concept when applied to me would just make me feel stupid and incompetent. I like to be able to grasp something quickly – which is why many of my projects have a great head start but run out of steam eventually. The reality is, many things require practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have to constantly remind myself that it took years for masters to reach the pinnacle of their art, if ever.
You do You
I follow many artists on Instagram, and it can be daunting to see how amazingly talented some people are. It can also feel like no matter how hard I work, or what I do (channeling some Rock Lee from Naruto here), I’ll never catch up to their level of genius – so why bother? This kind of apathy can be dangerous and soul crushing for aspiring creatives. Again, I have to constantly remind myself that I, too, can make good art and contribute useful ideas. Art is subjective, really – and there’s beauty in just the act of creating. Even if you’re the only person who admires your own art, as long as you’re working to create something and improving on your skills, then there is no such thing as ‘wasted’ effort. And that applies for things besides art. Like life, in general.
Currently, I’m looking to work on more pieces and if I’m comfortable enough, open up for commissions. Embroidery is a pretty expensive hobby when you count in the cost of materials and time, so I’m hoping that by doing so I can offset some of the costs. And who knows? Maybe this’ll be one of those things that will keep my interest as long as blogging has.
What are some of the projects that you’re currently working on? Have you picked up a new hobby during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.
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Just a stone’s throw away from Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, REX KL is one of the city’s latest creative spaces and is packed with chic cafes, edgy food outlets and eclectic tenants. Formerly a cinema, the building was abandoned for some time before it was given a new lease of life. As such, vestiges of its days as a cinema remain, such as the wide staircase which leads up to the second floor, the main theatre which has been converted into an exhibition / events space, as well as fixtures such as tiles and signages.
This is my second time to REX KL (you can read about my first visit here!). The fam and I were there to check out their Buy for Impact showcase, which ran for several weekends in September and featured local social enterprises such as Masala Wheels, Helping Hands Penan, Krayon.Asia and Silent Teddies, to name a few.
There weren’t many stalls, but they were all interesting.
We stopped by the GOLD (Generating Opportunities for Learning Disables) booth. They were selling T-shirts, Kindness Cookies in various flavours, mugs, cards and beautiful notebooks, all made by the disabled community. Moo bought a T-shirt and we also got some cookies, which were tasty. You can find out more about what they do here.
There was also a photo exhibition on the same floor, featuring stunning portraits of local artists and makers.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO AT REX KL ?
Even when they’re not having events and exhibitions, there’s plenty to do here.
You can grab a cuppa atStellar, which is located at the entrance and has several al fresco seats surrounded by lush greenery. Order a hand-brewed Guatemalan or a flat white, or opt for a refreshing cold brew to go with delicious cakes. They also serve coffee cocktails for those who want a shot of booze (drink responsibly!)
Bibliophiles can browse for rare books, indie titles and second-hand items at Mentor Bookstore. Although most of the books are in Chinese, there are a few English titles too.
Just next to Mentor is where you can unearth nostalgic treasures and collectibles like old toys, records; even cassette tapes and old-school radios. There is quite the collection here, and if you’re a millennial like me, bring your parents so they can tell you how a record player works lol.
Come on a weekend for fresh produce from One Kind Market, which features locally grown vegetables and fruits from local farmers and traders.
If you love craft beers, then The Rex Bar should be on your list. Helmed by Modern Madness, you get interesting Malaysian-inspired flavours like teh tarik ale and lemongrass lager, or (if you’re brave enough!) bak kut teh beer and durian beer. They serve a selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well.
There are plenty of things to eat within Rex KL: urban warungLauk Pauk offers Malay favourites like Ayam Bakar (roast chicken) and Paru Sambal Hijau (beef lungs cooked in sambal), while ParkLife dishes out contemporary London cuisine with a healthy twist.
REX KL remains open during the CMCO period until October 27. While unnecessary is discouraged in light of the pandemic, consider supporting some of the local businesses while you’re in the area – maybe grab a cup of coffee or takeaway from the eateries there.
And finally, although events aren’t allowed yet, you can watch some previous live sessions on their Youtube channel:
The coronavirus pandemic has affected many businesses and sectors – and with cancelled shows (going to theatres might be the last thing on people’s minds rn), the local performing arts scene has taken quite a hit.
In support of those in the industry, indicinelive! (in-dee-SEE-nee-live) returns this year with a social-distancing compliant performance. Founded by Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) former director-in-residence Kelvin Wong, the show first premiered in 2010 and satirises the insane society we live in through a high-octane line-up of everyday characters, familiar situations and parodies of songs we’ve hard and are all too familiar with. It has played to packed houses in KL, Penang, Melaka, Kuching and Singapore since its inception.
indicinelive! Quaranstream Edition brings the show to audiences at home, and will be the very first show created for an online premiere by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat (TAS STR) and The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac). This first ever ‘digital show’ packs in 75 minutes of fun and laughter with brand-new sketches, character satires and song parodies inspired by the pandemic, the recent political shift, and how we see the ‘new normal’ world.
It features a freshly sanitised cast comprising alumni – Anrie Too, Dinesh Kumar, Jad Hidhir, Kamini Senthilathiban, Siti Farrah Abdullah, and Tiara Anchant – along with the new kids on the block – Jon Chew, Nabilah Hamid, and Oxford Tong. They will be performing fun-sized sketches by Adriana Nordin Manan, Terence Toh, Tung Jit Yang and head writer, Uihua Cheah.
Rounding up the team are multimedia designers Coebar Abel and Sebastian Ng, sound designer Clarence Chua and Production / Stage Manager Benedict Chin. Audiences can also expect a few surprise guest performers during the livestream.
The show will be livestreamed on klpac’s Facebook page on the 12th of June (Friday) 9pm, and admission is free – although you can support the ongoing fundraising campaign for klpac and The Actors Studio via an interactive approach. With its theatres closed, klpac and The Actors Studio’s losses have already exceed RM1.1 million. While its recent #SaveYourSeat campaign has raised crucial funds for the next two months, klpac requires RM132,000 per month and The Actors Studio RM25,000 per month to stay afloat.
As part of its fundraising efforts, klpac is also running an e-greeting service called Send-A-Song(link) which packages your message with a song sung by a local artiste into a video and delivers it to your loved one’s phone for a fee of RM50 only. Whether it is a heartfelt message to our loved ones, to thank our front liners or just to cheer a friend up, this is a meaningful gift that will help to keep the arts alive, one song at a time. We can help to keep the arts alive and the theatres running!
Both indicinelive! Quaranstream Edition and Send-A-Song is run on a profit sharing basis with the artistes where they will receive a portion of the proceeds. For indicinelive! donations will be split between artistes, klpac and TAS.
The performance will span approximately 75 minutes including pre and post show engagements, and is strictly for mature audiences only. Direct links to the livestream and donation mechanism will be distributed via klpac and indicinelive!’s social media channels.
I hope you’re all keeping safe in this difficult time. Currently working from home because the Malaysian government has initiated a restricted movement order due to the COVID-19 situation – which means businesses (other than essential services) are told to close.
While it has been difficult to get things done for work (interviews and events have been cancelled, so I’m scrambling for content), there are actually several upsides.
No more 3-hour commute to and from work.
I’m quite extreme on the introvert scale and can go days without speaking to people physically, so this is a great time to recharge.
Spending less money. Not being able to go out means no unnecessary shopping or eating out at restos.
Before the office closed, I talked to a colleague – an extrovert – and he was lamenting on how he’d survive being stuck in the house for two weeks. “I can’t even go to my hairdresser or the gym,” he said forlornly. I was actually a little amused because extroverts are always on our case about how introverts don’t like to go out and socialise – and now they know what it’s like to be stuck in a situation that makes them uncomfortable lol.
In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are actually plenty of things that you can do at home. Some might even find it a good time to do stuff they’ve been putting off for a long time, like clean the house, or play Monopoly with the kids (in your down time, of course – I’m not saying forget about work and go loaf around, lmao).
“VISIT” A MUSEUM / ART GALLERY
This one’s for the history nerds (like me). Many museums in tourist hotspots are closed, including in Malaysia. The British Museum (one of my favourite places – I could live there) announced its indefinite closure yesterday, and in Italy, a hub for European culture and history, museums have been closed since March 8. While you might not be able to go physically, there are many museums offering detailed virtual tours of their premises and catalogues of their collections. On my list rn are LA’s J.Paul Getty Museum, The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, The British Museum, and The Lourve.
I have a bad habit of buying way more books than I have time to read – so now is the perfect time to catch up on some reading. I just finished the audiobook for Sphere by Michael Crichton and started on Lotus by Lijia Zhang, which looks pretty promising.
A lot of us tend to accumulate a tonne of garbage that we don’t need, so it’s time to Marie Kondo all your sht.
Getting healthy, well balanced meals to boost our immune system is even more important in this critical time. For the non-cooks, this might be a good time to try out some recipes and hone your cooking skills! (My mom has been baking sponge cakes and what not, so we’re never hungry).
I’ve never liked going to the gym (or working out for that matter, lol), but I guess it’s a good time now to, again, help boost the immune system and better prepare against infection. And a healthy body is a healthy mind, right? As unbelievable as it sounds, I do get regular light exercise about three times a week (although experts say it should be moderate) for about 20 – 30 minutes each time. I enjoy walking, so that’s what I normally do – walk on the spot. Some resources: Leslie Sansone, Lucy Wyndham-Read and HASFit.
BINGE WATCH STUFF ON THE INTERNET
Not necessarily a productive activity, but it passes the time and depending on the kind of content you’re watching, you might even learn something. I have a short attention span (thanks, gadgets) so I’ve never been able to sit down and go through a series on Netflix, but I do enjoy watching travel, culture and history shows. Some cool channels to check out: Absolute History, VICE, Life Where I’m From, PBS Eons, VSauce.
My laptop isn’t new so I haven’t been able to play newer games. I’ve been replaying some Nintendo DS RPGs on the emulator (Fire Emblem – Shadow Dragon), and am contemplating if I should finally buy Borderlands 3 (Borderlands 2 was one of my favourite shooter games of all time) – although I’m not sure if my laptop has the capacity to run it smoothly. Another new release that’s coming up this weekend is Doom Eternal, but I guess I’ll just watch the gameplay on gaming channels.
A good time to engage in any creative pursuit – drawing, digital art, making music, writing… for me, it’s good to dust off the writing cap. I know I usually write about food and travel, but since that isn’t possible right now, I’ve been looking at other topics instead, like this post.
And there you have it! I hope you’ve gotten some good ideas to keep yourself entertained and busy in this challenging climate. Our mental health is just as important as the physical, so I hope everyone stays safe and healthy always.
Melbourne is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene – and while art galleries and museums abound within the city, the quiet suburban neighbourhood of Kew houses one unlike any other.
Enter the Lyonhouse Museum at 219 Cotham Road.
Part museum, part home, it is where the owners, the Lyons, display their extensive collection of contemporary Australian artwork – the largest in Australia. It is also where they live.
The Lyon Housemuseum was designed by architect Corbett Lyon. Together with his wife Yueji, the couple have been collecting art for over 29 years, and now have over 350 pieces. When they decided to move into a new home in the mid-2000s, they decided to have a purpose-built residence-cum-museum, inspired by private art collections displayed in residential settings, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Stepping into the living room, we were welcomed by art pieces and installations blending harmoniously together with regular furniture like a cosy sofa, couches and bookshelves. In a corner were two large and cute-looking ‘baby’ trucks, one in pink and the other in blue, by Patricia Piccinini.
Yueji Lyon brought us on a tour of the home. She pointed at the ceiling and walls, which were covered in text that came together to form the word ART. “You get the names of the girls’ (Yueji’s daughters) best friends, places we’ve visited, and there’s also text in Chinese, which is my first language,” Yueji quipped. “It’s like a history of the house’s occupants.” She then flipped open a cupboard to reveal a collection of trinkets and souvenirs that the family has collected from their travels. It was certainly a unique thing to see, how the space blended both the public and the private.
At the hallway was The Carrier2012, also by Patricia Piccinini – featuring the figure of an ape-like creature carrying an old woman. The sculpture was extremely life-like, from the texture of the ‘skin’ down to the minute detail of folds, creases, fine hairs, moles and blemishes. Many of her works follow the same vein with humanoid/artificial elements blended together; fascinating but also somewhat unsettling. Imagine stumbling across this late at night!
The Central Music Room was a large auditorium-esque hall with a massive, modified pipe organ that extended up to the ceiling. Yueji tells the group that if Corbett was the one leading the tour, he’d usually perform a piece for the audience! I was touched by how the family has opened up their home and their private collection for others to be able to enjoy them.
There was another room downstairs which I didn’t manage to take a picture of – a ‘Black Cube Space’ for video art. The cavernous ceiling made it feel like a movie theatre, and Yueji tells us that her daughters used to have friends over for sleepover nights there, where they’d watch films. Must be nice to have your own cinema at home!
The central space in the house is the White Cube, which resembles more of an actual art gallery, with white washed walls hung with paintings and artwork, as well as a central installation. Visitors are able to look down at it from the upper floor, as there are glass windows surrounding the space.
The dining room.
Even paper/print bags from their travels / shopping make for great decoration for the walls.
My dream home will have a book collection as big as this.
There are parts of the housemuseum that are not open to the public, such as the bedrooms, so visitors can’t just barge into wherever they like. It is, after all, still a private residence, and must be respected as such.
Visiting the Lyon Housemuseum was certainly a unique experience, and one that was very different from a regular art gallery. A must if you’re in Melbourne! Bookings for tours may be done at lyonhousemuseum,com.au. and cost AUD25 per pax (tours are limited to groups of 25). Alternatively, there is a more conventional gallery space adjacent to the Housemuseum building.
When I was 11, I recall stumbling across a dog-eared book at my cousin’s place. On the cover was a flying blue car with two boys and an owl sandwiched in between. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, the title said. I flipped it… and a whole new world of wonder and imagination opened up to me. Harry Potter and the wizarding world in which he inhabited and battled Lord Voldemort was the pinnacle of adventure for me. Needless to say, I secretly wished for a Hogwarts letter of my own!
When you grow up with a story and its characters, they become like friends. I anguished over Sirius’ death, rooted for Ron and Hermione to finally get together, and even years after the series ended, there is and always will be a special place in my heart (and bookcase) for the Harry Potter books. I was beyond excited when my editor told me I was going to Melbourne.. to watch the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! It was literally a dream come true.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is based on a story written by JK Rowling, together with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who also directs. Melbourne is the third place in which the play has been staged since it made its debut on London and Broadway. Housed in the historic Princess Theatre in the city’s East End Theatre District, the building has been renovated exclusively for the play, and now includes beautiful themed fixtures including a giant nest at the entrance and various decorative elements within such as velvet red carpets with the Hogwarts sign, dragon-shaped lamps and more.
The play is about six hours long (!) and is split into two parts, intended to be seen within the same day, or on two different nights. The excitement was palpable as we stood in line to enter the theatre, with people dressed in robes and their ‘house colours’ waving wands. The atmosphere was infectious. After having read the last HP book years ago (Sorry Fantastic Beast fans, not too keen on the films), I was looking forward to entering that magical wizarding world again, one that had so captured my imagination as a child.
The theatre was packed. Even before the stage opened, we could see that the set and the pieces were amazing; soaring buttresses, clocks on the archway, movable staircases. Then the lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd… and the magic began.
Featuring a 35-strong Australian and New Zealand cast, the story picks up with an adult Harry, now an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, and a husband and father of three school-aged children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
It’s hard to describe in words how the play is like: it is definitely an experience that you have to see to believe. The way wands light up in the darkness, the way actors appear and disappear from seemingly thin air and how brooms soar up into the air. There were parts where the audience laughed, cried and gasped as one – and I with them.
There were several breakout performances, especially by William McKenna as Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’ Potter’s best friend (whom I think is the real hero of the story!). I was also mindblown by the clever use of set pieces, which truly came together to create ‘real magic’. One of my favourites was the scene where Dementors actually float towards the audience and you can see the slow fluttering of their sleeves – it felt like they were real and not just props! Another was when our young heroes Albus and Scorpius try to escape from a moving train and the scene featured a gigantic train set piece.
Of course, Part 1 ended with a cliffhanger, and once the lights came on the hall immediately burst into a riot of voices, as everyone started talking about what they had just seen. If it were up to me I could have sat through another three hours of the play but I guess the actors have to take a rest too. 😛
The motto for the play is Keep The Secrets – ie no spoilers, so that others may go into the play and experience the magic for themselves.
As part of a media entourage, we were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into production before the play opened for its second night – and as you can see, there is a lot that goes into making it a success. What we see on stage for a couple of seconds is the result of months of careful planning, and perhaps hours of setting up.
You can visit the theatre during the day to get some Harry Potter exclusive merchandise such as scarves in the Hogwarts house colours, wands and other souvenirs.
I always thought that I would be a Ravenclaw (being bookish and all) but surprisingly, got sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore. 😀
People like a streak of the dark – the shirt with the Dark Mark was especially popular.
The atmosphere was equally electric on the second night, as people now anticipated what the play had in store after the dramatic cliffhanger.
While I felt that the second part was as brilliant as it was the first, the climax that I anticipated never did come. It felt like last night’s cliffhanger was the climax, as opposed to the actual one in the second part. Still, the twist that came at the end was quite unexpected, and the play wrapped up on a high note.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is definite must watch for Potterheads (heck, even non-Potterheads – although you do need a bit of a background knowledge of Harry’s world). Having it in Melbourne is an awesome idea, as it is the only one playing in the Southern hemisphere, making it more accessible to Potter fans who will not have to go all the way to North America or Europe. The play has taken up a two-year residency since early 2019, which means you will still have time to watch it until the end of 2020.
As Australia’s hub for culture and the arts, it is only fitting that the city of Melbourne is also home to the country’s oldest, largest and most visited art museum – the National Gallery of Victoria. Located on St Kilda Road in the Southbank neighbourhood, the gallery was founded in the 1860s, and today welcomes over 5 million visitors a year.
You’d probably have to make a couple of return trips to fully appreciate the gallery’s mind-boggling breadth of exhibits, which number over 75,000 in total. Aside from Asian, international and Australian art, they also house a large collection of items such as artefacts, photographs, prints and other media.
The gallery regularly hosts special exhibitions, so there’s something new to see each time. I visited while they were running the Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds exhibition, which was absolutely fascinating.
Maurits Cornelis Escher (better known as M.C.Escher) was a Dutch graphic artist. A lover of mathematics, Escher’s pieces include intensely detailed woodcuts, lithographs (graphic prints) and sketches, and often incorporated his love for mathematics by applying concepts such as symmetry, reflections and perspectives. “Impossible objects” – a type of optical illusion where a 2D object appears 3D but cannot physically ‘exist’ in the real world – was one of his fortes. In fact, it was Escher’s works that partly inspired the creation of the world-famous Penrose triangle (ie the impossible triangle).
Escher’s works are immensely popular today, especially in Australia, but it was not widely recognised until much later in his life, when he was in his 70s.
Escher was reportedly a poor student at school, so it was amazing to observe the complexity of his designs, as well as how much precision there was in each stroke and detail. His work became, for good reason, very popular among mathematicians and scientists.
The exhibition also featured installations by Japanese studio Nendo, created specifically to complement Escher’s works. The installations were essentially physical manifestations of the world of Escher, inviting visitors into a glimpse of his mind. We walked through a series of ‘houses’, gradually changing colour and form from black to white, open to closed… or was it the other way around?
A series of separate black rods that appeared as houses and frames when viewed from just the right angle.
You can’t tell from the picture but the tunnel actually got smaller at the far end – an optical illusion.
One of my favourite rooms in the exhibition featured thousands of tiny die cast ‘houses’. When viewed from afar, they formed the dark shape of a larger house.
Escher’s last work, Snakes, 1969. Escher often took inspiration from nature, drawing insects, plants and animals. It somehow reflects the precise and mathematical nature of creation, where everything seems to have been ‘made’ with purpose – it makes you question if creation was really a random occurrence.
Drawing Hands, 1948.
Another exhibition that was running during my visit was by Julian Opie, an English visual artist. His hallmark consists of walking figures drawn with thick black lines and minimal detailing. After Escher’s detail-heavy pieces, Opie’s work felt a tad simple – but also kind of refreshing.
A video piece featuring moving figures
I moved on to explore the permanent exhibits, which are spread across four floors. Unfortunately, as I was pressed for time, I had to breeze through the sections, but it was still fascinating to see the many different types of art as well as artefacts in the gallery’s collection.
Ancient Greek vases
I don’t even know what’s happening here
A section dedicated to more contemporary art, using digital projections in a space
If you’re ever in Melbourne, I highly recommend a visit to the NGV – dedicate at least a whole day if you love culture, art and history. There’s just so much to see within, and I guarantee you’ll leave with more than you came in with. There is also a nice souvenir shop on the ground floor that has a great selection of books, trinkets, gifts and other items to take home.