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The Latvian National Museum of Art is one of the many stunning art spaces worth visiting in Riga.

Old city, new wave

Cradle of the Old Masters, and host to some of the globe’s oldest and most revered museums, Western Europe has long been established as ground zero for fine art. From Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and its giddying collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings, to Rome’s historic Capitoline Museums and Saint Petersburg’s vast Hermitage, the amount of continental real estate dedicated to the arts is staggering.

Yet Europe’s hubs of contemporary art are decidedly less defined, with some of the most promising avant-garde scenes hidden in little-explored pockets.

Enter Riga. Increasingly dubbed the ‘Berlin of the Baltics’, and home to countless art spaces, the beauty of the Latvian capital’s offering is in its diversity. Small, boutique galleries and impressive museums are strewn throughout the city, hidden away down the cobbled, medieval streets of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town; housed on boats moored in the Daugava River; and tucked behind the ornate walls of the city’s 800-plus art nouveau buildings (Riga boasts the highest concentration of art nouveau architecture anywhere in the world).

A panoply of materials are showcased here too, with entire galleries dedicated to objets d'art fashioned from glass, silver or peat, and museums devoted to Latvian ceramics and textiles. Meanwhile, new, landmark events, such as the inaugural Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art – which took place in June 2018 and comprised an entirely female curatorial cast – have helped generate big noise for this small capital (pop. 641,423).

The Latvian National Museum of Art is home to the country's largest art collection, which spans the mid-18th century to present day.

Inese Baranovska, head of the Decorative Arts and Design Museum at the Latvian National Museum of Art, posits that the city’s colourful history laid the foundations for the current, thriving scene. “Since the 13th century, Riga has been at the crossroads of culture and trading between the East and the West,” she explains. “It was one of the most prosperous cities of the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century.” Baranovska adds that Latvians’ close connection to nature, and the country’s history of craftsmanship in trades such as carpentry, have only further bolstered its creative industries.

Here are four places to uncover the work of Latvian artists.


Exquisite pieces of jewellery or novel works of art? The lines are blurred at this immaculate gallery, which specialises in conceptual, handcrafted brooches, rings and necklaces. The creations on show are chiefly the work of European jewellers, with a focus on artisans that have graduated from the Baltic academies of art.

Edgars Ameriks

Accessible by appointment only, this workshop and gallery displays the works of the eponymous experimental artist. A local pioneer, Ameriks works only with peat – a material lighter than timber but resembling solid stone. During a private tour you can observe Ameriks at work, whittling ragged blocks of earth into refined sculptures, and admire the finished products in his gallery.

Galerija Daugava

Open since 1993, light-flooded Daugava is said to be the oldest gallery in the city, and specialises in the work of contemporary Latvian artists. Exhibitions typically feature works on canvas, though ceramics and other materials occasionally make an appearance.

Latvian National Museum of Art

More than 52,000 works of art line the halls of this state museum. As the richest repository of Latvian art in the country, it affords visitors a comprehensive introduction to the local cultural canon.

Words Chloe Cann

Kyoko Inoda and Nils Sveje in conversation with designer Lauren Li at Great Dane Furniture. Image: Great Dane Furniture.

Inoda+Sveje: when two worlds collide

What happens when you combine Japanese minimalism with Scandinavian functionality? You get furniture designed by Inoda+Sveje, an acclaimed Japanese and Danish design duo based out of Milan.  

Kyoko Inoda and Nils Sveje recently made appearances at Great Dane Furniture showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney to discuss their meticulous approach to furniture design. Of particular interest was their iconic DC09 chair, which won an IF Product Design Award on its release in 2011.

After establishing their practice in Copenhagen in 2000, Inoda+Sveje moved permanently to Milan, where they have been based since 2003. There, they split their focus between designing high-tech equipment like bluetooth speakers and medical devices for industrial clients, and their true passion – making sleek timber furniture.

While they have attracted international praise for their designs, they remain hands-on with everything in their showroom, from shopkeeping to importation, which is perhaps the secret to their success. “We communicate so closely there is no room for another person in our process,” says Inoda.

The DC09 chair and a matching stool called The Bar. Image: Great Dane Furniture.

Both view the DC09 as a career highlight. The dining chair, which combines handcrafted work with computerised design, took two years to conceive, design and manufacture. Its aesthetic blends Japanese and Scandinavian minimalism. A unique feature is the thinly shaved seat, structured to sculpt to the user’s frame. As Sveje explains, they are very focused on ergonomics and steer clear of unnecessary embellishments in their creations. “We don’t design chairs for the eye,” he says. “Every surface is made for the hand to follow. It’s very important to us that we design furniture with natural curves.”

“We don’t want to follow a trend or design something new because it doesn’t follow a trend anymore,” Inoda adds, explaining that their aim is to create furniture that endures. 

Moving forward, Inoda+Sveje will turn their attention to pieces inspired by traditional Indian craftsmanship, adding another cultural layer to their work. They have already completed a series of lounge chairs and dining chairs with Bangalore-based furniture workshop and artisan collective Phantom Hands, and aim to create a new series of cane chairs that combine their contemporary designs with methods passed on by the local artisans.

Their intention, as with all of their work, is to create simple pieces that people treasure for years to come. “We want them to look at a piece of furniture and say it feels like home to me,” says Sveje. “If they say that, we’ve succeeded.”

You can explore Inoda+Sveje pieces, including the DCO9 chair, at Great Dane Furniture.  

Words Emily Tatti

An immersive new exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art

The TarraWarra Museum of Art sits in an enviable location in the Yarra Valley, surrounded by lush green hills and sloping vineyards. “I always feel like there’s more than one exhibition at TarraWarra,” observes the gallery’s director, Victoria Lynn. “There’s the exhibition outside the museum, in the natural landscape, and then there’s the exhibition inside as well.” 

It’s this relationship between art and place that inspired the museum’s 2019 International Series exhibition, The Tangible Trace, which runs until September 1. The exhibition showcases the works of six contemporary artists, who focus on the idea of a trace as the residue of a place, situation or memory. 

Lynn, the curator of the exhibition, was initially inspired by local artist Sangeeta Sandrasegar, who primarily works with shadows. After being approached by Lynn, Sandrasegar developed a piece called What falls from view to interact specifically with the museum space.

She constructed hand-dyed fabrics to hang over the windows that welcome visitors when they enter the museum, which cast changing colours and shadows on the walls, depending on the time of day. These “traces” change your impression of the view from outside.

"She combines this with the wonderful music that you hear when you walk in [Ross Edwards’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Da Pacem Domine’], which gives you an emotive relationship to the space," explains Lynn. "I gradually built the other artists around this concept.”

'TarraWarra International 2019: The Tangible Trace' installation view featuring Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Julien Devaux, Rafael Ortega, Alejandro Morales, and Felix Blume. Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream, Ciudad Juárez, México 2013. © Francis Alÿs. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner. Image: Andrew Curtis. 

Those artists include Mexico-based Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, whose simple but powerful video installation Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico follows the artist as he kicks a flaming soccer ball through the streets of Ciudad Juárez at night, leaving sparks of fire in his wake. This city is one of the most dangerous places in the world, and Alÿs uses his idle wanderings to juxtapose the act of play with the violence of place.

A second video installation by Iraqi-Kurdish artist Hiwa K is called Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue). For 17 minutes, the artist retraces the journey he took from Athens to Rome when he arrived as a refugee 25 years ago. But it’s a journey with a difference – he balances a long stick covered with motorcycle mirrors on his nose as he walks, meaning he can only be guided by the fragments or traces he glimpses in the reflection. 

Singapore-born artist Simryn Gill has two works that focus on the interplay between nature and man. The first, a series of photographs and prints called Passing Through, showcases an abandoned beachside hotel in Malaysia that is slowly being reclaimed by nature. While wandering the beach near this hotel, Gill collected objects that washed ashore, like terracotta bricks eroded by the pressure of the waves. These found objects have been catalogued to form her second piece, Domino Theory

And finally, Carlos Capelán and Shilpa Gupta have contributed works that were commissioned especially for the exhibition. Uruguay-born Capelán, who sought political asylum in Sweden in the 1970s and has since lived in several countries, views himself as a global citizen and produces work themed around displacement and identity. His Tangible Trace series of paintings, titled Implosion, are inspired by geometric abstractism and depict the ghostly outlines of faces and bodies.  

Carlos Capelán. Completely Solid Object (Living Room) 2019. From the Implosion series. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. 132 x 179 cm. Courtesy the artist. Image: Christel Lundberg. 

Gupta, who is representing India at this year's Venice Biennale, likes to challenge the notion of geographical borders. Her first piece, Map Tracing #7, is a map of Australia made out of copper tubing, which is bent into a dysfunctional shape that isn't immediately recognisable as a map. Her second piece, The markings we have made on this land have increased the distance so much, is a fractured rectangle of concrete engraved in English, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic. In the final days of the exhibition, visitors will be invited to take a piece of this work to keep.

"The idea is that they can take a trace of the exhibition with them," Lynn explains. "So by the end of the exhibition, the work will have disappeared, but it will live on in people's homes."

Since it officially opened in its current location in 2003, the TarraWarra Museum of Art has hosted work from renowned contemporary artists such as Janet Laurence, Allora & Calzadilla, and Cao Fei. This year, it is the Victorian venue for the Archibald Prize from September 14 to November 5.

Visit TarraWarra International 2019: The Tangible Trace from 8 June to 1 September. Guided tours are available on Thursdays at 11am and Saturdays at 2pm and 3pm. 

Words Emily Tatti

Top: 'TarraWarra International 2019: The Tangible Trace' installation view featuring Simryn Gill. Passing Through 2017–ongoing. Courtesy the artist; Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai; Tracy Williams Ltd, New York and Utopia Art, Sydney. Image: Andrew Curtis.

Yayoi Kusama’s famous Yellow Pumpkin on Naoshima.

Japan’s art archipelago

As I wait my turn to photograph the world’s most famous pumpkin, a young woman posing with Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dot artwork catches my eye. She’s wearing a black skirt and yellow spotted blouse to match the pumpkin on a pier, located on Naoshima (an island in Japan).

“I once saw a child here dressed as a pumpkin,” says guide Aya Komura, laughing about the extremes visitors will go to for the perfect shot. Komura lived on Naoshima for three years, working for the museums that have helped transform a dozen Seto Inland Sea islands into a collective contemporary art mecca. Today she guides visitors around the art islands for InsideJapan Tours.  

There’s always something to see – the museums and some installations are permanent – but for the widest choice go during the Setouchi Triennale, which unfolds over three seasons once every three years (the 2019 summer season runs July 19 to August 25 and the autumn season runs September 28 to November 4). The Setouchi Triennale attracts one million-plus art lovers so be forewarned, there can be queues. 

The Benesse Art Site Naoshima from above. Image: © Benesse Art Site Naoshima.

From our base at Shikoku Island’s Takamatsu – famous for udon noodles and the Ritsurin Garden – we head to Naoshima on an early ferry armed with our festival passports and ferry passes. After docking next to a red Kusama pumpkin, we hop on a bus to the photogenic yellow pumpkin. A nearby gift shop sells polka-dot clutch bags, hand towels and more (Kusama, now 90, is known as the “princess of polka dots”). We stroll past scenic beaches up to Benesse House Museum (where tiny “weeds” sprouting from an interior wall are, of course, art) and the sight makes me wish I’d brought swimmers. I later end up saturated – where swimwear isn’t necessary or even encouraged – in kooky Naoshima Bath, a year-round bathhouse/art installation near the dock.

The next day’s queue for the Teshima ferry alarms Komura and she changes the day’s plan, switching Inujima for Shodoshima so we’ll make it home. On Teshima we zip around by rental car to the isolated Les Archives du Coeur to listen to strangers’ recorded heartbeats in the dark, and to the Teshima Art Museum – a single architectural work where water droplets pop from the white floor, rolling and pooling in mesmerising fashion. At the museum’s café, we lunch on olive rice, lemon Swiss roll and rice gelato (the islands boast a Mediterranean climate). My favourite Teshima experience is Storm House, a dim traditional home that rattles, roars and drips as a maelstrom appears to rage around it. 

On Shodoshima, a taxi takes us to Love in Shodoshima – a walk-in woven bamboo pod nestled below rice terraces – and drops us at another port where the shrine-inspired public toilet is art. After two intense days we’ve seen only a fraction of what the islands hold. To tick off everything, says Komura, would take at least two weeks.   

Words Katrina Lobley. She travelled as a guest of InsideJapan Tours.

A day trip to Naoshima is included in its 12-night Hidden Japan small-group tour, or stay on Naoshima for two nights on the 15-night self-guided Japan Arts Trail tour.

Dane Mitchell, Post hoc, 2019 (detail). Mixed media installation. Palazzina Canonica, New Zealand Pavilion.

Unmissable exhibitions at Venice Biennale 2019

Often termed the “art Olympics” for its scale and emphasis on national representation, the Venice Biennale is the world’s largest and arguably most prestigious art event. Established in 1895, it is also the world’s oldest art event of its type. Every two years, Venice is transformed into a venue for contemporary art for six months. Two main venues on the eastern tip of Venice – the Giardini and Arsenale – play host to the central exhibition: May You Live In Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rudolph.


In addition to the central exhibition, the Giardini holds many of the 89 independently curated national pavilions. While Australia has participated in the Venice Biennale since 1954, the current pavilion designed by Denton Corker Marshall was only unveiled in 2015. Angelica Mesiti’s ASSEMBLY converts the cubic building into a red-carpeted amphitheatre for her video installation. Filmed in senate chambers in Canberra and Rome, the beautifully scored work celebrates Australia’s multicultural heritage. 

Angelica Mesiti, ASSEMBLY, 2019 (production still). Three-channel video installation in architectural amphitheatre. HD video projections, colour, six-channel mono sound, 25mins, dimensions variable. Image: Bonnie Elliott.
Commissioned by the Australia Council for the Arts on the occasion of the 58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Australia and Galerie Allen, Paris.

Also of note is Roman Stan´czak’s Flight in the Polish pavilion, which features a small passenger plane turned inside out. The end result is absurd yet fascinating, with the plane’s wings curled into the centre, and the array of wires and bolts plainly visible on the exterior.

The Arsenale

The Arsenale hosts 23 temporary national pavilions this year, including Anna K.E.’s intriguing water feature in the Georgian pavilion, and El Anatsui’s bottle cap sculptures in the inaugural Ghanaian pavilion. Luxembourg is the standout of the Arsenale: Marco Godinho’s Written by Water includes an inclined plane of hundreds of damp stained notebooks – each of which have been ritually immersed in the Mediterranean Sea.

Beyond the Giardini and Arsenale

With limited real estate in the two main venues, most countries rent palaces, apartments, former churches or shopfronts to serve as “pavilions”, challenging visitors to navigate Venice’s notoriously tricky streets.

New Zealand’s 2019 pavilion, featuring Dane Mitchell, is located near the Giardini in the Palazzina Canonica. His piece Post Hoc includes a series of communication towers disguised as artificial pine trees, which are dotted around historic sites in Venice. The trees broadcast lists of “bygone phenomena”, linking the extinctions of the past to a post-nature future. 

Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte and Rugile Barzdziukaite, Sun & Sea (Marina), 2019. Opera performance. Marina Militare, Lithuania Pavilion. Image: Lucy Hawthorne.

Within the Marina Militare is the well-hidden Lithuanian pavilion. Every Saturday, viewers can watch a group of swimsuit-clad beachgoers from above as they perform a live opera, Sun & Sea (Marina). Unlike most operas, the singers vent about petty annoyances while playing with their phones, sunbaking or sandcastle-building.

Of the dozens of collateral events, Yun Hyong-Keun at the Palazzo Fortuny is the must-see. The Korean painter’s meditative work is installed in dialogue with the palace’s raw building features. 

It takes weeks to see the Venice Biennale in its entirety. If you only have a few days, concentrate on the two main venues. Set aside one day per venue but allow time for an afternoon spritz or two with the locals at the bars along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi. 

Words Lucy Hawthorne

2019 Venice Biennale
May You Live In Interesting Times
May 11–November 24, 2019
Closed on Mondays (except May 13, September 2, November 18)
Giardini: 10am–6pm
Arsenale: 10am–6pm (open 10am–8pm on Fridays and Saturdays until October 5)

Tickets for the main biennale venues are valid for one admission to each exhibition venue. See the website for more options, including multi-entry passes.

The top five bookshops in London for art and design lovers

London is a famously creative city. It’s the UK’s epicentre of creative industries, home to renowned art schools, world-famous galleries, and the annual London Design Festival, which promotes London as the international design capital. It’s also a boiling pot for diverse music, experimental art and cutting-edge fashion. And bookshops don’t miss out, either.


Libreria is situated just off Brick Lane, an institute of vintage clothes, hipster bars and curry houses. While not a specialist in design books, the store has a strong focus on creativity. The space was opened in 2016 by business partners Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, and designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano. With an incredibly effective use of space and cleverly positioned mirrors, the rows of books seem to stretch on infinitely. The store doesn’t use traditional categorisation, but instead displays the books in suggestive themes, to encourage browsing. 

Henry Pordes Books

On the famous second-hand book strip of Charing Cross Road, Henry Pordes Books gives a distinct nod to the past with its charming, towering stacks of books, crammed into every corner. The bookstore sells second-hand and remainder stock and buys review copies, out of print and antiquarian collections big and small. It also houses an extensive collection of art books, which tend to focus on performing arts and art history, though there are eclectic ranges on cinema, fashion and architecture as well.


Artwords is a stalwart of London’s art book scene, with locations in Shoreditch and London Fields. It’s a contemporary visual arts specialist, and inside its cosy but neat interiors, fine art dominates, though plenty of space is given to graphic design, photography, and visual and critical theory.

The store regularly hosts author readings and launch events, boasts highly knowledgeable staff, and has fresh stock all the time, importing titles from Europe, North America and Australia. 

Magma Books

Comprehensively doing everything design- and books-related at its three locations, Magma Books has large and small format illustrated books, a host of design and architecture magazines, prints and artwork, as well as quirky gifts.

The shop even collaborated with publishing house Laurence King to produce a range of card games, stationery and journals, further demonstrating its evolution into a total creative concept. Also on sale is contemporary art magazine Elephant, created by Magma co-founder Marc Valli.

ICA Bookstore

Across the road from St James’s Park, the Institute of Contemporary Art Bookstore is an attraction in its own right. The shop space is sparse, with large display tables and look-through metallic shelves. And the range of magazines and art books clearly reflects the ICA itself, where the intellectual and unusual collection has a focus on radical politics and visual culture, mixed with a selection of philosophy, feminism and writing theory. Titles from the ICA’s publishing imprint, Luminous Books, are also on show. 

Words Lachean Humphreys

Mercedes me meets Melbourne Design Week

All things design will be in the spotlight at Mercedes me Store Melbourne this month, as part of the annual Melbourne Design Week.

Over the past three years, Melbourne Design Week (March 14–24) has established itself as a leading design event, attracting world-class speakers and thinkers to an ever-growing program across a series of venues, including the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Mercedes me Store Melbourne.

This year’s theme focuses on Design Experiments and three events will take place at Mercedes me Store Melbourne on Collins Street.

First up is ‘Break The Business Model’, (March 19; 6:30pm to 8pm) a panel discussion with leading architects and designers on shaking up traditional working methods in these fast-changing times. Moderated by Alice Blackwood, editor, journalist and communications strategist, the evening brings together Jade Sarita Arnott, founder of Melbourne fashion label Arnsdorf; Byron George, founder of Melbourne-based design studio Russell & George; and Balder Tol, general manager Australia of workspace innovators WeWork

Svizzera 240: House Tour by Alessandro Bosshard, Li Tavor, Matthew van der Ploeg and Ani Vihervaara at the 16th Venice Biennale of Architecture, 2018.
Image: Christian Beutler / KEYSTONE

Next up is ‘Experiments in Exhibiting Architecture’ (March 20; 6:30pm to 8pm) presented by the Australian Institute of Architects, Mercedes me Melbourne and the NGV. The Victorian President of the Australian Institute of Architects and director of Muir Architecture, Amy Muir, will lead a conversation about experimental approaches to curating and exhibiting architecture. Speakers include Matthew van der Ploeg, who will be discussing his collaborative work Svizzera 240: House Tour

And rounding off the trio of evening events at the venue is ‘Design Experiments’ (March 21; 6:30pm to 8pm), which sees NGV Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture, Simone Le Amon, in conversation with a number of Australian designers. Hear from Fiona Lynch, founder of Fiona Lynch Design Studio; Jonathan Ben-Tovim, founder of Ben-Tovim Design; Gregory Bonaserra, co-founder of Porcelain Bear; and Amy Malin, co-founder of Modern Times, as they talk about some of their most innovative recent projects.

For the first time, Melbourne Design Week will expand beyond Melbourne’s borders to Geelong, a recently crowned UNESCO City of Design, with a series of events. This includes a keynote address by Danish Design Centre chief executive Christian Bason on how design can strengthen regional towns and cities. Travel an hour south-west of Melbourne to discover why the city has developed such a strong creative reputation. You can view the full program on the Design Week in Geelong website.

Words Lucy Siebert

Experiencing Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life Death Rebirth

The Royal Academy of Arts, which attracts over a million visitors per year and recently celebrated its 250th anniversary, is a treasure of London’s art scene.

Since its founding in 1768 by King George III, the RA remains an independent and privately funded institution. Though it’s had a few different homes over the years, it’s now located in Burlington House in Mayfair, built in 1664 as a private mansion for Sir John Denham, a lawyer, poet and architect.

Although one of the most famous galleries in London, it’s still an Academy at its heart and a long-time supporter of arts education – the Royal Academy Schools is the oldest art school in Britain. The RA is famed for its annual summer exhibition – the biggest and oldest open submission exhibition in the world – and hosts a range of exhibitions throughout the year.

The Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life Death Rebirth exhibition (which is on display until March 31) is the first to open this year, and as John Studzinski CBE, the founder and chairman of supporting partner Genesis Foundation, states: “The fusing of the contemporary with the timeless creates something uniquely powerful.”

Michelangelo (1475-1564) is arguably one of the most illustrious names in the world of art, and the exhibition will include drawings produced in the latter half of his life. Many of these were gifts to his acquaintances or privately held, so are both an example of his genius and prolific output, and a small personal insight into his vulnerability.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John, c.1504-05

Marble relief, 107 x 107 x 22 cm
Royal Academy of Arts, London. Bequeathed by Sir George Beaumont, 1830
© Royal Academy of Arts, London; Photographer: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited

Five centuries later, Bill Viola is an American contemporary video artist and Honorary Royal Academician. Twelve video installations produced by Viola from 1977 to 2013 are included in the exhibition (in the first time the RA has hosted an exhibition largely devoted to video art). Viola is known for his large-scale video installations – and atypically for video, his work is often inwardly focused, on existence and inner human states, rather than outwardly focused.

Bringing these pieces together means seeing one of the world’s most famous historical artists juxtaposed with modern technology. The exhibition, curated by Martin Clayton, head of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust, alongside Executive Director of Bill Viola Studio, Kira Perov, and Royal Academy of Arts Curator, Andrea Tarsia, suggests a dialogue between artists.

Focusing on the central theme of the presence of death in life, the exhibition will progress through galleries that contrast work from each artist – from life and love, to mortality, and finally rebirth.

The works are described, in their own different ways, as majestic. While art has vastly changed since Michelangelo was alive, its core preoccupation with the human experience has prevailed across centuries.

Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth runs until March 31, 2019 at the Royal Academy of Arts. 

Words Lachean Humphreys

Charoen Krung is a hub for trendy eateries, galleries and fashion boutiques.

Is Charoen Krung Bangkok’s coolest road?

A vibrant creative scene has emerged around Bangkok’s Charoen Krung Road.

As Thailand’s economy grows, so too does its creative sectors – keeping homegrown talent in the country and attracting more from abroad. For a glimpse of this growing cultural scene, make your way to a historic road in Bangkok’s centre.

Old road, new groove

Charoen Krung Road snakes alongside the Chao Phraya River from Old City through bustling Chinatown and on past Bang Rak’s street markets and Sathon’s skyscrapers. Constructed under Rama IV in the 1860s, the 8.6 kilometre-long strip was the first modern main road from which the metropolis of Bangkok grew.

In the last century Charoen Krung Road lost much of its lustre, but the traditional shophouses and warehouses (and lower rents) attracted an arty set that has transformed the road and its many sois (sidestreets). A smattering of galleries and edgy eateries is blossoming into a vibrant cultural hub.

The Bang Rak bustle

A triangular suburb wedged up against the river, Bang Rak is best known for stellar street food and five-star waterside hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La. But Bang Rak has also become an epicentre of the new Charoen Krung.

The ‘Creative District’, encompassing Bang Rak and cross-river Khlong San, is a collective of cultural heavyweights dedicated to the area’s future. The group help foster localised innovation, invest in preservation efforts and attract events such as the 2016 Bukruk Urban Arts Festival, which invited some of Europe and Asia’s best artists to paint the streets. A director (and poster boy) of the Creative District is Duangrit Bunnag, whose initial offering – the mixed-use Jam Factory – has been tempting trendy city dwellers to Khlong San since 2015.

An eclectic store inside Warehouse 30.

Last year the rockstar Thai architect unveiled Warehouse 30, which revived seven long-abandoned Portuguese Embassy warehouses. Within the building’s industrial bones are housed high-end fashion and design boutiques, a spa, café and coffee roaster, as well as co-working, screening, gallery and event spaces.

Across from Warehouse 30 is the showroom of bespoke furniture designers P.Tendercool. Belgian founders Pieter Compernol and Stephanie Grusenmeyer were early-comers to the neighbourhood, more than a decade ago. Their studio crafts bespoke tables, desks and chairs using a precious collection of reclaimed wood and luxurious materials, some of which is stored in a vaulted space in Warehouse 30.

Game-changing government

Neighbouring the Warehouse 30 complex is fellow significant newcomer, the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC). In an official nod to Charoen Krung’s creative chops, the government-run TCDC took up residency in the Brutalist-style Grand Postal Building last year. The five-storey resource and education facility offers member-only access to co-working spaces, a business centre, state-of-the-art workspaces and one of Asia’s biggest design libraries. Visitors can peruse the ground-floor design store and main gallery, and take in Bangkok’s skyline from the rooftop garden.

Backstreet ambles

The shophouses and quaint sois off Charoen Krung are integral to the area’s old-school charms. North towards historic Talat Noi, a cultural cluster sits between humble street restaurants and cramped workshops around Soi Charoen Krung 28 (‘CK28’). The block is home to galleries Speedy Grandma and MOST, minimalist izakaya Jua, indie tattoo parlour Black Pig, rum bar Tropic City and one of Bangkok’s most talked-about restaurants, 80/20, where chefs Napol Jantraget and Saki Hoshino craft their modern-Thai menu using 80 per cent locally sourced ingredients. In the collaborative spirit many small businesses around Charoen Krung share, CK28 venues regularly open their doors for the bi-monthly Creative District Gallery Hopping Night – a curated event showing off the increasing creative clout of this storied street.

Words Krysia Bonkowski

Salvador Dali's home in Portlligat.

Hello Dali

The Costa Brava, or Wild Coast, tucked under the French border on the Northeast coast of Spain and a hop, skip and a jump from Barcelona, was the epicentre of the life and work of the world’s most famous surrealist, Salvador Dali.

Dali was born in 1904 in the provincial town of Figueres, where he also created the Dali Theatre-Museum and was buried under its geodesic dome in 1989. His only fixed abode was 38 kilometres to the east in a labyrinthine collection of white-washed fishermen’s huts in the coastal hamlet of Portlligat. Sixty kilometres south in Pubol he renovated a Medieval castle for his wife and muse, Gala Dali. Both are now house-museums that flesh out the Dali enigma.

The three museums form the Dali Triangle. Melting clocks, eggs, stuffed animals, ants, Michelin tyres, dried flowers, bread… flamboyant mustachio’d Dali employed myriad symbols in his art. He made eccentricity itself an art form.

Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres

This is Dali’s magnum opus: a surrealist installation to be experienced like a theatrical dream. One of the most visited (and crowded) museums in Spain, it is the antithesis of a stuffy art museum. Configured in two parts, the original building was a former theatre now topped by a glass dome while the plaster-egg-adorned pink Torre Galatea is where the Dali-designed jewels, including a throbbing heart of rubies, are located. 

There are 1500 artworks including paintings, drawings, sculpture, engravings, installations, holograms and photographs. Admire his colossal talent in early canvases, where he experiments with Cubism, Pointillism, Impressionism and Futurism, then marvel at the inventiveness of works like his Gala Nude Looking at the Sea which at 18 metres Turns out to be a Portrait of President Lincoln. In the courtyard, the Rainy Taxi Cadillac has a male chauffeur and a woman in an evening dress surrounded by lettuce and chicory. Insert a coin and it will rain inside, while suspended above the car is a boat dripping with blue condoms to symbolise tears. Enough said.

Pirelli tyres, matadors and a lip couch by the pool at Dali's house in Portlligat.

Dali House-Museum in Portlligat

Dali’s house sits facing the rocks and the sea in tiny Portlligat, a 20-minute walk from the pretty seaside village of Cadaques. 

This serene retreat is divided into three parts: the private living area, including Gala and Dali’s boudoir with separate crimson beds and Gala’s womb-like pink retreat; the outdoor courtyard with its phallic swimming pool; and the artist studio where he created paintings like The Madonna of Portlligat.

Gala Dali House-Museum in Pubol

Dali and his wife Gala had an unconventional marriage – in fact there are many who believe it was never consummated and that Dali was a repressed homosexual. Still, she was his muse and the model for countless paintings. He gave her a private retreat in Pubol Castle, where he could only visit upon written invitation. And he did much of the decoration, including trompe l’oeil paintings and a ceiling panel of himself in her heavens. Gala’s gala gowns, some designed by Dali, are on display in the tower, and it’s also possible to visit her crypt in the basement. 

Words Susan Gough Henly

MoMA wows Melbourne with modern art extravaganza

Melbourne is set to draw the crowds this winter, with visitors braving the chilly climes to view some of the finest works of modern art, many of which have never left the confines of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Winter Masterpieces exhibition, MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Mercedes-Benz is the principal partner of MoMA at NGV and Horst von Sanden, CEO and Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Australia / Pacific, remarked at the media preview: “Our partnership with the NGV has lasted more than 12 years, which is testament to shared values. We both believe in innovation, social responsibility, diversity and freedom of expression.”

With art works including Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl 1963, the exhibition is a fascinating display of modern art. It is also the first time that an exhibition has spanned the entire ground floor of the NGV, testament to the sheer scale of the show, with more than 200 works on display.

Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997)

Drowning Girl, 1963
Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
171.6 x 169.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Philip Johnson Fund (by exchange) and gift of Mr and Mrs Bagley Wright
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Licensed by Viscopy

At the opening, MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry shared an update on how the New York gallery is evolving and changing. Part of this includes re-evaluating how work is displayed – Lowry believes his team will gain invaluable insights from the NGV’s curatorial team’s approach. “At the NGV, the vision [for how MoMA shows works] is on display. We are seeing an iteration of how it could look in our rehang,” he said at the media preview event.

MoMA at the NGV consists of eight galleries, each examining a distinct moment in modern art. “I think of each gallery as a village, connected by alleyways and roads in between,” remarks Lowry.

The highlights are too numerous to list, but some standout works include Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, which is shown among objects from the pre-World War I world of industrial design. There’s also a stunning gallery consisting of movements driven by utopian aspirations that inspired social change from Europe, such as De Stijl from The Netherlands and Bauhaus from Germany.

Lowry joked he had to ask himself what he and his team at MoMA were thinking when they agreed to Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory travelling to Melbourne. It is only the second time the work has ever been lent to any other gallery or organisation. It is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition and welcomes visitors into a gallery dedicated to Surrealist greats whose works are derived from their inner worlds of their minds and their dreams, including Joan Miro and Rene Magritte.

Then it’s onto the post-World War II world, when many European artists had fled from Europe as exiles for new lives in the United States – the result being a shift from Paris to New York as the centre of modern art. In this gallery pop art examples from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, followed by a gallery dedicated to a sculptural approach to rethinking the domestic environment.

The final galleries cover the foreboding sense of the 1980s, right up to contemporary works from artists all over the world, including Africa. “We’re decentring the world and locating it everywhere,” Lowry said.

While the main event is undoubtedly the exhibition itself, its influence goes beyond the galleries of the NGV, with the MEL&NYC festival – a two-way exchange of ideas from the two cultural capitals – taking place throughout the winter months.

Words Lucy Siebert

Setting a new tradition in furniture design

Renowned Danish furniture house JL Møller Møbelfabrik is entering a new era, fronted by new CEO, 28-year-old Kirsten Møller.

Furniture design firm JL Møller Møbelfabrik is famous for signature dining chairs and benches that have helped popularise Scandinavian design over the last 70 years. Now, the business is entering a new phase with a youthful CEO at the helm, although its brand pillars of high quality, handcrafted production and sustainable designs will remain.

Niels Otto Møller, who originally trained as a cabinetmaker, founded the company in 1944. His first chair, designed that same year, is still in production today.

Cabinetmakers producing the #71 chair at the workshop in Aarus in the '50s.

Møller furniture quickly became an icon of Danish design. The #78 chair, designed in 1954, stands in 24 museums around the world – as well as in the Great Dane Furniture showroom in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. Great Dane Furniture founder Anton Assaad has worked with the Møllers for 10 years, sharing the same dedication to quality and beautiful design that is a staple of the family-run company.

Carrying on the family tradition is Kirsten Møller, Niels’ granddaughter and company CEO. “Many of the big names coming out of Denmark like Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl – these men were extremely talented; they were educated as architects. They were able to design many models over their career because they found manufactures to produce for them, where my grandfather – not only did he design, but he also produced,” she says.

Kirsten has taken over from Niels’ son, Jørgen Møller, who has led the brand since 1994. Jørgen and brother Jens Ole Møller (who ran the company from 1982 to 1994) followed in similar footsteps to their father, both honing their craft and training as cabinetmakers, before going on to produce their own pieces. Jørgen credits the first piece he ever made as his favourite.

“It takes three years and seven months to be a cabinetmaker, and eight weeks of that to make one masterpiece. I was sleeping on the workbench from morning to evening – I didn’t come home for eight weeks,” says Jørgen. “Today I have [the] desk at home in Minneapolis.”

Kirsten Møller with father, Jørgen.

Now, 28-year-old Kirsten has become the youngest family member and first female to step into the role of CEO.

She grew up in Minnesota, working in her father Jørgen’s furniture stores in Memphis and Minneapolis. While not a cabinetmaker by trade, she has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Scandinavian Studies, and a Masters in Environmental Economics.

Two years ago, Kirsten was finishing up her thesis in Copenhagen when her father phoned to tell her the company’s financial director of 40 years was retiring. It was opportune timing for Kirsten to join the company on the business side of things. Now, she’s looking to the future.

“There’s nothing I want to change about our traditional methods and the way we produce [furniture], but our digital footprint is something I’m looking forward to starting and pushing forward. It’s something that we haven’t spent too much time focusing on,” Kirsten says.

The factory in Aarhus in Denmark opened in 1961, and remains the company’s production facility today.

In all Møller chairs and benches, the woven material of the seat is made of tightly twisted paper; a continuous 425-foot-long piece of hand-woven cord and complimentary of the hand-finished timber.

“The whole concept of sustainability is having a product last for years to come. We get chairs delivered up at the factory that are 50, 60 years old and they just need a new seat,” says Kirsten.

“We get emails every single week from younger people who are inheriting their dining room chairs, or dining tables, or benches from their parents or grandparents.”

The #77 stool in oak with black cord.

The new #77 stool is one of the first pieces to be released under Kirsten’s tenure at the company’s helm, and is a showcase of the design and quality JL Møller Møbelfabrik has become known for.

The #77 stool is available at Great Dane Furniture.

Visit the Melbourne showroom at 175 Johnston Street, Fitzroy 3065
Visit the Sydney showroom at 613 Elizabeth Street, Redfern 2016

Words Lachean Humphreys

This immersive installation by teamLab is inspired by the union of digital and natural.

Global outlook: NGV Triennial

Melbourne is riding high with the National Gallery of Victoria’s highly anticipated Triennial exhibition.

The inaugural exhibition, supported by principal partner Mercedes-Benz, is exclusive to the Victorian capital and brings together the work of more than 100 artists and designers from 32 countries to explore five global themes: time, movement, body, change and virtual.

With iconic international artists such as Yayoi Kusama alongside some of Australia’s best, such as painter Ben Quilty (who won the Archibald Prize in 2011 for his portrait of Margaret Olley), the exhibition is designed to transcend cultures, scales, geographies and perspectives. It does so with everything from technology and architecture, animation, performance and film through to fashion and tapestry.

With the exhibition spanning four levels of NGV International, visitors can expect displays that are interactive and sensory.

Yayoi Kusama's purpose-built apartment.

Kusama has created a purpose-built apartment for Melbourne, which is being completely covered by visitors placing three-dimensional flowers and flower stickers over the walls, furniture and objects inside – exploring the ideas of eradication and obliteration.

Sissel Tolaas' Smellscape Melbourne_Pastpresentpast is an interactive display of scents.

Meanwhile world-renowned ‘smell designer’ Sissel Tolaas, born in Norway and currently based in Berlin, has curated scents of Melbourne in Smellscape Melbourne_Pastpresentpast, displayed around four walls and encouraging visitors to re-examine and match the different smells.

Another highlight is from art collective teamLab, founded by Toshiyuki Inoko in 2001, which has created Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement, an immersive installation inspired by the union of digital and natural. When a person moves within the space, the movement is expressed in digital particles creating a vortex. If a person is still, or the space is empty, no visual vortex is stimulated.

There’s something for everyone, art-lover or otherwise, in this exhibition – and it certainly commands repeat visits this summer.

Triennial is free and runs to 15 April 2018.

Words Lachean Humphreys
Tom Fereday accepts his award, presented at Melbourne's Mercedes me store.

Designing the future

Sydney furniture designer Tom Fereday has won the third annual Mercedes-Benz Design Award, which was presented at Melbourne’s Mercedes me store in conjunction with Broadsheet.

Of the four finalists shortlisted, Fereday’s ‘Sia’ chair was decided by a panel of judges to have most closely matched the brief: to enhance the dining space.

The judges included Mercedes-Benz Australia-Pacific senior manager of product management and strategy, André Dutkowski, Richard Munao of Cult Design, interior architect George Livissianis, industrial designer Adam Goodrum, and Broadsheet managing director and publisher Nick Shelton.

Fereday’s Sia Chair trumped three other finalists – the Hu Chair of Dan Layden, the Sola Table of Rene Linssen and the Bamboo Flatware of John Grant.

Fereday wins a trip to visit the architecturally significant Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. His chair will also be prototyped, manufactured and sold in Australia by Cult Design, and purchased for use by the Mercedes me store. Fereday also receives mentorship for the next 12 months from the highly experienced panel of judges.

The Sia Chair, made from solid ash timber, mixes slender elegance with the practicality of an adjustable backrest, which adds lasting comfort.

“I had always wanted to make a slim dining chair that didn’t take away from the comfort or luxury of dining,” Fereday said after winning the award.

“That was the reason for developing the Sia chair, the idea being that anyone could sit on it, even in a small space and no matter where you lived, and you would be comfortable.”

The name Sia directly references the adjustable backrest, with Fereday explaining that one of the original meanings of the word is ‘movement’.

The son of an antiques dealer and a ceramicist, Fereday grew up surrounded by beautiful antique furniture that became the inspiration for his own designs. “For myself, personally, it’s really nice when you can have an association with one product that you really cherish,” he says. “If you have one good thing in your life, one product that you own, that has a high value to you because you own it for a long period of time, then that’s really invaluable.”

Dutkowski told a bumper crowd assembled for the award announcement that Mercedes-Benz has always valued design through three key pillars – innovation, sustainability and quality.

“This year we had a record number of quality entries. It really impressed upon us the high number of talented designers here in Australia,” he said.

Fellow judge Richard Munao, a leading figure in the Australian design community, paid tribute to both Mercedes-Benz and the high quality of competition entries submitted in 2017.

“When you look at what Mercedes Benz is doing in Australia, not only are you investing in our country, you are investing in our design, and I think that is something that is unique and is one of the reasons [Cult Design] wanted to be associated with the award,” he told the gathering.

“When you look at the entries, from a mentor’s perspective, I think it’s safe to say that Australian design is in good hands.”

Words Lucy Siebert
Herbert Lotz, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu House, Exterior, 2007. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. © Georgia O

Exploring Georgia O’Keeffe country in New Mexico

Making modernism, the largest Georgia O’Keeffe collection to come to Australia, was an inspired exhibition that showcased the trailblazing work of the American painter and two Australian kindred artists: Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith. It toured Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of NSW during the last year. 

For those who came away with a fascination for O’Keeffe’s minimalist desert landscapes, stark animal skulls and bold flower abstractions, there are plenty of opportunities for a full immersion in the world of her adopted home in New Mexico.

With high mesas of red rock and its cottonwood-dotted valleys, its enduring Native American pueblo culture and its mud-brick adobe architecture, New Mexico has an otherworldly character that first lured O’Keeffe from New York in the late 1920s. She eventually moved there permanently in 1949.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Road to Pedernal, 1941. Oil on canvas. 6 1/8 x 10 (15.55 x 25.4). Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation [2006.05.170]. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Start your explorations at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, which is home to nearly 150 of her oil paintings and 700 sketches as well as important pastels, watercolours and charcoals. The collections also include many personal possessions, including her art materials and remarkable modernist black and white photographs taken by her husband, the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz.

As you wander through the museum, you’ll discover how she discarded her traditional art training to create her own elegant abstraction of structure, design and colour, which became ever more daring as she embraced the New Mexican light and landscape. There is even a webcam that showcases the carefully preserved garden she loved so much at her home in Abiquiu.

Nothing, however, beats seeing where she lived and worked and the landscapes that inspired her art. The museum owns and preserves O’Keeffe’s two homes at Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch in the Chama River Valley, about an hour’s drive north of Sante Fe.

The modernist Abiquiu home and studio tour provides fascinating insights into the environment where she lived, gardened and painted dozens of canvases. You’ll discover the large wooden door through the patio wall that was a favourite subject and you’ll also see how she converted a stable and buggy house at the edge of the mesa into her studio and bedroom with plate-glass windows offering panoramic views of the Chama River Valley, which she painted in all different lights and seasons.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, 1938. Oil on canvas. 20 x 30 (50.8 x 76.2). Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation [2007.01.024]. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

O’Keeffe’s second home at Ghost Ranch, which is now a Presbyterian church retreat, is not open to the public but you can take a guided bus tour around the ranch to see some of the landscapes – such as her favourite flat-topped Cerro Pedernal mesa –immortalised in her paintings. Several times a year, Georgia O’Keeffe plein-air painting workshops are also held at Ghost Ranch.

You can stay the night either at the charming adobe Abiquiu Inn with its delightful restaurant and gift shop, or in more basic accommodations at the Ghost Ranch. Book early as they both sell out fast. 

When you return to Sante Fe, book “O’Keeffe’s Table” at Eloisa restaurant in the Drury Lane Hotel. Award-winning chef John Rivera Sedlar’s New Mexican tasting menu is inspired by the dishes his great aunt used to cook for O’Keeffe when she was her personal chef.

Do your own stomping and you’ll discover New Mexico’s magic for yourself. And while in New Mexico, make time to also discover the Native American pueblo culture that so fascinated O’Keeffe. Visit the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Sante Fe and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Many of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos, such as Acoma, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, and Zuni still create distinctive and breathtakingly beautiful pottery, which can be purchased on site or at commercial galleries in Sante Fe or Taos. Santa Domingo and Taos pueblos, among others, are also renowned for their fine jewellery.

Words Susan Gough Henly

Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s hippest art district

Industrial buildings, grungy streets, concrete overpasses – Wong Chuk Hang is a most unlikely setting for Hong Kong’s up-and-coming art scene.

Two years ago, the run-down district on the south of Hong Kong Island was a collection of fading industrial buildings as manufacturers had moved to mainland China. But expansive open-plan floors with views of Aberdeen Harbour, handy industrial-size lifts and competitive rents (in what is, after all, one of the most expensive cities in the world) attracted a handful of visionary gallery owners to the area.

It’s definitely a hip and happening place with cafés, fashion outlets, artist studios and hotels springing up, but finding these gems isn’t always easy.

A new MTR train station opened last year so I travel to Wong Chuk Hang – armed with a map – in just over seven minutes from Admiralty. Outside the train station I’m greeted by lines of tall grey concrete blocks.

The first gallery I visit is Art Statements, run by Dominique Perregaux, one of the pioneers who spotted the potential in this concrete jungle.

“In 2015 there were five galleries,” says Perregaux, who is also chairman of South Island Cultural District, an arts collective that represents the area. “Today there are 23 galleries.”

He’s breaking down the stuffy image of galleries by exhibiting the likes of iconic Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano’s futuristic paintings beside ancient Buddhist stone sculptures.

A short walk away, the sleek Blindspot Gallery focuses on bringing photographers out of the shadows. If you like Japanese and street artists, try Aishonanzuka gallery. And De Sarthe, a groovy place with interactive exhibits (including a karaoke machine), is definitely fun.

As well as quirky cafés, fashion brands such as Armani and Joyce have opened stores, Lane Crawford runs an eclectic homewares studio, and Young Master brews craft beers there.

After a day of exploring this concrete jungle, watch the sun go down at the Above rooftop bar on the 23rd floor of the Ovolo Southside hotel where the bartender shakes a mean cocktail. Manager Quinton Lai tells me it’s a favourite staycation spot for Hong Kongers – and it’s not hard to see why.

Words Mary O’Brien

Cultural concept: Mercedes me Melbourne

Imagine, if you will, a destination hub so inspiring it is poised to revitalise one of the most rapidly developing, yet underrated precincts in Melbourne. Perched on the corner of one of the city’s busiest intersections, at the foot of the soaring Rialto Towers, and spread across two glittering levels of architectural splendour, it is a place where you can enjoy your favourite morning brew, connect with colleagues, revel in the latest in prestige automobile design and meet some of Melbourne’s leading craftspeople.

This is the home of Mercedes me Melbourne. Marrying aspirational lifestyle with innovative café culture, the bespoke venue – the latest of only seven Mercedes me lifestyle concept spaces in the world – is designed to create midtown magic at the intersection of King and Collins streets.

While each Mercedes me store is characterised by a few common aesthetics, they are ultimately designed to reflect the specific tastes and passions of the host city’s culture.

“We want to be a place that people love, and look forward to coming back to,” says Mercedes me general manager, Simon Johnson. “Whether that is just coming in and enjoying that atmosphere, or the great hospitality, or finding out more about the Mercedes-Benz brand.

“The Mercedes me stores around the world are about celebrating each city’s particular culture. Of course, in Melbourne we knew that had to be the city’s famed café culture, and the streetscape itself.

“As well as being a place for fans and customers to enjoy, Mercedes me Melbourne opens up the Mercedes-Benz brand to people who may not have previously considered it. It’s not a merchandise store nor a retail outlet, but an access point to the brand, in what is an entirely new approach in Australia,” Johnson adds.

The concept – designed by architects Jackson Clements Burrows (JCB) with Mercedes-Benz, in collaboration with hospitality partner St Ali – is a collision of art, design, performance, innovation, sport and hospitality.

The experiential space is designed by the question, “what would an aspirational home for a Mercedes-Benz owner look like?”. The result is an intimate environment embracing urban living. For this, the architects drew on inspiration from the extensive Mercedes-Benz archival library.

“We were trying to develop a language which we felt would be reflective of the home for Mercedes-Benz,” JCB’s Simon Topliss says. “We found these wonderful images of some of the Mercedes-Benz factories of the ’50s, and these beautiful factory spaces with amazing, fine steelwork. It was spare and minimal … and incredibly ordered.

Mercedes-Benz factories from the past inspired the use of steelwork throughout Mercedes me Melbourne.

“It became our inspiration, the driving force behind how we can develop the language of the metalwork, and that became simply articulated in this one gesture that we have repeated, which is the frame. Just taking this one simple idea of the frame, which then becomes the balustrade, which then becomes the lighting frame, and so on. It became this one element we could wrap around the space.”

The materials palette of steelwork, tiles, polished concrete and timber is spare and luxurious – in keeping with the global Mercedes me store aesthetic. But it also speaks to the character of the city, and allows the one simple element to define the architectural vision: the steelwork.

Flexible, innovative space

The design showcases a collection of private and public zones where every space tells a story. Interspersed throughout are nooks and crannies in which to retreat, and public-facing areas that engage with the streetscape.

The Lounge, on the upper level, is a beautiful space to catch up on reading or for quiet discussions.

On the ground level, the Living Room is modelled on a luxurious residence, complete with kitchen and comfortable seating. Wrapped around it is the open-air Garden, linking street and venue. The double-sided kitchen, which has a bar servery in front and a chef’s table on the side, is on display as a showcase of St Ali’s renowned coffee and food offerings. “A whole hospitality operation is going on live,” Topliss says. “We didn’t want to hide the kitchen away; we wanted it to be part of the experience.”

The car, naturally, is the centrepiece of the experience. Driven from the back through the Garage, it is framed against a wall of display screens. Although constantly changing, it resides as an object centre-stage; at once part of the “home” but also its undisputed star.

As night falls, the venue transforms into a flexible event space through the use of a simple device – the Veil, a curtain that wraps around the inner-frame. This lends softness to the industrial edges and a flexibility to the environment.

Meanwhile, private booths along the edge of the sculpted stairs lead the way upstairs, where an espresso bar accessible from the Rialto atrium is ideally placed for a grab-and-go coffee. On the floating loft, the Library is an open collaborative space; next to it, on the plinth, private discussions can be held behind the closed doors of the Drawing Room.

The three booths represent land sea and air and give customers an elevated view of the space. 

This level's highlight is the Meet the Maker space, showcasing the work of the city's creatives. “It’s designed so someone like a milliner or a bootmaker can show their wares and creative process, and it gives customers an opportunity to get an insight into the craftsmanship and artistry in Melbourne,” Topliss says.

Technology has, of course, been carefully considered and plays a starring, yet discreet, role. Dotted throughout are state-of-the-art multimedia touchpoints: jewellery-like display boxes, giant projection screens and theatre-style lighting.

Mercedes me Melbourne is now open.

Words by Miranda Tay

MONA. Photo by Rob Burnett.

The Museum of Everything meets MONA

The museum that refuses to be defined meets the art that can't be. 

Descending into Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in a glass-sided elevator, you have the sense of sinking into the lair of a supervillain, hidden beneath the earth. But then, it’s obvious there’s something different about this museum from the second you step foot on the camo-print MONA Roma ferry at Brooke Street Pier, where crew in custom Dickies boiler suits attend to passengers sitting sidesaddle on plastic sheep. 

If there is a Machiavellian mind behind MONA, it belongs to David Walsh, the Hobart-born millionaire who transformed his personal art collection into one of Australia’s biggest cultural institutions. 

Senior Research Curator Jane Clark has been with MONA since before earth was broken on the site, when the museum was still a collection of David’s antiquities on display at the Moorilla Estate winery. “David quips ‘Nobody came, so we thought we’d build a bigger one’,” Jane says. “At that time, none of us really knew what was going to happen, whether it would work.” Fast forward six years, and it's hard to imagine the city of Hobart without MONA. 

MONA has become notorious for its unconventional approach to art – exhibiting a mechanical “poop machine” or a wall of casts of women’s nether regions alongside Egyptian sarcophagi and cuneiform tablets. Now, it is acting as the first Australian port for one of the art world’s most head-scratching major exhibitions, The Museum of Everything. Curated by James Brett, the roaming collection brings together “untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.” 

The Museum of Everything is the result of James’ relentless hunt through garages, estate sales, art auctions, eBay and even mental-health workshops, collecting around 2000 pieces linked only by their position on the peripheries of mainstream art. The term “outsider art” is used with reticence, failing to do justice to the scope of the exhibition. 

“James doesn’t want to use the label ‘outsider’ because it seems to categorise all these things as one thing, when really they’re many things,” Jane says. “In many cases, the minute they’re discovered there’s actually a market for some of this stuff, and people love it, and it’s not ‘outside’ at all.” 

To encompass the enormous collection, the bottom floor of the MONA has been transformed into a creaking, labyrinthine series of smaller rooms. Obsession and compulsion run like threads throughout the exhibition, from the religious rantings of self-described prophets to fantastical collections shaped out of scavenged materials. Trauma too makes an appearance, such as Henry Darger’s nightmarish renderings of childhood abuse or Joseph Karl Rädler’s surprisingly serene portraits of fellow inmates at an Austrian sanatorium. Anyone looking for easy categories is going to be left frustrated. 

“It leads to this big picture thing; what do we mean when we say art?” Jane says “Which of course, is one of MONA’s big interests, and is probably one of the reasons David was interested in pursuing the show in the first place.” The Museum of Everything and MONA share a fascination with the whole spectrum of human creativity, and the many glorious and mad ways it bubbles to the surface. 

Words Krysia Bonkowski

The Museum of Everything is showing at the Museum of Old and New Art until 2 April 2018. 

This year, all you’ll read about is “hygge”

The design direction of 2017 is all about living well and simply. Hygge, the Danish philosophy for wellbeing, is a big design trend this year: an emphasis on cosiness and conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment. Everything about it is all-embracing, down to the word itself (pronounced “hoo-gur”) and its derivative connotations of the “hug”.

Nordic design’s clean-lined aesthetic and joyous play on light is an ideal platform for cosiness and reflection. Its signature minimalist interiors forgo all unnecessary items in favour of essentials that work in harmony to create intimate environments. A Stokke baby cradle, a Great Dane Furniture dining table, or a Danske Mobler chair are all the statement makers that are needed to complete a space and enhance the occupant’s state of wellbeing.

“It is often said that the Danes are the happiest people in the world,” says Jo Mawhinney, Australian national retail manager of Living Edge, which carries iconic Scandinavian designs. “In Copenhagen, there is a Happiness Research Institute. Meik Wiking is the CEO, who wrote the gorgeous book called The Little Book of Hygge, the Danish way to love well.”

“By living mindfully, you become more aware of your surroundings,” says interior designer Cushia McFadden, of TomMarkHenry in New South Wales. “Being present in your life, making conscious decisions to surround yourself with what makes you happy results in a more fulfilled existence.”

This state of mindfulness cherishes even the simplest task, making it meaningful and joyful. At its heart, hygge is bourgeois, encapsulating contemporary aspirations of the middle class for simple sophistication, the artisanal and rustic, while celebrating its luxurious elements. “Whether it’s a five-minute meditation on our own in a calm and quiet space, or a coffee with a friend in your favourite café, it’s about taking time to do what makes you happy,” says McFadden.

“A state of wellness can be achieved through lifestyle by surrounding yourself with positive and friendly people,” says Mawhinney. “If we are able to enjoy a living room, lobby, even an airline lounge, with a glass of wine, it is a beautiful, mood-boosting moment.”

Design is crucial for this. It cleverly resolves the space so the user can relax almost effortlessly.

“Design for the home is very personal. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another,” says Mawhinney. “That’s the interesting part – why we create such unique spaces for ourselves and for each other.”

Above all, hygge is a winter philosophy – when woollen throws, comfy chairs, flickering tealights, yoga meditation, and warm embers in the fireplace recall our need for shelter and gathering with friends.

“More and more, people are turning to design for an experience or opportunity,” says McFadden. “A lot of people are now specifically looking to incorporate spaces in their homes where they can ‘switch off’: a reading nook or a living room with no TV.

“On the other hand, a social setting encourages connecting with people. Large communal tables, round banquette seating … these encourage conversation and getting closer to those around you, which is vital to do when so many of us are attached to a phone or computer all day.”

Words Miranda Tay

Danish design in focus

Innovation, minimalism and functionalism are key elements, for sure, but equally important is a strong aesthetic appeal born of exquisite craftsmanship and high-quality materials.

To start out, it’s well worth visiting Copenhagen’s impressive Danish Design Museum to see how Danish designers have streamlined even the most prosaic household objects – from pedal bins and light switches to cutlery and vacuum cleaners – and how sleek chairs and tables were created for multi-purpose living spaces.

There are guided tours in English on Sundays, and the museum shop not only has a wide selection of ceramics, glass, textiles, fashion, toys and posters but also great design books.

Iconic chairs on display at the Danish Design Museum.

Normann Copenhagen

Possibly the coolest design store in Copenhagen got even more exciting with the opening of its completely reimagined showroom in a former movie theatre in Osterbro. Brushed steel, mirror glass, terrazzo and bold colours are juxtaposed with the original stucco ceiling and tall marbled beams, all the better to show off their original, eye-catching products that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary through innovative design.

The collection consists of a wide and ever growing range of versatile furniture, sculptural lighting, stunning textiles and clever home accessories that challenge conventional thinking. Among the most famous are Ole Jensen’s rubber washing-up bowl, a vase created from silicon and a dog made out of plastic.

Illums Bolighus

This is Copenhagen’s exquisite department store for Danish and international design. Started in the 1920s, Illums Bolighus pioneered the concept of showcasing furnished interiors where textiles, furniture and homewares interacted as art. To this day, its display windows on Stroget show the latest design trends alongside much-loved classics.

The flagship store is a temple of design offering an impeccable sense of style across numerous floors. There is handcrafted wooden furniture, iconic leather chairs, innovative lighting, bathroom and kitchen treatments, porcelain, silver, glassware and even the best curated Danish fashion labels. In particular, it houses the sleek furniture designs of Hans Wegner and Frits Henningsen at Carl Hansen and Son and Arne Jacobsen’s iconic egg, swan and drop chairs at Fritz Hansen.

Arne Jacobsen chairs on display at Illums Bolighus.


At the heart of everything that HAY does is the notion that contemporary design should spring from a good idea, innovative technology and quality materials in combination with joyful, straightforward and uncomplicated aesthetics.

Founded in 2002, HAY works with a range of designers to create its own brand of beautiful, durable, quality furniture and homewares at affordable prices. The aesthetic honours the quality, craftsmanship and functionalism of Danish modern while also exploring new technologies and materials as design solutions for contemporary needs.

In addition to furnishings and rugs, their second-floor flagship shop on Stroget has a whimsical selection of accessories including bottle openers, serving trays, toothbrushes, tote bags, travel accessories, vases, clocks, pillows and stationery that make terrific gifts.

Designer Zoo

Designer Zoo offers a more artistic approach to interior design and for many years the store has hosted the graduate exhibition of the Danish Design School and ceramics department, as well as half a dozen exhibitions annually that highlight the latest developments in Danish design.

Spread over two floors in Vesterbro, the design store and gallery exhibits the handcrafted work of Designer Zoo’s own seven designers (who work in furniture, glass, ceramics, jewellery and more) as well as numerous guest designers. The staff members are designers – and can offer knowledgeable advice – and it’s also possible to visit some of the workshops where the products are made.

The owner, Karsten Lauritsen, is famous for his customisable bean-shaped tables.

Words Susan Gough Henly

WA’s Lake Ballard and Gormley’s statues

The sparse outback landscape of Western Australia may feel like an unlikely place for a major art installation. But visitors braving a bush driving adventure hundreds of kilometres from the nearest capital city are rewarded with one of Australia's most fascinating installations, as Sir Antony Gormley created what some consider the greatest art installation anywhere in the world on Lake Ballard in outback Western Australia.

Fifty one steel sculptures are spread across 10 sq km of desert, which is variously sun-cracked red earth or shimmering white salt plain, or even shallow water depending on the season.

There are no interpretive panels or signs of any sort at the artist’s insistence, just footprints connecting each piece across the vastness and in doing so becoming part of the artwork.

Titled Inside Australia, the installation is about 800km from Perth, itself one of the world’s most isolated capital cities. It’s 50km from the nearest town, Menzies (population about 60) with access via a corrugated red-dirt road.

Each piece was cast in Perth and trucked to the site; temperatures at the time of their installation sometimes soared above 40 degrees and its very existence in this remote place is testimony to the artist’s tenacity in realising his audacious vision.

The artwork was created for the 50th anniversary of the Festival of Perth in 2003 and is the reason then festival director Sean Doran described it as his most challenging event ever.

Each sculpture is based on a Menzies local, many of them Indigenous people of the area, whom had their bodies scanned in the town hall.

Alana was one of them. She recalls they thought it a very strange request that they strip naked to have their entire bodies imaged, so no one turned up initially.

They eventually relented and she can tell her sculpture because of the pronounced sway in its back; she was five months pregnant with her son at the time. He is now 14. Many of the nearby sculptures are of her family.

“I feel overwhelmed and proud – he’s [my son’s] out there with me but not really out there with me. We are going to be there for a long time,” she says.

Commentators say Gormley’s body of work questions where humans stand in relation to nature and the universe. Alana says the art also makes a strong statement about the connection for traditional owners to the land, particularly women, since Lake Ballard is an important part of their dreaming.

Their story of the seven sisters tells of seven stars (the Greeks called them Pleiades) who, on one of their adventures across the night sky, descended to play on the lake’s surface. They hid in the caves when a man chased them, reappearing on the land as the seven islands across the salt lake.

It is usually very still and intensely quiet on Lake Ballard, enhancing the deep spiritual connection some visitors describe feeling for the piece.

Words and image Kerry Faulkner