By the time the pandemic ends in 2019, the gallery of street art in Melbourne’s CBD will be empty.
The building has been abandoned since it was built in the 1980s, but its colourful and abstract artwork, designed to inspire confidence in new technology, is one of the city’s most enduring and important cultural assets.
Its colourful murals are still on display.
But this is no ordinary gallery.
It was the first gallery to be built in Australia in the 1960s, the same year the country was being invaded by the communists.
It became a symbol of resistance to war, the first refuge for refugees, and the first place where people were able to hold protests against apartheid.
“The exhibition space in the early 70s was very different to the space we have today, which was more of a public square,” says Sydney street artist and writer Alex Lantos.
“There was a sense of community there and a sense that there was something for everyone,” he says.
“It was a space for people to be creative and for people in the community to have an impact.”
But while the gallery has seen a lot of change since its founding, the legacy of the original artworks is still evident today.
“I’m still surprised by how many people are still here and still passionate about street art,” says Lanto.
“Even when it was abandoned, there was still this energy in the neighbourhood, and a lot was going on in the arts community at the time.”
It’s the legacy that Lantes hopes to preserve in the future.
“If I could preserve my work here in the same way as I would keep my art in the UK or the US, I would do that,” he explains.
“A lot of people who are working today and who were here at the beginning of this project, they wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t come up with these ideas.”
The gallery’s new owner, John Gough, says he is proud of the work he’s created in the space.
“We’ve been in the art business for 50 years and I’m really proud of what I’ve created over the years,” he tells the ABC.
“When you have a vision and you work for that vision, you create an amazing work of art.”
But Gough admits it will be a while before he can see the original murals in their entirety.
“To see the artwork in the gallery, it will take time.
It will take a couple of years to bring it to life,” he said.”
That’s why I’m doing it as an exhibition, to have a look at what’s there and to see what’s happening with the artwork.”
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