Private art made public

Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne
Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne

Contemporary art is intriguing partly because it is often impossible to define, crossing boundaries and mixing mediums to create ever-changing hybrids. The works themselves are increasingly reliant on digital technology and seem to be growing exponentially in size. It is one thing to admire this new art in a public place and quite another to experience it within a home.

Before leaving Melbourne, I was fortunate to have visited the Lyon Housemuseum, at once a private house and a private art museum.


The Lyon Housemuseum is modern, light-filled, and spacious, serving equally well as a family home and a repository for the Lyon collection of contemporary Australian art. It opens its doors to the public on designated visiting days when the lady of the house, Mrs. Yueji Lyon, graciously offers a glimpse into what it is like to live intimately with some monumental and complex artworks by artists such as Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinini, Kathy Temin and Linda Marrinon (whose work I saw at the National Gallery of Victoria the previous week).

Looking down into the white cube from the second floor
Looking down into the white cube from the second floor

Corbett Lyon’s vision integrates the art seamlessly with the architecture, making the most disconcerting works appear quite mundane as if, for example, there was nothing unusual about making sandwiches at the kitchen’s expansive marble counter while artist Piccinini’s streamlined, oversized pink and blue baby trucks squat a few meters away watching a bank of video screens in which teenage girls talk about the rules of the road in a foreign language.

Patricia Piccinini's (Tender) Creatures courtesy Artium Musuem, Spain
Patricia Piccinini’s (Tender) Creatures courtesy Artium Museum, Spain

The immense black cube at the other end of the house is for viewing videos projected to a height of 20 feet or more. The space also transforms into the family’s party room or private media center. I was particularly tickled by several series of works cleverly hidden behind wooden walls that revealed their treasures when swung open with the slightest touch of a hand. So elegant!


It was a treat to see the way in which contemporary art can make itself right at home when given the correct environment.

Howard Arkley's interior panels line the dining room walls
Howard Arkley’s panels line the dining room walls, expanding the space further into a fictionalized interior

Throughout the house, the family’s own written histories and stories were subtly engraved in text art covering much of the ceiling, reminding visitors that at the end of the day, this was an intensely private collection. Both inside and out, the art made its presence felt – sometimes quietly and sometimes violently. I think it is both noble and generous to share with the public a private collection that has been acquired with such an obvious love for the art of the here and now.


Images courtesy of the Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne, Australia.