Water wall NGV - Melbourne Now - Australia - Contemporary Art Festival - CBD - Melbourne - Untapped Cities - © Hannah DukeThe inside of the water wall at the NGV, © Hannah Duke

Melbourne Now didn’t open with a bang, but with 25 compressed and paint-filled fire extinguishers. In a gesture reminiscent of smashing a champagne bottle on the side of a boat, Ash Keating, in his fluorescent yellow get-up (complete with flat cap), splattered paint all over the north wall of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). Melbourne Now is the “largest and most ambitious exhibition in the NGV’s 152 year history,” according to the National Gallery. One look at the figures supports this statement: over 250 commissioned, loaned or acquired works and installations will be part of the contemporary art initiative, by 130 artists and 30 curators. It will take place over four months in Melbourne, Australia.

The nature of exhibits ranges from contemporary art and installations, to live performance, dance, architecture, music and biotechnology. According to The Age, attendance to Melbourne Now topped 100 000 people in the first two weeks, and the event will be held at the NGV’s two galleries as well as numerous locations around the Melbourne city centre. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art is involved, along with other smaller galleries and studio spaces.

Hosier Lane - Melbourne Now - Melbourne Contemporary Art architecture festival - Untapped Cities - © Hannah DukeArt in Hosier Lane © Hannah Duke for Untapped Cities

Despite the takeover, it can still be easy to avoid the goings-on of Melbourne Now if you’re not in the right parts of the city. Our first encounter was on a casual stroll past Hosier Lane. Always filled with snap-happy tourists (and a few locals), the laneway – one of the most well-know in Melbourne – is famous for its street art. Hosier Lane has been repainted completely as part of Allyourwalls. This is first time it has been wiped clean and painted over since it was taken over by street artists in the 90s (read more in the Herald Sun).

While the selection of events for Melbourne Now is somewhat overwhelming, some of the highlights are at the St Kilda Road and Federation Square galleries. At St Kilda Road you’ll find the Community Hall – a colourfully geometric creation hidden within the brutal stone walls of the gallery’s facade, directly behind the delightful water wall at the entrance.

Created by Melbourne architecture firm McBride Charles Ryan, Community Hall was designed with Melbourne’s multiculturalism in mind. “Silhouettes of a stylised skyline – a mosque’s dome, a church spire, a sawtooth factory roof – suggest the city’s community halls and gathering places,” describes Ray Edgar of the Sydney Morning Herald. “But what adds magic is that the arc of prismatic perspex colours resembles the refraction caused by the water wall itself.” Community Hall will house the majority of installations and events – 600 to be precise.

Another highlight was the arrival of Patricia Piccinini’s famous The Skywhale. It’s contemporary art at its most grandiose and playful. When The Skywhale was originally commissioned for the Canberra centenary, the Canberra Times explained Piccinini’s intentions. “Piccinini… defended the balloon’s relation to the capital, stating that while it was ‘not actually a work to celebrate Canberra’, the piece and the city were both artificial creations depicting something natural.”

“Canberra is an artificial planned city that’s been blended into a natural environment,” Piccinini explained. Be sure to take a peak at Broadsheet’s fantastic gallery depicting the arrival of The Skywhale in Melbourne.

If a six-breasted, flying whale wasn’t enough, Piccinini also created The Carrier – a frighteningly life-like statue of a neanderthal man carrying an elderly woman.

The Guardian has a great gallery round-up of some of their favourite works – take a look and add some to your to-do list. Untapped readers fond of old disused spaces will love Jane Brown’s Not Before Time, a photographic installation exploring places like decommissioned libraries and doomed buildings.

As Melbourne-based publication Broadsheet mused upon the announcement of Melbourne Now, the scope is as ambitious as it is questionable. “Such a purportedly all-encompassing exhibition will, of course, raise its share of eyebrows and ire amid the visual art community. Indeed, if you’re not deemed part of Melbourne Now, then where the hell are you?”

Read more about the laneways in Sydney, another urban art intervention on the streets of Australia. Get int touch with the author @dukeofhannah