Digging deep into this most universal of human experiences, LOVE at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum includes a wealth of objects from the Museum Victoria collection, as well as artworks and oral histories collected from the community.

As curator Isabel Smith says, the exhibition aims to “underscore our shared humanity.”

“We’ve put together a really diverse range of people,” she says. “Even if the contexts are different, the emotional experiences can be the same.”

Clustered within specially-constructed intimate spaces, the exhibition’s stories and objects are linked by themes such as grief, romance, desire and devotion. The interpretation of ‘love’ is also broad, encompassing the relationships of family and friendship, as well as romance across cultures and orientations. The 19th-century friendship between Wurundjeri elder William Barak and a Scottish settler woman, for example, is illuminated alongside the glittery, theatrical relationship of performance duo The Huxleys.

Objects from the collection include intricate bead works from South Africa, traditionally designed and woven by young women with coded messages for their love interest. At the other end of the emotional spectrum is a set of garments from Oro Province in Papua New Guinea, which comprises a mourning vest and heavy mourning cap with strings that shield the face: Smith describes this as “speaking to the weight and isolation of grief.”

John Perceval and Mary Boyd c. 1944 by Albert Tucker.

In partnership with the Heide Museum of Modern Art, LOVE also draws on the stories of Heide’s original bohemian artistic community. Established in the 30s by John and Sunday Reed, Heide was a haven for artists such as Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker; in this exhibition, the artists’ own works provide an entryway into their network of complex relationships.

Melbourne Immigration Museum
1 December 2018 – 28 April

This article was originally published in our January/February 2019 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Anna Dunnill