27 February 2016

Justin Art House Museum: modern art, private collection in Melbourne

Melbourne architect Charles Justin and wife Leah have been avid collectors of edgy, contemp­orary art and for the past 40 years they have collected a large body of work which was unveiled at the Glen Eira City Gallery in 2014. This Glen Eira exhibition was set up to provide an insight into the family’s broad collection-theme: perceptions of space in contemporary practice, geometric abstraction, architectural and fractal patterning, urban spaces and the virtual.

As described in an interview with Gina Fairley in ArtsHub, the family now want to extend that passion by sharing their 250+ art objects with the public. Opening an art-focused home to the public is not new to Europe or America. Think of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Frick Collection in New York, Sir John Soane Museum in London and the Sammlung Hoffmannn House Museum in Berlin.

In Australia we certainly have witnessed the slow rise of the private museum in Australia, galleries such as the White Rabbit Gallery and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney, TarraWarra and Heide Museums of Modern Art in Victoria, and now the famous Museum of New and Old Art in Hobart. But a new kind of private museum is developing here, situated in a private home and crossing the boundaries between house and museum.

The idea was inspired by the Lyon Housemuseum in Cotham Rd Kew. In 2000 Corbett Lyon and Yueji Lyon built on their interest in contemporary art and architecture, and developed the concept of a house museum to accommodate their family and their art. The family living areas flow around the museum spaces and accommodate further artworks, architectural drawings and artefacts, intermixed with the domestic settings of the house. The Lyon Housemuseum challenges conventional perceptions of public and private, and explores new relationships between art and architecture.

The Justins have recently completed building their new home which will also feature a major new private gallery to show off the work as well as providing a space for exhibitions. Located in Lumley Court Prahran, Justin Art House Museum has been designed by their architect daughter, and stands out for its striking zinc façade. This 3 level building, with a dedicated gallery space at first floor level and residence at second floor level, has abstract geometric lines that echo the works in the Justin Collection.​ While the scale ​of JAHM is equivalent to a commercial gallery, the structure is quite different because it includes living spaces.

JAHM in Prahran
striking zinc façade (above)
gallery space first floor (below)

Unlike commercial and public galleries, the private museum reflects the persona of the collector. Visitors to JAHM can see the exhibition (changing quarterly) AND the residential part of the building, to ask how this family collects and lives with their art. After each tour, the owners will invite people to join them for morning or afternoon tea; by engaging with the owners directly, it will be an intimate way of sharing a family collection with a wider public.

Some of the artists held in the Justin collection include: Richard Blackwell, Stephen Bram, Don Deieso, Gina Jones, Melinda Harper, Anne Mestitz, Justin Andrews. The opening exhibition in March 2016 will be guest curated by Rachel Kohn, ABC presenter and producer of The Spirit of Things. This exhibition will explore the notion of the Divine in today’s secular, post enlightenment world and raise questions of whether art can be a meaningful alternative to religion to contribute meaning and spirituality in all our lives.

The house museum  opens for bookings on 1st March 2016 via the JAHM website and will conduct the first tours on 3rd April. It will operate as a non profit organisation, and the costs will be defrayed by an admission fee. Each exhibition will be augmented by a public program of talks, panels and performances, conducted in conjunction with educational institutions.

InsideArt’s Michel Lawrence was commissioned to produce a half hour documentary on the collection to coincide with the opening of the new gallery. You can see the trailer for Perceptions of Space: the Justin Collection at Miro Films.


Andrew said...

The building is very striking. I don't know the street. Ok, the upmarket part of Prahran. Good spot, near a park.

Joseph said...

Lyon housemuseum is amazing. Hope JAHM is just as successful.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Some of the most interesting lectures I have attended at art museums have been by the private owners of important collections, telling about their interests, strategies, etc. The Justins' plan seems particularly appealing because you can form questions while viewing the collection, then have a discussion with the collectors while the pieces are still fresh in your mind.

Hels said...


Chapel St and surrounding areas have always seen as having trendy fashion shops, bohemian citizens, art house cinema and inner city cool. So the new housemuseum will need to draw on these qualities ... plus an interest in modern art and architecture.

Hels said...


I had not heard of the Lyon housemuseum before reading the ArtsHub interview. What appeals to be most is that it explores new relationships between art and architecture.

Hels said...


I think the biggest risk is that Australians have little experience with private, non-government galleries and no experience of investigating art in family homes. So the idea of sharing discussions with the family over afternoon tea makes the visit both more intimate and more focused.