OPEN HOUSE: A NEW ERA
OPEN HOUSE: A NEW ERA
This exhibition-house of visual art and design is perhaps better known as The Johnston Collection. Mind you, one would be forgiven for walking right past Fairhall with no clue about the 18th century English Georgian, Regency and Louis XV antique treasure trove curated from ceiling to floor inside. The period home offers one of Melbourne’s most sumptuous, even hidden, art and design experiences. Even the precise location of Fairhall is kept secret, accessible only to the public via a hop-on-hop-off minibus. A rather charming way to commence your bespoke museum experience.
For the first time since The Johnston Collection opened in 1990, the museum is now welcoming guests on the weekend. Grande. These extended visiting hours mark the fulfillment of Mr. William Johnston’s vision to have his four-decade collection of objets d’art “open for public inspection” on Saturday and Sunday. With leisure time on your side, you can take a few extra moments to indulge those English aristocratic fantasies. Why not?
“Opening on weekends will usher in a whole new era for the museum. It will be a real shift in how we operate and how and who can come to see the collection. It will mark a very exciting new chapter for us and for Melbourne,” says Louis Le Vaillant, Director and Curator of The Johnston Collection. “We will be better able to reflect the city’s character and play a greater part in its creative community.”
“Johnston dreamt that on weekends visitors would be able to knock on the front door of his house and be welcomed into the wonderful world of his collection that he had assembled over the last four decades of his life,” Le Vaillant adds.
On the ground floor you will venture through the Blue Room, which at one time was used as Johnston’s bedroom, now inspired by anecdotal accounts of a Blue Room in Johnston’s Greenwich house. On this level you also move through the White Room fit for a wedding ceremony, history’s quaintest Kitchen, and then onto the decadent Dining Room, also known as The Green Drawing Room, where the atmosphere invites you to help yourself to a crystal balloon of brandy (…only, don’t you dare touch!). The escapism continues upstairs, where the Bedroom, the Dressing Room, the Study and the Yellow Drawing Room reflect rooms in someone’s private residence from the 18th century, exactly as though the house were still lived in today.
Over 400 years of art history is showcased through this collection of primed and polished treasures, A cosy, double-story, six-room museum experience with no ropes or barriers, The Johnston Collection comprises furniture, ceramics, paintings, sculptures, and a host of other decorative displays representing some of the most notable stylistic periods in English art. Throne chairs from India, porcelain from China and England, even a Bureau Plat (writing desk) that was reportedly the desk on which King Farouk of Egypt signed his abdication in 1952, if you don’t mind. The Johnston Collection is as much a cultural experience as it is a history lesson and an art appreciation course. The current exhibition – The Real Deal – showcases treasures from Mr. Johnston’s permanent collection, acquired during his years as an antiques dealer in Melbourne and London. Curated by museum staff - beacons of art and history knowledge themselves - the exhibition reflects on how Johnston not only had the innate ability to ‘pick good pieces’ based on his creative vision, but who also had the generosity of spirt to bequest them to the people of Victoria so they could one day be enjoyed by everybody.
The intimacy of this museum experience and the sentimental value of the displays lend themselves perfectly to regular rearrangement. A host of celebrated designers, artists and creative identities have been engaged to reimagine The Johnston Collection according to their own creative vision and personal experience with the objects. Fashion designer Akira Isogawa ‘met’ Mr Johnston in 2010, redressing Fairhall through an exhibition thematic exploring the collector’s public and private life.
Design duo Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born refashioned the house in 2012 in The Bride, The Ship & The Wardrobe. The pair delved into the theatricality and colour schemes of each individual room, exploring the inherent character of the house and its contents. Other collaborators to reimagine the collection include architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb, artist Rosslynd Piggott, former Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet David McAllister AM, milliner and artist Richard Nylon, and design studio Hecker Guthrie.
Every single object in The Johnston Collection has a story, a purpose, and a reason for being. While Mr. Johnston is not with us to see how his beloved antique collection continues to ignite the fascinations of guests and collaborators, his presence permeates Fairhall’s every teacup, cushion, chandelier and… grinning porcelain cat statue.
Have you heard the story about what happened to the man who donated his lifelong collection of treasures to the people of Victoria? His name and his spirit lived on forever.
The Johnston Collection is now open Wednesdays – Sundays, with three tours operating per day, 10am, 12pm and 2pm.
The Real Deal is now showing at The Johnston Collection, until Sunday 11 September, 2022
Bookings are essential and can be made by visiting the website or calling + 61 3 9416 2515.
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