Melbourne has developed a type of small, shop front, commercial art gallery that would best be described as art boutiques. Art boutiques do have temporary exhibitions but their regular stock is their primary focus. Not all of their stock is art but it is significant, in the past they might have been described as ‘gift shops’ but in their latest incarnation the term appears in appropriate for the eccentric stock for sale. Art boutiques do think of themselves in art terms and focus on their art direction. The art for sale is not intended to end up in museums but in the home.
Third Draw Down, in Fitzroy, calls itself the “Museum of Art Souvenirs”. Like all good boutiques, Third Draw Down has a style and design all of its own; the impressive central bench has a series of draws for displaying more of the work. Third Draw Down specializes in affordable art in multiple editions. Especially work on fabric; like t-towels, pillowslips and handkerchiefs. They have a lot of t-towels with prints by artists, a selection of which have been attached to canvas stretcher frames, ready to be hung on a wall as most are purchased as art and not for drying dishes.
When I visited Third Draw Down Kez Hughes (a VCA graduate) has an exhibition of small oil paintings of some of the limited editions works available at Third Draw Down. The still life paintings were displayed above the art works that they depicted.
There are many other art boutiques in Melbourne and I haven’t explored them all (I’m not presenting an exhaustive list of all the art boutiques in Melbourne). They come in a variety of styles and many are not to my taste. Also in Fitzroy, there is Meet Me At Mikes, Charles Smith Gallery and in.cube8r gallery. Charles Smith Gallery, describes itself (in Art Almanac) as a “gift shop” and is one of the oldest of the art boutiques in Melbourne. All of the Fitzroy art boutiques specialize in handmade, Australian-made, art and craft. In the CBD there is Outre Gallery, specializes in multiple editions of low-brow popular art, along with books and magazines on the subject. In Collingwood there is Lucien Midnight that describes itself as “art gallery & other things of your visual and aural pleasure.” In Brunswick there is 696 who specialize in street art influenced art, craft, spray cans, magazines and other stuff.
The growth of these art boutiques implies that there is a new market of art collectors and that the system of patronage for artists is changing. The new art collectors are younger and have less disposable income than the usual art collectors. But they are choosing to buy art and unique craft items rather than mainstream consumer items.
It would be to early to say that the art for the ordinary consumer, long envisioned by the modernists, has finally come of age. These art boutiques are not a mass movement and they thrive their unique merchandise and on not being part of the mainstream.