Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

House museums – a diverse landscape

Step into the Justin Art House Museum in Melbourne – part family home, part art gallery. Jaime Diaz-Berrio.

Paul Best, Welcome, art lovers and stickybeaks: house museums are anything but stuffy, Financial Review, 4 October 2017

Third-generation Melbourne architect Corbett Lyon is giving me the royal tour of the zinc-clad family home he designed and built several years ago in leafy Kew. As we wander from room to room, he catalogues the works by Australian artists that fill the space he shares with his wife, Yueji, and daughters, Carlin and Jaqlin.

Overlooking the front garden is a Callum Morton sculpture of a wrapped public  monument. In a nearby room is another sculptural piece by Patricia Piccinini, at once gorgeous and grotesque, a hyper-real animal-human hybrid carrying an old woman.

Around a 14-seat dining table upstairs is a series of Howard Arkley paintings from the late artist’s The Home Show exhibition I recognise from the 1999 Venice Biennale. “There are still some red wine stains from the opening party,” Lyon says.

For this is much more than the Lyon family’s residence – it is a house museum, showcasing the considerable collection of Australian contemporary art Lyon has amassed over the past 30 years.

Every month on a designated Monday, Tuesday and sometimes a Sunday, the family puts out the welcome mat to the Lyon Housemuseum. Three times on each of those days, they lead groups of 25 on a 75-minute tour of the exhibition, comprising about a quarter of the more than 350 works in the collection.

Many visitors are from overseas. The Lyons have welcomed representatives of the Tate in London and New York’s Guggenheim, Kevin McCloud of the British TV series Grand Designs and actor Pierce Brosnan, an avid painter.

“The big thing is, I wanted to share my collection with the public. I didn’t want a private collection,” Lyon tells Life & Leisure.

Purpose designed

Across town, in Prahran, retired architect Charles Justin is in the front room of his equally distinctive, contemporary home, the Justin Art House Museum. He’s discussing the merits of a digital video piece by Daniel Crooks with a group from the Public Galleries Association of Victoria as part of a two-hour “interactive” tour,  which is followed by afternoon tea.

As at the Lyon Housemuseum, Justin and his wife, Leah, escort groups of 25 up to four days a week when exhibiting. The Justin Art House Museum was purpose designed too – by the Justins’ architect daughter Elisa – to house their contemporary art. The collection largely comprises digital works by emerging local artists, including Michael Candy, Ollie Lucas and Tristan Jalleh.

“It grew so large, the question was what to do with it,” Justin says. “That’s why we went down this path. We wanted to use our art, which isn’t conventionally accessible, to engage with the public.”

“Going to the Lyon Housemuseum was the tipping point for us,” admits Leah. “They changed the game.”

Both house museums represent a departure from the norm. Traditionally, house museums have been set up in homes with historical or architectural significance.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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