Since 2000, the Heide Museum of Modern Art has acquired a staggering 1500 artworks. The collection covers painting, sculpture, photography and, in the case of one piece, a set of instructions for a site-specific architectural installation.

But as is the case with permanent collections around the world, many wonderful and even groundbreaking pieces of art remain in storage for long periods of time due to exhibition programming and a lack of space. Sometimes, however, audiences are granted a special opportunity to view components of an institution’s permanent collection en masse.

21st Century Heide: The Collection Since 2000 is one such moment. This dramatic and colourful new exhibition shows a selection of Heide’s acquisitions that have come to the museum through various channels; such as artist donations, bequests and via donated funds.

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“John and Sunday Reed believed in the transformative power of art and were absolutely committed to the art of their time,” says Heide director Kirsty Grant of the museum’s famous founders and patrons. “Heide’s current focus on collecting contemporary art represents a continuation of this and, as 21st Century Heide shows, the art of today is diverse, inspiring and sometimes challenging – just as it was during the time of the Reeds.”

The exhibition is a sprawling but interconnected retrospective that draws a line from the modernist vanguard of the mid-20th century to innovative artists working in Australia today. A small but magnetic 1952 drawing by Frank Hinder, whose abstract works were influenced by Cubism, is the oldest piece in the exhibition. Meanwhile, in juxtaposition, the show also features a 2007 work by Daniel Crooks, whose spliced, fragmented portrait of a man appears to be, “A bit like a cubist photograph,” says curator Linda Michael.

Heide typically shows works from its permanent trove at Heide I and Heide II, both former homes of the Reeds. But many of the works Heide has amassed recently are too large to show in the older buildings, “Both of which have heritage issues – so we can’t attach certain works to the walls,” Michael explains.

For this reason, Heide III – the newest wing of the museum – and its spacious, contemporary exhibition rooms will be used.

While the works in Heide III vary in genre, style and media, the exhibition portion in Heide II – the iconic modernist building in which the Reeds lived from 1967 – features abstract paintings and prints dating to the 1960s. For the most part, though, the exhibition’s focus is on work by contemporary artists, not their modernist forebears.

So in Heide I, the old weatherboard cottage in which the Reeds lived between 1935 and 1967, curators have installed several large contemporary sculptures in rooms that usually show prints, drawings and paintings.
“In a couple of those rooms there’s only one work each, but they’re quite spectacular in that location,” Michael says.

A Rococo-style cabinet by artist Kate Rohde, for example, stands alone in the atmospheric Heide I library and, “Dominates the room just by itself,” says Michael.

21st Century Heide also features a number of other large-scale works, including Callum Morton’s One to One. It’s a life-size sculpture of Heide II’s iconic sandstone fireplace that hasn’t been exhibited in Melbourne since 2011. The work, donated by the artist, features a recording of John and Sunday Reed’s voices.

There’s also a room-size installation by Kathy Temin, which featured in her solo show at Heide in 2009. Her massive, three-dimensional interpretation of a painting by American artist Frank Stella takes the form of a maze-like structure inside one of Heide III’s large gallery spaces.

“The idea is to experience the painting as a physical object,” curator Linda Michael says. “You can walk inside the sculpture. It’s quite incredible.”

Temin’s piece is just one of many incredible moments in a landmark exhibition that offers a small but dramatic glimpse into Australian art that has and continues to push boundaries.

21st Century Heide: The Collection Since 2000 runs from March 28 to June 14 at Heide Museum of Modern Art.