The Immigration Museum on Flinders Street isn’t traditionally associated with ambitious art exhibitions. But a diverse new showcase is attempting to present no less than the emotion of love.

“People’s minds tend to go straight to romantic love,” says Isabel Smith, exhibition curator at Museums Victoria, explaining the theme. “But we want LOVE to cover all types: from soul mates through to grief and heartbreak. We’re not just looking at the really happy, floaty, dreamy side of love, but also the harder stories.”

That warts-and-all approach will show love – whether familial, friendly, romantic or creative – as a uniting emotion. Billed as the centrepiece of the Immigration Museum’s ambitious summer program, The Summer of Love, LOVE aligns with the Museum’s charter of illustrating Australia’s stories of shared humanity.

“Migration isn’t necessarily the defining narrative [here],” says Smith. “It’s broader and bolder than that. We’re committed to sharing the human stories of connectivity in a new and engaging way.”

The exhibition will take over the museum’s 19th-century Long Room. Smith describes the exhibition’s design as “really bold and contemporary,” and “in stark contrast to the heritage features” of the space. Curators have fostered intimacy by creating smaller spaces within the room, called “love shacks”, which contrasts with a lush central “Heart Garden” installation, which will operate as a space for the Summer of Love’s wider programming.

It’s here visitors can commit their own personal love stories to paper and pin them around the garden. Guests will also be provided with an iPod to listen to featuring stories of love from various community contributors. “[Visitors] will actually hear these people kind of whispering in their ear,” says Smith. “We’re hoping it will help people see [the space] in a different light.”

To do this LOVE is bringing together work from a distinctly Australian collection of names, including surreal visual artists and life partners Garrett and Will Huxley, and Katthy Cavaliere, whose art focuses predominantly on her mother, Mara. Also featured is the unusual friendship between Wurundjeri William Barak and Scottish immigrant Ann Bonn in the late 1800s. And John and Sunday Reed, the Melbourne arts patrons who founded Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Their inclusion isn’t accidental – Heide has helped curate LOVE, which includes the loan of objects and paintings from the Heidelberg gallery’s archive.

Lesley Harding, artistic director at Heide, says its role in LOVE “wasn’t just passive lending but involvement from the beginning”. As well as providing imagery and significant paintings from the Heide founders themselves, there’s also a number of works collected from later eras that represent the depth and diversity of the collection. “It will take Heide’s story to a new audience,” she says. “It’s a lovely confluence of looking at love – something we all have experience of – but from many different angles.”

Smith agrees. “It represents a shift toward focusing on universal experiences and shared humanity across communities,” she says. “Rather than emphasising our differences, we’re looking at commonalities. [As well as] the diversity of identity – exploring things like gender, sexuality and age.”

That’s the beauty of the exhibition for Smith. “I think there is no greater theme. It’s something everyone can relate to and a way of presenting stories from people from all walks of life who might have very different contexts and backgrounds. But the context is almost irrelevant – it’s the emotion people connect to.”

To celebrate the launch of Summer of Love on December 2, the Immigration Museum will be hosting music, curator talks, hands-on activities and bespoke food and drinks menu from 10am to 5pm in the open-air courtyard.

Summer of Love line-up:
11am–1pm: Cultivating Community Workshop: Share the Love activities
12pm, 2pm, 3pm: LOVE curator talk
12.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm: Kahlil Gibran: The Garden of the Prophet curator talk
12pm–4pm: MzRizk will be spinning tunes inspired by Kahlil Gibran and Love
All day: Design a unique greeting card with Able and Game
All day: Curated menu and bar with Gather and Share hampers available for lunch

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Museums Victoria. LOVE runs at the Immigration Museum from December 1 until April 28, read here to discover more about the Immigration Museum’s Summer of Love on December 2.