In our minds, the soundtrack to a classical art show might be cellos and violins. Not drums, guitars and synthesisers. But as Heston Blumenthal keeps proving with his outlandish dishes – salmon poached in liquorice gel, anyone? – unlikely combinations sometimes work. The NGV discovered this last year, when over several Fridays in a row it transformed its Monet exhibit into a band room. The series was so successful, it's happening again.

This time, in addition to food, booze and live music, punters at Friday Night at the Italian Masterpieces will be greeted by the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, Correggio, and other celebrated Italian painters. The show's 105 pieces were once collected by the Spanish Royal Court and now belong to Madrid's Museo Nacional del Prado. This is the first time they've left Spain. But even Laurie Benson, the show's curator, admits the stunning artworks aren't the main attraction at the Friday Night series. “This year we've tried to ramp it up and get better acts," he says.

The 10-night program is a testament to this push, beginning with breakout artist Kirin J Callinan on June 27, and concluding on August 29 with The Break, a musical supergroup made up of seasoned musicians drawn from Midnight Oil, Violent Femmes and Hunters & Collectors. In between, Everything but the Girl’s Ben Watt will ply the crowd with his mellow electronic folk, Owl Eyes with her glossy synth pop and The Orbweavers with its dreamy acoustics. New Gods, Teeth & Tongue and Dan Kelly have also signed on to play the cavernous Great Hall under the dappled light thrown by Leonard French's stained-glass ceiling.

"It doesn't feel like you're in a museum, you're just in a really incredible space,” Benson says. The music itself is just audible from the Italian Masterpieces exhibit, and, he reckons, “They're kind of strangely complementary", creating a vibe that's as much cocktail party as it is rock gig or art show. Last year both sections were equally busy. "Like the music, this stuff was once cutting-edge contemporary art,” Benson says. “We just approach it as old masters.”

Friday Nights at Italian Masterpieces, 5:30pm–9:30pm, June 27–August 29, 2014.

$28, bookings essential.


National Gallery of Victoria
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

ngv.vic.gov.au