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Lyon Housemuseum

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Wednesday 22nd February 2017

What is Melbourne’s best kept secret? This question is one we often pose to our interviewees. Today, I have my own response.

The Lyon Housemuseum in Kew. It’s so under-the-radar, I’m ashamed to say even I didn’t know about it until last month.

This remarkable Australian home belongs to one very special family. Corbett Lyon is a fourth generation architect, and co-director of Lyons Architecture. His partner Yueji, and daughters Carlin and Jaqlin are his creative partners in this truly innovative endeavour – an art museum which is also their family home.


The Lyon Housemuseum remains largely unknown to most Melburnians. An impressive family home to art collectors Corbett and Yueji Lyon and their two grown-up daughters Carlin and Jaqlin, this incredible property also serves as an expertly curated art museum, housing the Lyon’s spectacular collection of Australian contemporary art. On designated days each week, the home is open to the public via private tours conducted by members of the family.

The Housemuseum first opened in 2009.  A unique proposition, this hybrid of a private residence and a public museum is the first purpose-designed museum of this kind in the world. (SO proud it’s in Melbourne!). It is a space that sparks the creative imagination so profoundly, bravely re-imagining the relationship between art and architecture, between public and private space.

‘From its inception, our intention has been to share with others the experience of art, interwoven with the spaces and artefacts of a living, family home’ – Corbett Lyon

A home like this represents collaboration in many levels. First and foremost, the Housemuseum is a unique creative partnership between Corbett Lyon and his wife, Yueji, who began collecting Australian contemporary art over twenty-six years ago. Today, their collection comprises more than 350 works from over 50 Australian artists, including Brook Andrew, Howard Arkley, Patricia Piccinini, Callum Morton, and many more. Conceived by Corbett, the museum is very much a family affair – he and Yueji plan each exhibition (the artwork on display changes annually), host all the public tours in person (Yueji takes weekday tours, Corbett does the weekend shift!), Carlin and Jaqlin assist with various administration and design tasks, whilst Yueji takes all the bookings (and, incredibly, also does all the cleaning?!).

Though they’ve hosted over 10,000 visitors since opening in 2009, the Lyon family haven’t been particularly proactive about publicity – until now. This month, though, they have some news to share. Corbett and Yueji have just announced a major extension of their existing offering – they are building a NEW museum adjacent to the Housemuseum, and they’re donating it to the public – at a cost of $14.5 million.

Due to open mid 2018, the new museum will operate in tandem with the existing Housemuseum, and will offer a new purpose-built exhibition space for both local and international art, temporary exhibitions and events. Construction has only just commenced, and has been commemorated in the most spectacular way, with the commission of a fittingly ambitious ‘foundational artwork’.

VISIBLE INVISIBLE‘ is a colossal painting (the size of an Olympic swimming pool!) by Melbourne artist Reko Rennie. It was commissioned by the Lyon Family to form the foundation of the new museum, covering the entire concrete base of the prospective building. Unbelievably, the artwork will be visible in its entirety only for a very short time, as the new museum will be constructed directly on top of it!

This immense painting is Reko Rennie’s largest painting to date, and was created with the support of Dulux, who supplied over 600 litres of paint to realise this ambitious project. Using Dulux colours Pink Mystery (new), Spectacular Rose (new), Mondrian Blue, Garnish, and Metallic Effect Silver Spoon, this new work references iconography of Rennie’s Aboriginal Kamilaroi heritage, with elements of graffiti and street art. Created in the knowledge of its impending concealment, the work alludes to notions of indigenous cultural erasure.

‘We wanted to rethink the foundation laying for the new museum’ explains Corbett. ‘I was struck by the idea of painting a large image over the whole of the foundation, and then progressively covering it up; a bit like the ‘Lost Leonardo’ in Florence. Artist Reko Rennie was very enthusiastic and has produced a truly spectacular work. The title, VISIBLE INVISIBLE perfectly captures the idea.’

Reno Rennie’s artwork is currently visible from the street (as well as passing trams!), but as the new museum gradually takes shape, it will be progressively concealed. The Lyon Housemuseum will continue to be open to the general public for pre-booked visits. From mid 2018, the New Housemuseum galleries will be open to the public six days per week.

Watch our video tour of the Lyon Housemuseum and interview with Corbett Lyon below! Massive thanks to our video partners Sirap for helping us document the Lyon Housemuseum on film – this one really needed a video!

Lyon Housemuseum

A film by SIRAP for The Design Files .

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