Matthew Bax, the man that brought Melbourne such genre-busting watering-holes as Bar Americano, Der Raum and Bar Exuberante, wants to reinvent the contemporary art gallery.
It's not your typical white cube. Bax's new warehouse space in Melbourne's inner-north will showcase a thousand square metres of art, but it'll also house a cocktail bar slinging drinks that are a far cry from the usual refreshments found at exhibitions.
"Life's too short for cheap wine and beer," says Bax. "Openings should be celebrated. It's an amazing achievement for artists and a fuckload of work behind the scenes, so we want to bring those celebrations to a different level."
That level involves collaborating with the artists showing at the gallery to design a drink befitting their work, something Bax reckons is a world first. Within the gallery, a hidden cocktail bar modelled in the manner of a test kitchen will show how Grau Projekt's drinks are created.
"The goal is to make for an all-round better cultural experience," he says. No more loading up on free booze in plastic cups before moving on to your next destination – Grau Projekt will be a place to stay a while.
Of course, that kind of care comes with a price tag, and Bax has never been shy of charging healthy prices for his creations. Opening nights will be events ticketed in the realm of $30 a head, which includes the signature drink that was designed with the artist. Other drinks will reflect what you'd pay at other cocktail bars around town. Upending the custom of free booze at art openings is a gamble, but Bax is unapologetic: "You get what you pay for or don't pay for."
Sweetening the deal, perhaps, will be a select number of works offered at a much lower price at each show to encourage people to dip their toe into collecting.
Bax is confident that the scale of the gallery is unrivalled among commercial art spaces around the world. The plan is to devote the entire space to one artist at a time and run longer shows, so that the gallery can give each artist more attention and punters more time to catch an exhibition before it's over.
"There is too much noise out there and art often gets pushed to the back of the entertainment queue," he says.
First up is Bax's show, Cockrocker, in November, which will be accompanied by a secret cocktail that Der Raum fans may remember (hint: it's both hot and cold, and came with a price tag of $35). In the new year, Melbourne artists Ravi Avasti and Suzie Blake will each hold solo exhibitions, with the rest of the 2019 program announced early next year.
Great art plus great drinks sounds like a winning formula to us.
Grau Projekt, Level 1, 2-12 Alexandra Pde, Clifton Hill, Vic, grauprojekt.com. Thu-Fri 6pm-11pm, Sat 3pm-11pm, Sun 11am-3pm. Cockrocker opens 22 November.