Art reframed: ebonised ash reimagines the tradtional gallery white

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Black is the new black, so to speak, at James Makin’s Collingwood gallery.

The archetypal art gallery, with expanses of white, square set walls may often feel somewhat institutional, rather than inclusive and cultural. This was precisely the type of experience that renowned gallery owner James Makin wanted to avoid when he opened his new exhibition space in Islington Street in Collingwood, Melbourne.

The brief to architect Tristan Wong was for a space that challenged the seriousness and sterility of the gallery stereotype. Makin wanted to provide customers with the chance to explore and discover art in an environment which was both inviting and intriguing.

Wong's design is a counterpoint to art gallery conventions, using blackened and curved timber to create a space that is dramatic, textural and tactile. Entering through a sliding, black stained hardwood door, visitors are guided past a 4.5 metre high curved timber wall that narrows at its end providing a glimpse of the artwork beyond. Coves and recesses that house some works facilitate a gradual discovery of the main space towards the back of the gallery.


The timber selected for the project is thermally-modified American ash (Cambia), stained black and wire-brushed to emphasise the distinctive grain. Cambia was chosen for its stability, aesthetics and strong sustainability profile.

Another factor in material selection was the biophilic qualities of the timber. “Timber was used to soften the experience aesthetically – there is that unconscious response to natural materials that is relaxing.”

Wong also restructured the typical gallery layout to enhance the social aspects of viewing art. The oversized reception desk morphs into a bar area, while a concealed viewing room, accessed through an enormous pivoting door, creates a space for quiet contemplation. The curved timber wall and integrated joinery elements now create a dynamic spatial experience that allows visitors to discover art in a personal and unhurried manner.

Photos: Michael Pham

Learn more about James Makin’s Collingwood gallery at

Learn more about thermally-modified wood here

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