The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is an art museum located within the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It is the largest privately funded museum in Australia.The museum presents antiquities, modern and contemporary art from the David Walsh collection. Walsh has described the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland.” (Wikipedia)
The kaleidoscopic, mirrored entry of MONA changes as a visitor approaches
A visit to MONA is a “must do” for any tourist in Hobart. For many people, this gallery will be just that, a tourist attraction. It’s not like any art gallery that I have been to before and indeed is a marked contrast to pretty much all of them.
But it is an art gallery that will produce markedly different responses in the people who visit whereas I would expect that people who visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York will have pretty similar reactions.
The first thing that strikes you about MONA is the people who are visiting. There are special crowds who visit art galleries. They have distinctive features. They are slightly bohemian, often scruffy but a thoughtful group of people.
There are special crowds who go to the Australian Ballet. They are well-dressed, cultured looking and well healed (as you must be if you are going to spend $180 on the ticket).
Boer Deng writes Ballet audiences, however, remain a solidly homogenous group. In 2012, 80 percent were white, two-thirds were female, and more came from families earning $150,000 a year.
But the crowds at MONA are tourists: families often with small kids in pushers, grey nomads, pensioners, ordinary folk on holiday. It’s more like a footy crowd than an art gallery crowd.
I found myself wondering what they would make of the experience. Baffling probably, if the number of people who are wandering round the gallery looking at the iPhones which explain the exhibits is any indication. It is interesting to speculate whether people spend more time looking at the iPhones than at the exhibitions.
So I wonder what they make of MONA. I asked a 10-year-old boy in the lift, “What you think of it?”. He replied, “Terrible.” His dad said, “I couldn’t see the point.”
I said, “That’s okay. Often there isn’t.” It was one of those elevator conversations, you’ve got 20 seconds to make your point. How do you begin explaining an experience like MONA to someone who has probably never been in an art gallery in their life?
But this is more than just a popular tourist destination, it’s actually a gallery that requires a relatively sophisticated response, one that is built on an understanding of the nature of art and the nature of the galleries. Confrontational and disturbing art is very much a niche market and you need a context based on the knowledge of art to understand it.
If you look at Tom Roberts Breakaway which is held at the Art Gallery of South Australia, you don’t need a lot of experience looking at paintings to understand and possibly appreciate it.
It’s an iconic Australian painting: dust, drought, gum trees, sheep, drover, drover’s dog et cetera. The young bloke and his father in the lift would probably get the point of this.
I suspect they would experience far more difficulty with the exhibition of Katthy Cavaliere.
Polly Toynbee writes in the Gaurdian In her diary in 1999, Australian artist Katthy Cavaliere wrote: “My mother, a naïve woman, fell pregnant to my father the first time she made love – she was a virgin – I was a mistake.” Cavaliere considered these mistakes, like the typo on her birth certificate, “reality’s black tunnel of nothingness” and they inspired her art. Throughout her lifetime, the Italian-born Sydney-based artist developed a project packing, storing and transporting the wreckage of her personal possessions and transforming it into art.
The MONA exhibition shows a video of Cavaliere building up a pile of clothes on a beach and then sitting down on it and looking out to sea. Many people, including me, would struggle to explain how this qualifies as art. Self-expression, yes, but a question mark over art.
But, for me, that is the great thing about MONA. It made me go back and examine my prejudices and at my age, there are quite a few, particularly when it comes to art.
The first prejudice is that the works that I like qualify as art and the ones that I don’t like, don’t.
I’m a great fan of Australian Impressionism: Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder chiefly because the paintings are so beautiful and such a great celebration of the Australian landscape. This also fair to say that this body of work is very accessible.
It would be hard to classify one of the best-known exhibits at MONA is Cloaca Professional (‘the poo machine’) by Wim Delvoye, as accessible. Senior Curator Nicole Durling says it is the most “loathed but most visited piece of art in the museum”.
Durling says if too many people press ‘like’ while pondering a piece (MONA owner) Walsh will insist it is removed at once.
So this art gallery does not necessarily want you to like any of the works and certainly having a foul-smelling, shit-making production line is a good way of achieving this end.
Another controversial display is Greg Taylor’s soap sculptures of 50 vaginas (also available for sale in the museum shop).
This is probably about as confrontational as it gets. But the social media commentary seems to be overwhelmingly supportive. The viewer’s appreciation of a work like this is based on the prejudices that they bring to it. As Plato said “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”.
Virginia Gordon Your friends comments are amazing! I missed seeing these in the gift shop but loved the vaginas on the wall and watching people’s responses to them…sadly a little high for the younger viewers
Ali Smith They are brilliant. people are accustomed to too many photoshopped or neatly tucked manicured fake vaginas. This is excellent. I am hittig MONA next trip to tassie for sure
Heather Davies Discusting this not art just a sicko who thinks decent people would like this women degradng work the artist should be ashamed. I found it appalling shame shame shame it is no better then pornography
For a similar work see The Great Wall of Vagina (NSFW)
So another of my prejudices about art is that I want to go back and view the work again and again. These two particular exhibitions fall into the “been there, done that” category.
Has a visit to MONA changed my views on art. Not really. But it’s nice to be given that makes you go back and examine why you appreciate and love some works and are indifferent to others.