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Opening of MONA 2011 – Groupe F (French Pyro-musicians) by Mark Huber

MONA… what the? For some time l had been hearing positive yet vague comments about this quirky art space, MONA Museum Tasmania – the Museum of Old and New Art. So, call me cynical, but having grown up in Australia and been fortunate enough though our travels to have experienced some of the worlds headlining galleries such as the Louvre, all of the Tate’s, Uffizi, the Guggenheim’s, Getty and New York’s MOMA, was this gallery with the rip-off acronym just a sorry attempt at surfing coat tails? Being in the middle of nowhere, a closer investigation was put on the back burner until recently and… I must dip my head in shame. Perhaps I could put it down to presumption, after all, Tassie does food, Tassie does wine and whisky and Tasmania does devils but is Tassie also a beacon for the art experience? Errr… yes, I was oh so wrong! Of all the aforementioned galleries, MONA Museum Tasmania, for me, is the World’s Best Art Museum Experience.

Image by Rob Taylor

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE HISTORY

Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh, is the founder of MONA. The Moorilla Museum of Antiquities was founded in 2001 but then given the mother of all facelifts in 2007 – $75 million worth of botox evolved into the Museum of Old and New Art – MONA. The new version was officially opened in January 2011 and coincided with the third MOFO festival of which MONA hosts annually (music and arts festivals showcasing public art and performances).

MONA houses 1,900 works from David Walsh’s private collection. Of his themes, sex & death are high on the agenda, his attitude toward collecting is probably best described by Richard Dorment, art critic for The Daily Telegraph –

…doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the collection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.

2 images above Rob Taylor, image below Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – TO GO OR NOT GO

To set the scene I’ll need to digress for a moment to give you a sense of my mindset on approaching this venue. The positive comments I mentioned were always followed up with –

Have you been to MONA Yet?

My “No” was met with silence and a widening of the eyes then –

I won’t say to much but it’s interesting!

That was all anyone would say and in hindsight my experience was better for it, so if you’re planning a visit let me just say –

Do it!

And to follow a baffling marketing move, let me add –

Look away now.

😉

You’re still with me, so thankfully the complexity of my “Wet Paint” strategy is sticking (and the rest of this post wasn’t for nothing).

2 images above Michael Coghlan images below by Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE ARRIVAL

On approach you feel like you’re up for a nice morning in a vineyard (it is set in the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula). Having barely parked the car the first installation that you will stumble across hints at what is to come (assuming you drove, if you caught the ferry you’ll be too preoccupied with climbing the 99 steps to notice much else). Two large concrete walls form a funnel, running parallel. “Does my bum to big in this” comes to mind… the rear of a car sandwiched between the walls. Right from the start, your mind is on art alert, a bit like the scary fun house at Disney, you don’t know what’s coming, but you know it’s coming. There was loads of cool stuff to check out around the grounds, there’s a market day on Sunday which has local wares, good food and ordinary coffee, the views across the Derwent River are fantastic. But if you were like us you’ll be gagging to see behind the curtain, or more accurately, the fun-house crazy mirrored entrance.

Image by Sahra Martin

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – ON THE INSIDE

My first surprise was that you descend into the mountain side… very cool. You’re job is to find your way back to the surface. The whole museum is all about the crafting of a cavernous space and then reminding you of it where ever you turn – lots of metaphors at play here for you to ponder. I was also surprised at the amount of permanent installations and the lengths that they have gone to to incorporate and accommodate them within what is already an impressive engineering feat.

Now I don’t want to go into too much detail on the installations themselves. So many of them rely on the element of surprise and I’m sure to get you excited about something that may not be on show when you arrive. What I will say is that you are never too sure what is around the corner, or what an inanimate object is capable of. There is at least 2/3 hours of jaw dropping exhibits. No labels, just a groovy little iPod, or ‘O’ device with an in-built GPS that senses where you are and displays information about the nearby artworks in ‘Art Wank’ (their words, not mine).

We are usually impatient with art exhibits, if it doesn’t grab us we move on quickly. Not here, we are already planning a return trip.

2 images above Rob Taylor, image below Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE VERDICT

MONA was the most fulfilling public art experience we have had. I pocketed a piece of plastic chain as a memento and it now hangs in pride of place with our art collection at home. It’s a reminder, not only of a fantastic experience but as a kick up the bum, don’t prejudge!

Image by Cheryl
Image by Fraser Mummery