Mona: The Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Australia
Mona, The Museum of Old and New Art, is one man's vision that has sprung from the earth in Hobart, Tasmania. Privately owned and run by David Walsh, a born-and-bred Tasmanian, it is the perfect place for a mere mortal to showcase his astonishing art collection. He has built the most amazing piece of architecture to encase an eclectic, ever-revolving, totally captivating collection of old and new art.
The Museum itself is overflowing in wonderment, commencing at the impressive, reflective silver museum entrance and moving onwards to the spiral staircase or glass elevator, that guides you downward to the Void. Here in a foyer-type area carved into the sandstone showcasing bit.fall by Julius Popp, a waterfall forms words randomly selected from Google, is one of the largest exhibits on show.
Installations that are as huge as they are tiny, about topics such as sex and death to Antiquities, made from every material ever known to man.
It's all there, perched on the side of the polluted Derwent River (which I might add, a project has been commissioned in 2013 by Mona, involving the art and the sciences meshing together to explore new methods to clean the river up!). Mona, a great, hulking, rusting piece of metal shimmering with creativity, jutting out magnificently in the natural landscape.
In the Beginning
Mona wasn't David Walsh's first endeavor into creating a museum, initially the estate housed a much milder museum boasting pop up displays, now recycled into the staff quarters. A self confessed failure, the art was removed and stored in warehouses around Hobart and his private penthouses, while a much bigger dream came into being, Mona.
It hasn't always been clear sailing either with community discussion on its development in a poorer suburb, but David Walsh, being a Berridale boy, decided his home location was ideal for his museum. And then there was the tax man wanting his cut of the pie. In true Mona style, funding of this extraordinary place was not done via traditional methods, but by gambling. Suffering or blessed with autism, David Walsh and his co-investors made millions through the casino's and then moved onto the horses. Earnings typically made through gambling are not tax deductible, but as David Walsh, had a business of gambling, the tax man believed he should have got a 4 million dollar payday.
Further problems seemed to find David Walsh, as he fell in love with an American gal Keisha who came with her own financial troubles connected to Hurricane Katrina. Although in fairness, effort have been made by the now Mrs. Keisha Walsh, to right her wrongs and even the scale in her adopted hometown of New Orleans
But that's all in the past now...
There's Art Museums, and Then There's Mona
Although you will find some of the standard installations available at most museums, like The Snake by Sydney Nolan, Egyptian Mummies and Greek coins dating back from 400BC, that's where any comparison to other museums end. Mona showcases the art that other museums shy away from.
Some of it is extremely intense. It evokes feeling of revulsion, delicacy, disgust, awe, beauty as you pass from one installation to the next. And sometimes you just ask why?
On one side a wall of vagina's called c*nts and conversations, by Greg Taylor and friends, all unique and personal to the owner cast in plaster. A fat red porch that's bulging out over its edges. Don't freak out when you see Head of a Man, Italy by unknown, 1600-1700, it's been carved from wax and is a rare survivor considering the medium used.
One of the grooviest installations has to be Queen (A portrait of Madonna) 2005, Candice Breitz. A thirty channel video installation of people from all walks of life singing and bopping along to Madonna in a tiny room. Can't help but sing along with them.
Then there is the utterly depressing My Beautiful Chair by Greg Taylor & Dr Phillip Nitschke, 2010. An interactive installation: leather armchair, coffee cup, Persian floor rug, Euthanasia machine, lamp and glass coffee table. People have tears when experiencing this installation. If you choose to press the button, the Euthanasia machine will describe the process every step of the way, of your hypothetical death. What is physically occurring (hypothetically) and the bodies physiological response, all the way until the end.
Respectfully tucked away beyond a long corridor of red, floor-length velvet curtains, with plenty of signage - if the long hallway wasn't enough of a hint that this is an over 18's area, is the Sex and Death section. It contains the more risky, adult content. You can choose to enter, or not. But if you do, it's something that will be with you forever.
Coming and Never Going From Mona
Even arriving at Mona can be done with flair, cruise in on the ferry, fly in via small aero plane landing on the Derwent river or helicopter. You can catch the Mona Roma, Mona's pink and black bus from Hobart, drive or simply cruise in on foot through the front gate.
Then there is the option to never leave Mona. For $(AUD)75 000 you can choose the eternity package, a slightly gory twist on the lifetime membership packages offered by other reputable museums. Mona has gone that one step further, so after you've enjoyed the spoils of "parties, catalogues, annoying pamphlets, being sucked up to. Then - when you die, we have you cremated and put in a fancy jar in the museum. David's Dad's there already. Don't you miss out" in the words of Mona.
The 'O' Device
When you enter the stainless steel, shiny front doors and proceed through the reception, you're handed a cute looking little device that is similar to an iPhone. This little monster is your personal, interactive tour guide providing you information you can either listen to or read, about the piece of art close by. It automatically determines which installation you are near, gives you the option to open the artist information or hear a bit of art wank. Same thing really.
As Mona has not stuck up labels on the walls about the art you're looking at, this little guy delivers the information and enhances your experience of the gallery. It's the first of it's kind in the world and aims to replace traditional methods of wall labels.
One awesome feature of the 'O' device is the ability to record your tour. Once registered by email, where you travelled and what you looked at in the museum, will be available for you to view again on line. No way of forgetting all the mind boggling things you saw.
Mona also uses the O device to receive feedback from the museums visitors requesting they vote on the installation. either like or hate. From this collected information, the museum is rearranged or art removed if too many people like it.
Where on Earth Is Mona?
Plus All the Extras
Mona has evolved into one of Hobart Tasmania's entertainment hubs and co-ordinates Mona Foma, the summer festival of music and art, curated by Brian Ritchie. Whilst over the winter period there is Dark Mofo, where the dark is celebrated throughout the city with large-scale public art displays, and as all Mona events food, music and noise.
In between the festivals there is regularly jazz on the grass, popular bands performing and parties that go right through the night...
What museum isn't complete without a book shop and Mona is not different. But what a book shop it is! What is different is the content of the bookshop, certainly one with a beautiful, slightly twisted, abnormal, unique stock. Kinda like Mona itself really.
Mona also produces Moo Brew at the brewery and from the vineyard Moorilla Winery, where there are tours and tasting at the cellar door. For those who adore exquisite fine dining, Mona offers The Source Restaurant, boasting a Michelin stars Chef
The café on the grass and the bar in the void are both open to the public and offer lovely meals, coffee and beer & wines, that don't extend to the rich flavours and costly price of The Source Restaurant.
There is just no way humanly possible to experience all of Mona in one day, so to top off your journey, there are the Mona Pavilions. Extreme elegance and beauty, each designed around and displaying a particular well-known artist. Totally fitting to the Mona label.
Mona is a Museum like no other. Really, it should have some unique name that encapsulated what Mona is, but there is none. So museum it is.
David Walsh, and his Mona have effectively smashed the pin of Hobart, Tasmania onto the map. There's a lot to see on this small island - and Mona is the icing on the cake.
© 2013 Anne