I love art galleries. They are places where you have an immediate and quite random reaction to a piece of art and no matter the rationale or contradictory nature of your reaction, you can never be wrong. It was therefore with willingness (but a complete lack of prior knowledge) that I went along to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) during a recent trip to Hobart, Tasmania. I knew it was within a vineyard and was built by a Philanthropist, but that was it.
The building and the experience sneak up on you. We entered from the road, where to be honest, it just looked like yet another (life is hard) affluent vineyard. I’m told the best way to enter is via boat from the City, where, from the water, the true scale of the art gallery built into the sandstone cliffs is understood. I must say that the outside does not work for me, though it does not offend. I also wonder what happened between the concept by the Melbourne Architects Nonda Katsalidis and the reality.
On entering however, my interest and admiration grew. The carved spaces are phenomenal and the use of materials and details is inspiring. There is a pleasantly confusing mixture of gallery spaces, from three-storey spaces literally carved from the sandstone cliffs, to small cold intimate spaces with eerie soundtracks and sinister art pieces.
The art, apart from visiting exhibitions, is all a private collection of the owner David Walsh, the owner of a professional gambling syndicate. The presentations are challenging – in a good way. David stated “I like to just scatter things around and people can do the curation in their head.” There are no signs or wall text, an ipod is provided that will provide reams of information should you want it. The adult only section is by the door, but once you have wandered past that, you wonder if you accidently slipped back into it, as Walsh’s taste is certainly for sex, death and gore. Walsh has described the museum himself as “a subversive adult Disneyland”. I did not mind this generally, though I did find the fact that the piece ‘Cloaca Professional’ by Wim Delvoys, (a series of see through tubes and vases that turns food into faeces) smelt of stale milk rather repulsive.
One piece I loved was that described by Walsh as “the honey to trap the flies,“ ‘Snake’ by Sidney Nola – a centerpiece of the museum which, at 9m tall, had to have the gallery built around it. Created in 1971, it is 1620 individual paintings of nature that swirl and blend together to make for a huge multi-coloured snake. I was also a sucker for the sheer entertainment value of watching water droplets form words, in ‘water word’ by the firm Bit.fall. But I found the most beautiful and engaging piece to be ‘Tracing time’ by Claire Morgan, a hanging artwork that crafted seeds, leaves feathers and a solitary taxidermy wren falling to the earth. Sheer beauty.