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Traipsing Around Tasmania: Episode 3

It’s hard to know how to describe MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, located in Hobart, Tasmania. We had never heard of it but when we decided to head for Tasmania, Jim’s sister Joanne, told us we had to see MONA. Everyone we encountered in Tasmania told us we had to see MONA. So we booked another two nights in Hobart at the end of our time in Tassie to do just that. In fact MONA has been in the Lonely Planet list of the top 10 of the world’s must see places. To MONA we would go.

Getting there is an interesting appetizer to the main course. Moored in Hobart’s harbour are two big catamaran’s with camoflage paint jobs that transport people to the museum. While you can drive the short distance out of town to MONA, the boat trip up the Derwent River to the spit of land that MONA occupies was all part of the experience we were told.


We got the first boat at 9:30 am. Th harbour was a short walk from our hotel, The Old Woolstore, which is what is sounds like, a nicely renovated and added-onto wool storage facility from the turn of the century, with interesting pieces of wool processing machinery decorating its public spaces. Lots of sheep in Tassie.


We declined to pay extra for what is called “The Posh Pit” on the boat - alcohol and food included - as it was just a 1/2 hr voyage and there was a nice bar for us plebeians anyway if we really needed a morning cocktail. So we hung out on the stern of the boat where we had sheep to sit on and a cow to enjoy the scenery with us.


“Mona: a museum, or something. In Tasmania, or somewhere. Catch the ferry. Drink beer. Eat cheese. Talk crap about art. You’ll love it.” This is from the Mona website so you have see there is a distinctly irreverent tone here, even on the garbage containers And we did love it.


From the march up the 99 steps from the boat dock to an architecturally stunning terraced outdoor space overlooking the river and surrounding hills with beautifully planted green roofs, a tennis court (because that’s where the owner and creator of this private museum likes to play) beside a giant steel cement truck sculpture rendered in Gothic style , we knew we were in for something different.


David Walsh who grew up in a working class Tasmanian neighbourhood not far away, had a previous museum that no one came to, so he decided to spend $80 million and opened MONA in 2011, using a fortune made as a professional gambler. He sounds from all accounts like a bizarre personality. MONA is the largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere and is as he refers to it “a subversive adult Disneyland’ with themes of sex and death. Entry is free for Tasmanians.

The museum is actually underground and you begin three levels down via a spiral staircase or a glass elevator and then you proceed through chambers and long tunnels cut into the golden sandstone of the cliffs above the river. It’s weird and unnerving which is all intentional apparently.


The first thing we encounter is a cocktail bar and then a long gallery space lined with antique chairs and sofas and a lit chamber, containing the ashes of Walsh’s father. MONA offers a lifetime and beyond membership - for $75,000 your cremated remains can be stored in an urn in the museum. At the end of this gallery is an installation where droplets of water fall from the high ceiling and for a split second form words downloaded in realtime from Google’s Australian News headlines. As the artist says, “It’s a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we are exposed to.”in common usage in social media that day. It was quite mesmerizing.


There is no signage for any of the art. You download an “O” app onto your phone or get a free device with headphones that knows where you are in the museum and will give you a little or a lot of information about an exhibit depending on whether you choose the Summary or the “Art Wank” .option.

There are some truly strange - and disturbing exhibits. One is an entire gridded room filled with used sump oil (yes, it smells like oil) that reflects the pattern of the walls around it and is strangely disorienting. There is a steel bridge that you can walk out on if you wish to become further disoriented.


Another is called Cloaco Professional, part of the museum’s permanent collection that is basically a mechanically-operation gastro-intestinal tract in the form of hanging vessels shaped like Greek amphorae. It’s fed twice a day and food travels through a mechanical and chemical assembly line and poops once a day. It satirizes the modern art world - “that most of it is crap; that the art world has finally disappeared up its own backside.” Yup, it smelled so we didn’t linger.


Then there was Tim, the tattooed man who says his body is his canvas, has spent 3500 hours since 2011 sitting on a plinth in MONA and has sold his skin to a German art collector to be handed over when he dies; Fat Car, a comment on our supersized consumer society; Snake, an entire huge room whose walls are covered with 1.620 images; and White House, a very beautiful interpretation by the Chinese artist, Ai WeiWei, of a building from the Qing Dynasty.


I can’t say that there was art I loved, with the exception of the WeiWei sculpture, but the creative bizarreness of it all meant there was never a dull moment. We took a coffee break in Pharos, a stunning restaurant with a huge white sphere in front of floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the river and then continued to work our way up through the 3 levels of underground galleries and then emerged, feeling a bit like moles on an acid trip, into the sunshine. There was an expansive lawn behind the building and we had lunch and listened to live music amid people sitting on beanbag chairs drinking cocktails.


These were books for sale in the gift shop.


By mid-afternoon, MONA-ed-out, we boarded the boat for the cruise back down the river to Hobart - and a different reality. Tasmania, surprising in so many ways!

If you want to know more about MONA, read this New Yorker article:


Posted by Jenniferklm 21:11 Archived in Australia

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Thanks Jennifer that was a terrific tour! So interesting and bizarre. Hope to make it to Tasmania one day.


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