Up until now I haven’t really told you all why Louise and I went to Tasmania; we went to see MONA. Louise read a review of the Museum of New and Old Art which had opened in Hobart in January 2011 (it may have been this one) and sent it to me with a message to the effect of ‘Hey this looks cool, we should totally go sometime’. After reading the review and having a look at the MONA website I sent back something like ‘Hells yes! We should go as soon as possible, how about February?’ and so the journey was begun.
When I drew up the itinerary (yes I made an excel spreadsheet with an itinerary including as much cheese, chocolate and beer as I could find because I was unemployed at the time) I allocated an entire day to MONA. We arrived at about 10.20am on Sunday morning, just after it opened and already there were 25 people in the queue before us.
I took this photo of myself in the mirror wall of the gallery in an effort to be meta.
The gallery has a wide range of art in it, as the name may suggest. It is the brain child of a man called David Walsh; a man who has been described as a Willy Wonka style rich genius, by Tim the tattooed man (more on this later) and a prick by both his own website and some of the locals (names redacted).
I have it on good authority that David is a mathematical genius and made his fortune by spending 10 years working out the formula to winning at horse racing and succeeding. He then won a lot of money and decided to spend it buying art. What is on display MONA is apparently only a third of his collection (some 260 works), it is a privately owned gallery and he did not receive and funding (government or otherwise) to build it. It is an impressive effort.
I would say he’s got a bit of a Bruce Wayne thing going on too, particularly when you see some of the shots of the MONA grounds; for example the gallery’s private ferry landing, above, and the subterranean feel inside the gallery, below.
The gallery has been carved into the side of a hill so that you enter on the ground floor, where the gift shop and reception are, and go progressively further into the mire through basement levels 1, 2 and 3.
When you arrive the staff give you a little ipod with the catalogue on it because there are no tiny signs. The ‘O’ device has information on what a work is, who is it by, and for many of the works it has two tiny reviews; one called Art Wank, complete with a picture of a cock and balls, and one called Gonzo. It is not hard to guess what Art Wank is; it’s the typical artist and work review designed to give you an insight into what the artist was thinking. Gonzo on the other hand is written (mostly) by David Walsh and gives you and insight into what the work means to David (who owns it) or things it reminds him of or why he bought it or just some stuff he wrote. It was one of the highlights of the visit reading about each work.
The ‘O’ device also records your tour and puts it on the server so you can access it later. It gives you a count of what you’ve seen, and allows you access to the commentary from the comfort of your home. It’s super cool.
The permanent collection is huge and diverse. Among my personal favourites it includes works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sir Sidney Nolan, Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Marina Abramovic, Vernon Ah Kee, Erwin Wurm, and an entire room dedicated to Brett Whitely (which I didn’t even get to see because we ran out of time).
The current non-permanent exhibition is a retrospective of Wim Delvoye. Before I went to MONA I had heard of Delvoye from a link shared on Facebook condemning his work with pigs. Delvoye had a farm in China for several years where he kept a group of pigs which he would have tattooed (under sedation) when they were small, allow them and the tattoo to grow and then the idea was to sell the skins as art. PETA have apparently blacklisted him for this and when I read the article I admit I was pretty outraged too (now I’m fairly sure it was not outrageous, especially on balance with some of the other horrendous stuff we do to animals). We had a guided tour through this exhibition by a man called Tim Steiner, a Belgian who volunteered to become one of Delvoye’s works.
This is Tim displaying himself in the Delvoye section after the tour. Essentially Tim has had his entire back tattooed with a Delvoye design and agreed to be sold as a work of art. He is expected to be shown at exhibitions (like the one at MONA where he sits on his display plinth for several hours a day) and a stipulation that when he dies the skin on which he is tattooed belongs to the collector who owns the work. Many of you may think that this is bonkers, and perhaps it is, but Tim seems very happy with the arrangement, Delvoye is happy, the collector is happy and the galleries are happy. I mean Tim can, at any time, decide he’s sick of it and leave and there would be nothing anyone can do about it, but I think it gives Tim a purpose.
He spent over an hour talking to us about what art means to him, about his journey to where he is today and about how inspired he is by people like Delvoye and David Walsh for bucking the system. Tim said he thinks MONA is the best, most controversial, challenging and most forward thinking gallery in the world, and I think he might be right.
If nothing else it is the most engaging I’ve been to; we were there from opening to closing, we forgot to have lunch, and we only saw about half of the collection. I left with a feeling of complete saturation, awe and satisfaction and I can’t wait to go back.
It is very hard to do justice to the experience of going to MONA, to the effect that the eclectic collection has on you, to the fascination, disgust, excitement, inspiration and confusion that you feel for having been there. It is said that Walsh uses the ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ options for each work on the ‘O’ devices to rate their popularity and if a work gets too much love he will take it down. I think that this is a mind-blowing way of looking at art – art should push boundaries, it should create uproar, it should be challenging and piss people off, and if it doesn’t well, is it really art then?