Provocative agenda at huge Australian collector-owned museum


Curious about the newly opened Museum of Old and New Art, located in Hobart, Tasmania, the state to the south of mainland Australia, Art Radar follows art blogger Deirdre Carmichael to the provocative site to see what all the hype is all about.

View of MONA from the Derwent River. Photo courtesy of artingeelong.

View of MONA from the Derwent River. Image courtesy artingeelong.

Set on the Derwent River, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) houses an eclectic private collection ranging from Egyptian mummies to contemporary installations, from well-known international artists to lesser-known talents. The museum, specifically designed by Nonda Katsalidis to house owner David Walsh’s collection, integrates the natural contours of the surrounding land into its structure, an example being the impressive 250 million-year-old sandstone wall that weeps water when it rains.

Entrance to MONA. Photo courtesy of artingeelong.

Entrance to MONA. Image courtesy artingeelong.

A deceptive entrance leads to equally disorientating spaces within, with no signage and no apparent curatorial methodology to guide the arrangement of the works. Visitors can choose to be directed through the exhibits by the O, an iPhone-like device that will track your progress through the spaces, provide information on the works as you go and even record your path through the gallery which can be accessed online after your visit. Although, as Carmichael points out in her July 2011 review of the museum, published on her art blog, artingeelong, all of this does not necessarily help ease the bafflement.

Anselm Kiefer’s Sternenfall/Shevirath Ha Kelim (Falling Stars/Destruction of the Vessels) as seen from the corridor of glass, built especially to house the work. Photo courtesy of artingeelong.

Anselm Kiefer’s 'Sternenfall/Shevirath Ha Kelim (Falling Stars/Destruction of the Vessels)' as seen from the corridor of glass leading to a pavilion built especially to house the work. Image courtesy artingeelong.

As the writer takes us through the exhibition, she highlights key works such as Sidney Nolan’s Snake (1971), based on the Rainbow Serpent of Australian Aboriginal mythology, and controversial works such as Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca Professional (2010) which manufactures and then releases excrement at 2pm every day. Her review concludes, “MONA is an extraordinarily generous gesture by a man with an extraordinarily interesting collection…. It challenged me to think about the meaning of art.”

One of the many ancient Egyptian coffins in the museum. Photo courtesy of artingeelong.

One of the many ancient Egyptian coffins in the museum. Image courtesy artingeelong.

Art critics are not the only ones who have been lured to this innovative museum. In its first six months, MONA attracted over 220,000 visitors. This is perhaps not surprising given the personality of owner Walsh, a professional gambler-turned art collector who has amassed a private collection of over 2000 works worth approximately AUD100 million, making MONA the largest private museum in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to these impressive figures, Walsh has attracted attention through the purchase of key works, such as John Brack’s The Bar (1954) for a record AUD3.17 million, for which he outbid the National Gallery of Victoria.

Director of the Tasmanian Museum and Gallery, Bill Bleathman, says of Walsh’s curatorial rationale, “If people are serious about good art, then [viewing it is] not always going to be comfortable.” As testimony to Walsh’s commitment to challenging audiences, if a work on display is found to be too popular with visitors, it will be taken down and replaced with another piece. Throwing convention out the window, Walsh is developing a new concept of what a museum is, with apparent success.

The tunnel on the way to the library and the Anselm Kiefer pavilion. Photo courtesy of artingeelong.

The tunnel on the way to the library and the Anselm Kiefer pavilion. Image courtesy artingeelong.

From 10 December 2011 MONA will be showcasing more than 100 works of Wim Delvoye, a Belgian conceptual artist who challenges convention with his shocking works centred around the body which question our concepts of beauty.


Related Topics: art museums, museum collections, private art collectionsAustralian art venues

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