Tasmania has been punching well above its weight in the tourism stakes in recent years, winning accolade after accolade and putting itself firmly on the map when it comes to popular destinations. The growth in tourist numbers has been staggering and is continuing to rise with this year’s cruise ship season getting under way this week.
If you ask Tasmanians what has brought about this transformation and interest in the state, many will tell you it’s thanks to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. It is the Guggenheim of Tassie and a true icon of this island state. It is the brainchild of David Walsh, a professional gambler who earned his fortune betting on horses and building up a substantial private art collection. Walsh is a complex character and MONA is a window into his gambling mind. Who else would decide to build a multi-million dollar state of the art museum and art gallery in a suburb of an island of 500,000 people. It was a huge risk, a massive gamble, right on the doorstep of where he grew up….It has paid off.
The best way to get to MONA is via the MONA ROMA ferry which transports guests at high speed up the Derwent Estuary, under the Tasman Bridge and to the dock at the base of MONA. Walsh wanted guests to walk up to the museum from the water, just like the ancient Greeks would have done when approaching a temple. MONA has a lot of religious iconography and you’d be very naive to think that Walsh is a man of faith. He describes himself as a “rabid atheist” and it quickly becomes apparent that religion is not seen as a subject to be revered and respected at MONA. Many of the exhibits can be described as in poor taste or overtly blasphemous just for the sake of it but they do their job, they ask questions and cause emotion.
Trying to describe MONA in a single blog post is difficult. There’s so much to the place and so many themes within art, religion and history that are challenged and called into question. MONA isn’t a place you simply walk around and ooh and aah at the exhibits, you stop in your tracks and get involved with what you’re seeing. My friend and I chuckled at much of what we saw while we were there but now that I’ve had a chance to step away from it and think, I’ve realised the true genius of the place.
I have a bit of a hard time with modern art I must admit. There’s so much of it where it seems someone has thrown a bucket of paint at a canvas and then tried to say that it represents the oppression of the Colonial Era from 1873-1878 in Southern Guam………absolute horse shit. We’ve all seen the headline making pieces that have been valued at millions and yet…..hmmmm. Marina Abramovic’s exhibit was genuinely really intriguing. The contrast between the room of televisions screaming at you and the silence and calmness in other rooms was interesting from an emotional standpoint. Again, my friend and I had a bit of a laugh at the time but looking back it was really well put together.
I never thought I’d find myself wearing a lab coat and ear defenders, sitting on a really long table in a huge room and counting rice and lentils. That’s exactly what happened though in the Abramovic exhibit as visitors were invited to take part in an interactive piece. It was really….REALLY calming and I probably could have spent hours in there, however we had a ferry to catch so the huge pile of rice and lentils remained uncounted. It was never going to be counted though, there were literally billions of grains so the whole exercise was one of futility. And yet here were several hundred people a day I’m sure, willingly donning a lab coat and ear defenders and sitting down in complete silence to count rice and lentils. Art.
What else? What else? There was a cool exhibit based on Mathieu Briand’s exploration of islands in Madagascar which has turned into an ongoing exploration and art work. The pooping machine of course, which smelled just as bad as you can imagine. The overall and all encompassing theme of MONA is sex and death and many of the pieces focus on that. Some hit the mark and make you think and consider them in greater detail but others just seem far too obvious as “art” pieces, I’m looking at you wall of vagina casts.
There’s no denying MONA is a feast for the senses and it definitely causes emotional responses in those who visit. There will be those who are repulsed by the place, others who are intrigued, and others who see it as a truly arousing experience. It is anything but the stereotypical image of a stuffy old museum where patrons shuffle around dusty exhibits before picking up a fridge magnet in the gift shop. The great thing about art is it’s open to interpretation and the exhibits inside MONA actively encourage their viewers to think about what they’re looking at and decide for themselves whether they like it or not. It’s an experience and one you really should experience at least once in your life.
Here’s some photos to give you a taste of what you can expect from a trip to MONA. I was going to caption them but I think it’s best to give you something to think about and hopefully encourage you to take a trip to MONA in the future.