As far as nature goes, Tasmania is world-class. Amongst other things, it’s home to one of the world’s best beaches, Wineglass Bay, and is rated third in the world for the management of its natural environment. City-dwellers go to Tassie to get lost, to immerse themselves in the scenery and to get away from the business of life in their urban hubs.
But recent years have seen Tasmania, and particularly Hobart, garner attention for rather different reasons. The island’s arts scene really has come into its own, and there’s perhaps no better embodiment of that than Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Since it’s opening in 2011, the museum has attracted praise from both Australian and international visitors – all keen to see what the fuss is about. And the fuss, it would seem, isn’t going to subside any time soon.
Owner David Walsh has described the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”, which goes some way to explain the appeal. Within its walls, around 400 pieces of Walsh’s private collection – from paintings to the most conceptual of conceptual art – are on display. Perhaps more important than the amount of work on show (the space is Australia’s largest privately funded museum) is the content of it. Dark, brooding, ominous and downright challenging – it’ll leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits. We need only mention the presence of Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca Professional, for you to get the gist. Oh, and chocolate cast of the real remains of a suicide bomber. We said it was challenging.
The fact that MONA is uncensored by taxpayers and free from government funding and interference is an undeniable part of its charm. Walsh is able to explore his ideas and experiments, which focus on the darker aspects of humanity, to the extent he desires. This is where art that was banned from the National Gallery of Victoria can find a home, and the fact that 2013 saw MONA welcome its one millionth visitor less then three years after opening makes it pretty clear that people want to see it.
Architecturally the building, carved out of a sandstone cliff, is built mostly underground with no windows, further adding to the ominous tones of the work on show. A “seemingly endless” spiral staircase descends three-stories down upon entry, and visitors must journey back up to the surface in order to take in all of the work.
There’s a feeling upon visiting MONA that everything is in its right and wrong place. The physical design of the building, the lighting (or lack thereof), the way one must move to see the art, and the art itself seem at once beautifully chaotic. Whatever you make of it, when you finally resurface, it’ll feel as though you’ve just been on a journey. It won’t be like any you’ve been on before, but it’s a journey worth remembering.
Image: Courtesy of Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania