Tuesday, 12 April 2016

It's All About Mona

As you may know, from a previous post, Australia: the Country, The People, the Quirks, (http://hpdsinc.blogspot.ca/2016/03/australia-country-people-quirks.html), my partner and I recently visited parts of Australia.  Before we leave on any vacation, I like to do a certain amount of research;  I like to know, before I arrive, what the area might have to offer in the way of interesting things to do and see.  When I googled Tassie, something called the Mona popped up on my screen, and not in reference to the Mona Lisa but to the Museum of Old and New Art, a privately funded museum, on the outskirts of Hobart.

When we reached our first Tasmanian destination I began putting out the feelers of what we should be doing while in the state. When I asked about the Mona, I received a single response. . . repeatedly:  'you won't find anything like it anywhere else in the world'.  If that wouldn't be enough to pique my interest, I can't imagine what would be!   I asked a motel manager; I asked a high school art teacher; I asked tourism representatives; I asked the guys who worked in the local pubs.  Usually, they would start to tell me about something they saw and then stop mid- sentence, exclaiming, 'No, I'm not going to say anything; you need to see for yourself.'  It seemed the entire state was on board with a well kept secret that completely succeeded in stirring up my curiosity.  I have no idea how David Walsh, the man with the vision, managed such an extensive marketing ploy but he had me, hook, line and sinker!

It seems Mr. Walsh, a true son of Hobart, is more than a bit of a folk hero in Tassie. A professional gambler, art collector and businessman, he made his fortune by developing a gambling system used to bet on horse racing and other sports.  He founded the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities in 2001, which closed in 2007 to undergo a $75M renovation, after which it reopened in 2011 as the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).  Clearly a philanthropist, . Walsh has definitely won the respect and admiration of not only his fellow Tasmanians but Australia in general.  Although once involved in a dispute with the Australian Tax Office, which demanded payment of $37M from profits from his gambling system, Walsh was made an Officer of the Order of Australia this past Australia Day for distinguished service to the visual arts through the establishment of MONA and as a supporter of cultural, charitable, sporting and education groups.

We were immediately impressed by the friendliness of the staff and how highly they spoke of their employer. We were then impressed with their employer's sense of humour when we stumbled upon the family private parking spot.  Subsidized by the onsite winery, brewery, restaurant and hotel, entry into the Mona was originally free; however, it is now free to Tasmanians only.  No biggy, the $25 admission fee is worth it just to experience the stunning views and amazing architecture.  While appearing to be a simple concrete and steel single story, windowless structure from the outside, built largely underground, the inside is a completely different story.  Suffice to say, this building breaks the mold, just as the art it houses does.   We were told the family lives above the museum in a flat with a one-way mirrored floor into the museum.  True or not, we do not know, but what we do know is, the museum has a number of flashy luxury suites on the River Derwent, named after Australian architects and artists.
How to Reserve Your Parking Space
There are no labels on the walls describing the art pieces; instead the Mona has the 'O', provided to each guest to read about the display and to listen to interviews with the artists.  You can even save and retrieve your tour, which is emailed to you.  I just went through mine; it's almost like having a repeat visit!  We were also provided with a printed guide, which includes a map showing how to avoid sexually explicit and/or disturbing pieces because, suffice to say, no subject is taboo. It even identifies what may not be appropriate for individuals under the age of 15 years.   Some areas of the museum are strobed; the map shows you how to avoid these as well.
They Shot Them - 2014 - Gilbert & George
No food and drink is allowed in the art spaces and definitely no BYO, an Australian allowance in many restaurants and other establishments that stands for exactly the same thing it does in most countries, BRING YOUR OWN (booze).  To compensate, there are a number of opportunities on the grounds to fortify yourself.

While we were there, the Mona was exhibiting  Gilbert & George's 'The Art Exhibition' and 'Loved" by Kathy Cavaliere as well as the privately owned installations.  I enjoyed the bizarre nature of Gilbert and George and  loved their bodacious style of speaking out against bigotry and racisim and other forms of prejudice.  Honestly, I didn't 'get' Cavaliere's work at all.  Somehow, I just don't consider a pile of shredded paper art.  But here's the thing about art:  it's very subjective which means it's not okay but perfect if you find you have a different opinion.

C_ _ _ _ S and Other Conversations
On the other hand, there were a couple of installations that I found to be less art and more science but completely amusing all the same.  If I ever had questions about my anatomy and whether all vaginas are created equal, I can tell you, we saw 77 casts,  by Greg Taylor and friends, all different. I assume the models, ranging in age from 18 - 78, from all walks of life were the 'friends'.  The artist's goal was single focused: for young women to be free of growing up with fear, ignorance and loathing of their bodies and sexuality.  And, if you think this type of exhibit is found solely at the Mona, think again; it was shown at the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Festival.  It might be an example of the aforementioned Australian quirks we enjoyed so much.

Here was one of many cool things.  bit.fall is a waterfall of words taken from sites on the internet which, in the words of artist Julius Popp, is a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we are now exposed to. He believes our brains are being changed.  For the worse.  I have to admit, I was mesmerized; I have to admit, I think he might be right. 

On the Stairway to Heaven the
Highway to Hell
Then there's the guy who casts his art in dark chocolate.  Apparently, Stephen Shanabrook worked in a chocolate factory when he was 10. Curious?  This 2008 piece represents the remnants of the suicide bomber. . . kind of makes you lose the urge to have a little nibble, doesn't it?

Artifact by Gregory Barsamian
Another very cool piece constructed of steel, foam rubber, paper and acrylic resin and commissioned by the Mona by artist Gregory Barsamian.  Greg says good art operates on a wider broadband.  He says he has been recording his dreams for 30 years and, when you look inside the portals to this brain, you know it's true.

It would seem that David Walsh is not done yet.  In December 2015, he revealed plans for the next phase, to include a casino, museum extension, hotel and playground.  No one can doubt his commitment to Tasmania and to the arts.  If you are in the area, you will want to check it out.  Give yourself a minimum of 3 hours; by then your senses will be overwhelmed but fully engaged.  And if you're too far away for a visit, check out the websites below and be sure to include the blog.  Both sides overflow with a tongue in cheek, often self-deprecating humour you're sure to enjoy.