Had the chance last year to visit the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) just outside of Hobart and I have to say that everything about that place is phenomenal.
To start with you have the architecture- the museum is built underneath a brewery on its own little archipelago sticking out into the Derwent river and you start your tour by going 3 floors down a spiral staircase wrapped around a glass lift shaft. The gallery space is pretty much excavated straight from the rock with sandstone walls going up more than ten meters with metal catwalks and platforms and glass dividers. It’s pretty much a Bond villain’s lair. Some of the exhibitions seemed haphazardly tucked into the ceiling cavity, others force you into a narrow maze or around pools of inky water.
On top of that you have the way in which the information about the artworks is provided- instead of little cards with dates and artist statements you’re given a WiFi connected iPod that detects where you are and feeds you ‘context’ for the artworks around you. They’re handily seperated into sections like ‘gonzo’, ‘ideas’ and ‘artwank’ with audio interviews, odd pieces of trivia and the occasional song ditty recorded by one of the guys from TISM. One of the artworks didn’t have any information related to but it just had a few lines from the owner of the gallery complaining about the price of the artwork.
The exhibits themselves are all fascinating in one way or another. There’s a machine which simulates the human digestive system, there’s a morbidly obese Porsche, there’s a genuine Egyptian Mummy from Ptolemaic dynasty about 100BC and also a wall of about 100 plaster vaginas. Something for everyone really. I think the most amazing thing on offer is an incredibly elaborate 3D zoetrope device built within a gigantic bronze head. It’s difficult to describe, it took me a fair amount of time before I could even work out what it was I was looking at. Perhaps the most prominent exhibit is an artwork called Bit.Fall by German artist Julius Popp which takes words from currently trending google searches and ‘prints’ them with water droplets as they fall to the floor.
Maybe the most amazing thing about the gallery is the man who who built it. MONA is the private art collection of David Walsh- a local Tasmanian who made himself a millionaire by extracting smart money from casinos and online gambling sites. Together with fellow Tasmanian Zelkjo Ranogajec, Walsh spent his early career card counting at blackjack and beating casinos before going on to devise mathematical systems for finding favourable odds through online sports betting. To get an idea of how successful their operation was Ranogajec’s holdings worldwide are estimated to be worth more than 3 billion dollars.
With a backstory like that MONA starts to make sense because it’s such an eclectic mix of artworks and mediums and styles all thrown together with a really irrevereant tone. There’s no place for works which are renowned just for being renowned or simply used as a yardstick for good taste. It has none of the self-consciousness which seems to weigh down any institutions that depend on public funds but fear public opinion. It’s a very different sort of place. With a really nice bar.