A visit to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) Hobart, Tasmania


The one thing you are guaranteed to get out of MONA is an emotional response:  it can make you angry, make you laugh, shock you, scare you, sadden you and astound you.  For MONA is an artwork in itself.

You enter MONA at the top and from there it’s a down the rabbit hole experience, down down down, wondering what will be at the bottom.  A circular core in the earth takes you to the depths of MONA from which you wend your way, with no clear directions or order, back up to the top.   You either travel down in a circular lift, or, as I did, walk down a corkscrew staircase around the lift on stairs that never seem to end.  You are left standing in what feels like an open sandstone cavern, and from here you begin your travels.

There are no directions at MONA, no signs on paintings, so you self-navigate with the help of your iPod Touch guide (called an “O”) and Sennheiser headphones, which allow you to centre yourself whereever you stand in the gallery.

And now the adventure starts.  With its themes of Sex and Death, MONA is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.  If you are neither of these, you will love MONA.

Some works made us snigger behind our hands like naughty school children.  Others shocked or saddened us: the too lifelike wax girl in a cage in her pink tutu, and her neighbour; a suicide pinball machine adorned with images of young girls.  And some simply took our breath away: for one colleague it was brilliantly yellow gold coins, the Aureus of Caesar, bringing Roman times to life; for me, an Egyptian coffin with artwork so lightly wrought and beautiful, it could have been painted yesterday.

The Death Gallery, which only two can enter at a time, captures your imagination (and makes you wonder how you’d react if the lights went out while you were in there).  This is what I think MONA is all about.  MONA in itself, its construction, design, and the art it has been filled with, has been executed with such imagination, creativity and humour that it brings back your child’s sense of wonder and you simply get lost inside.

Blutclip, a video installation of a woman seemingly smeared in menstrual blood together with much vajazzling raised the ire of a colleague we met outside.  “How is that art?” he bellowed. “I don’t get art!” As I said, MONA evokes emotion.

The wall of records (LPs), with three dimensional faces in their centre which proclaim “I love you, I love you” in eerie little voices.

The Cloaca Professional, patiently digesting food all day, both fascinates the mind and disgusts the senses.

A beautiful Emily Kngwarreye, in its own little room through a low height door, was heralded by me to my colleagues as the work of the best ever Aboriginal artist, and dismissed by them “But I could do that”.

The amazing drawings of Yannick Demmerle, so innocuous from a distance, up close are a riot of penises ejaculating the feathery spears which adorn the majority of the artwork, while cloven hoofs suggest the devil is ever near (“he’s very fond of doodling” suggested one of my colleagues, which made me snort with laughter).

I could go on, you can tell can’t you?

David Walsh has created something that no group of administrators could ever envisage let alone accomplish.  MONA is a masterpiece, a must see.  I would go back tomorrow.