The Museum of New and Old Art. (MONA)
A visit to MONA is now a must on any bucket list.
Situated not far from the centre of HOBART, this extraordinary museum is a short ferry ride up the Derwent River or a brief car ride to Berriedale, a village-like suburb on the Derwent.
I was in Launceston hanging around with not much to do while His Nibs went to a conference. A friend and I decided to drive the hire car to see MONA, which had only been opened a matter of weeks, and was already receiving rave reviews. A two-hour jaunt on a very good road through spectacular countryside, saw Margaret and I arrive without once getting lost (a minor miracle).
Whatever I was expecting it was not that which confronted me upon arrival. It takes a lot to make me so gobsmacked that I am unable to speak at all, much less coherently, but MONA succeeded.
On an isthmus jutting out into the river and in the middle of a picturesque vineyard, is a building you cannot see. The entire museum appears to be underground. The ground floor entrance is like walking into the Doctor’s TARDIS where you are greeted by any number of staff willing to walk, talk and guide you through what you will see over the next few hours.
The Museum is free, as is the i-pod like audio device, named O, you are given upon entering. It doesn’t matter where you are in the museum there is a GPS tracking device within your O locating your position and up-dating the on-screen information about the exhibits you see around you. Not only does O have information about all the exhibits it also has audio interviews with the relevant artists. I personally could have done without the artists’ interviews, and wished for more of the gossip behind the exhibits; I know I’m a philistine! I have yet to hear an artist bang on about his own work and not put me to sleep, yet they can be so interesting when talking about another artist’s work. WEIRD!
At the risk of sounding churlish, I also would have appreciated the labelling of exhibits with their title and the artist’s name as I subsequently lost my hand written notes of the works I especially liked.
With your O in your hot little hand you take a lift or walk down the easily managed staircase to the bottom floor. The space you walk into is huge and breathtakingly beautiful. The museum’s sheer size is somewhat overwhelming and on one side is a hewn sandstone wall, a natural feature that dominates the museum. A waterfall spelling out words – simultaneously enchanting and bloody clever – falls down one section of the sandstone enriching the natural spectacle.
The wine bar on the bottom level is a very pleasant way to start your visit. You have a choice of antique chairs or lounges on which to sit while tasting the locally produced wines and gazing in wonder at the scale of this privately funded project.
If this building does not win major architectural and design awards there is no justice in the world!
The exhibits are from the private collection of the extraordinarily generous philanthropist, David Walsh, whose vision and tenacity to get this museum off the ground has resulted in a world class venue. The exhibits are eclectic – from ancient archeological artifacts to pornography that is confronting and will seriously offend some people. I’m not sure that a video of a man taking a dump is art, however, it may be of intrinsic artistic value to someone-else. In my meanderings through the pornographic section I followed three little old ladies who kept tut-tutting but didn’t cut short their stay in this section, giving it a thorough going over. As they left they were overheard to say ‘that it takes all sorts, … wasn’t the building fabulous,… and where do we find the Nolans?’
All artistic forms, periods and mediums are represented. The visitor is encouraged to be engaged by what they see and participate in assessing the exhibits which you can do through your O device. This museum is without the ‘normal’ theme unless having fun and forcing you to be engaged counts as a theme. Certainly it is a philosophy that other museums and galleries might do well to consider.
There are very good eateries dotted throughout the whole complex; but they are inadequate in size and number. I think the museum has seriously underestimated the number of people who will visit.
As there was a very long queue at the nice looking museum bistro with an interesting range of edibles on show and a good menu, Margaret and I decided to go looking for alternatives on site. We found it in a bar overlooking the vineyard and the Derwent. It had a very limited menu but that didn’t matter a jot because you can create your own anti-pasta platter from the range they have on offer, which we did.
Prosciutto, smoked ham, local brie and kalamata olives, freshly baked sour dough bread and the richest and fruitiest olive oil I’ve tasted in a long while made up our lunch. Margaret had a local white wine (pinot gris) and I had a very, very good coffee. PERFECT!
Replete, we returned to Launceston and our very curious, and subsequently envious, spouses and friends.
This is a definite must return – worth the airfare and accommodation costs of a weekend (preferably a long weekend). I would like to share the experience with His Nibs and also have more time to meander through this remarkable building with its interesting and varied exhibits.
A serious raspberry as well as a fruity howler to QANTAS who are reducing the number of direct flights to Hobart. Shame on you!
For more information on MONA you can visit their website and the link is: http://mona.net.au/