Sunday, October 29, 2017

A visit to the Hobart Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), October 2017.

                                       View from Mt Wellington

Any excuse will do, but mine was my kid sister’s 50th birthday.  She had booked a 2-bed, 2 bath “Pavilion” on site and kindly offered the second bedroom to her older brother and partner.  This all happened in the course of a phone call about a feverish child in a ‘flu season only a couple of weeks before the event.  And I normally NEVER do such things spontaneously! 
We have dear family friends in Hobart and have only had perfunctory time there in the distant past so this was an ideal opportunity to do what many, even most acculturated Aussies have already done, visit MONA. 
Hence we spent 4 days underground looking at the hundreds of modern art installations … but for novelty none came near the 15 minute drive up Mount Wellington.  Somehow it seemed better even than those border peaks in Tyrol and Switzerland.  And that is saying something.  We briefly met gambler David Walsh who started MONA and who retains a unique apartment and garden on site.  He was not forthcoming of anything revealing his obvious vision and aims.  My partner thought he was vacant. 
I am tempted to deign all the entire project as rubbish and fraudulent but too many fellow human beings enjoy MONA in Hobart.  As if continuing Mr Walsh’s penchant for flesh, alcohol, death and the occult, they also have dozens of ancient Egyptian artefacts, some in storage, but many on view, mixed in with the modern art works.  He has accrued some of the most ‘intact’ and beautiful stelae, coffins, mummies, hieroglyphs, mosaics, scarabs, etc that I have ever seen.  Unlike major collections such as the British museum, most of the items are completely undamaged. 
MONA is a Disneyland of sorts, money making at every turn, sex, flesh, smut and fake-art aplenty … not just some ‘poo on sticks’ … but one after another of meaningless, shocking shameless installations (dozens of bottles on rusty iron spears?).  But that is modern art for you, and you can take it or leave it in most places but here it is in-your-face and en masse.  And you have already paid for it beforehand. 
We were told that the most remembered exhibit was “Fat car”, a red sports car with ugly adiposities all around. 
The Hadron Particle Collider in Geneva apparently allowed one artist, Royji Ikeda, into the program and his impression of the control room is a long dark corridor with ranks of screens below and projections above of fast moving numbers with beeping, zonking and flashing strobes.  At least that is my probably imperfect memory of a brief walk through.  We were advised to enter when all was in darkness and await the ‘light show’.  This installation did not tickle my modern artistic bone (if I have one) but unlike most of the others at least it had an interesting origin from which the Higgs boson has finally been identified confirming some missing link of sub-atomic physics. 
One of the most prominent exhibits is the Cloaca Machine which is supposedly a genuine imitation of the human digestive tract in numerous suspended transparent vessels connected by pipes, tubing, pumps and vibrators.  We were shown it being fed two meat pies cut into halves and inserted into what appeared to be an old fashioned insinkerator, along with a large jug of water.  This then travelled down a tube to the stomach which had two types of acid being piped in before some pepsin and other enzyme tablets were added by our guide.  The artist had made 10 of these machines and retained ownership of 9 from which faeces were sold at a high price (!) but MONA was not permitted to do so according to their contract.  The name is a misnomer like so much else in this museum.  The cloaca is the discharge organ in birds and has nothing to do with human or other mammalian digestive systems.  Yet it is another talking point (and a pretty ugly word to my ear). 
Another bizarre contract was with a man who sold all rights to his back to be tattooed by a famous tattoo artist on condition that he sit for the summer season in the museum as a exhibit and donate his skin to the organisation after he died (!).  Uniquely, he would never be able to appreciate the art work himself.  Similarly there were dozens of women’s vulvas carved into white stone and hung along a corridor just above children’s height.  Again, the many women involved would not be in a position to judge the authenticity of the representations unlike some of their partners.  I personally do not feel that my life has been enriched by any of these installations but have to agree that each creates a huge talking point and tourist attraction.   
There were dozens of other permanent exhibits plus a special showing of the “Museum of Everything”, 30 rooms of modern “art” much of which was just OTT items hung, slung or perched in the many dank underground spaces with no natural light or air. 
There is a policy for no identifying tags, supposedly so one has to appreciate the art work as it stands … yet they hand out and recommend mobile proximity devices which even allowed feed-back.  Mine had almost worn out the button for “Art wank”. 
At MONA there is a very classy restaurant called ‘The Source’ with magnificent views across the Derwent.  This is complimented by another café and a wine bar near reception open daily except Tuesdays when the whole venue is closed. 
In town there are also many good eateries to choose from the port at Constitution Dock to North Hobart (there are regular ferries or taxi from MONA, each taking about 20 minutes).  I recommend Suzie Luck’s Canteen at Battery Point and ‘Urban Greek’ in an old city garage building.
Hobart boasts the southern hemisphere’s oldest synagogue in continuous use in Murray St - it has a magnificent Egyptian style façade and caters for both Orthodox and Reform persuasions who seem to be more au fait than  in some other cities. 
The story of Claudio Alcorso (started Sheridan Sheets) retiring to the MONA site and planting early grape vines in the 1950s is told in a great biography called ‘The Wind You Say’.  Walsh bought the peninsula estate from Alcorso including the two Roy Grounds homes which are heritage listed.  It was partly because of this heritage listing that a museum could not be added so Mr Walsh had his architects and engineers burrow out a space below somewhat reminiscent of Jenolan Caves. 
The museum and vineyard employ 500 people and have made a huge contribution to tourism in Tasmania.  There is much more ... including the individual accommodation, heated indoor pool, gardens, lawns, chickens, rabbits, Turel's coloured roof for dawn and dusk viewings and a new exhibit building about to open and proposed hotel in the shape of an inverted pyramid to be called HOMO. 

Back to Sydney and the 'real world' after a delayed Qantas flight (not even one apology more than 2 hours late).  Magnificent Mount Wellington makes the trip to Hobart worthwhile.  Enjoy.