There has been much written on The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). For example, during my trip, when I was in Melbourne, on that Sunday, both The Herald Sun and The Age, had major articles on MONA; this is after the museum has already been open for a year. Another interesting observation is that the museum is receiving major attention in the Australian press, yet when I mentioned to Australians that I was visiting Hobart, the state capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania, many told me they had never been. More interesting is that when I visited the museum, I met people from all over the world, attesting to the international pull of this new museum.
Since there has been so much written about the museum, the architecture, and the founder, David Walsh, I thought the best thing for me to contribute was to write about my personal experience.
My trip to the MONA began with my flight to Hobart, Tasmania from Melbourne. It was an easy one-hour flight. I went straight to my hotel, dropped off my bags, and realized that I could catch the 10 AM ferry to the museum. Taking the ferry was the best way to begin the total experience of the MOMA, and it is a total experience. A quick 45-minutes later, the boat pulled into a beautiful harbor; a great way to begin my adventure. I got off the boat, took the 100 steps (a famous staircase leading to the museum), and was atop a gorgeous quarry type structure. I hadn’t known what to expect when at the museum. Being an art person, I automatically associate museum with art, yet nothing quite prepared me for this; it was nothing like a typical museum with art and was a complete sensory overload.
Once there, as a visitor, I was taught how to use a special iPhone type device, which is called “The O”. “The O” is used to inform visitors about the works, as there are no wall texts. This felt very future forward. There were other great ideas, information, and comments to read from “The O” if interested, or you could simply enjoy the stunning art in a purely visual manner, reading nothing.
There were artworks to touch, beanbags to sit on (i.e. Pippiloti Rist installation), and so many unbelievable things to see. From a great installation of all my favorite 70s performance videos (Acconic, Nauman, Baldesarri, Nitsch, McCarthy, etc.), to a mummy, to a Damien Hirst spin painting, to a major Kiefer installation. I mention these giants of contemporary art, yet most of the works that made the strongest impressions on me were not the works of the contemporary artists. The juxtaposition of a melding of artworks and generations and nationalities is what really captured me. Hiroshima in Tasmania – the Archive for the Future, was one work that peaked my interest. This work allowed the viewers to create their own rubbings form the piece. Being a part of the work was invigorating. Bit.Fall by Julius Popp, which is a waterfall that streams works that Popp found on the web, was another work that I instantly became enamored with. I will never be able to explain this work very well, as it is truly unique and something to experience. The one thing that I can say about it is that there was a rhythm of noise to the work that resounded throughout the space that was warm and reassuring.
Wim Delvoye’s solo exhibition was also on view when I visited. Delvoye has been tattooing a man, Tim Steiner, for the past few years. Delvoye began with a six-week, live tattooing event in 2006. He tattooed Steiner’s back, and some years later the tattoo was sold to a collector who will get the preserved skin from Steiner’s back when he dies. I loved seeing Steiner’s performance of being the voyeur of his tattoos and the conceptual element of the work. The fact that Steiner is the artwork and when he dies, the work will be completed as the tattoo is handed over to the purchaser. And regarding sensory overload – Delvoye’s “Cloaca, the Poo Machine” took over my olfactory sensibilities. This is a room-sized installation of glass containers connected to each other by wires, tubes, and pumps. Each day food is mixed in a giant blender and combined with water and poured into jars containing acid and enzyme liquids, similar to a human stomach. The machine then “digests” the food, and to be frank, poos it out. This is what I mean – it was a total experience. The gestalt was impressive!
I also enjoyed seeing works by both Australian and Tasmanian artists – many great works by Australian artists whom I understand are part of the Australian cannon – Brett Whiteley, major work by Sidney Nolan, and Arthur Boyd to name a few. And the best work by a contemporary artist, David Noonan, which I have seen. I also loved running into a great Hans Bellmer photograph, a head of a mummified Cat, the toughest Jenny Holzer work, great works by Kounellis, one of my favorite Erwin Wurm pieces, Adam Putnam, a young American performance artist that I like, and a great video by Saskia Olde Wolbers, which one does not see often.
The funny thing about Hobart, outside of Australians (who don’t even visit the city), is that although it had an international crowd, no one knows where it is. My parents are still trying to find it on a map – LOL! You really do feel like you are at the end of the world, which only adds to the adventure. Being in the place, realizing how far away you are, has you understand the aesthetic interest and allows you to appreciate the effort of the Owner & Collector who made the place a reality.
One of the other parts of the experience that is so unique is that the experience does not end when you leave. As you are using the new high tech equipment, what you click on, “your personal tour’ is recorded and then emailed to you, which allows you to run through the artworks that you wanted to spend more time with and learn more about. It is a great residual of the experience and leaves lasting memories. MONA is truly a unique museum that gives its visitor a one of a kind experience. I was impressed and excited to have the experience, and am already figuring out how I may take clients and visit again.