I’ve always wanted to be fabulously wealthy. Not just rich, but uber-rich, I want to get into a bidding war for A-Rod, throw rockstar parties on my private jet and, most importantly, leave a legacy as an over-the-top eccentric. One of the first things I’d build would be an art museum featuring all the craziest things to ever be considered “art”…and then a little extra. It would be the place that makes roommates of Matthew Barney, da Vinci and pooping machines. Visitors would be left entertained, befuddled and feeling a little uncomfortable. I have imagined such a place since I was a child, but never knew what it would look like until I walked through the Museum of New and Old Art’s doors in Hobart, Tasmania.
Herein lies the problem, David Walsh stole my idea, executed upon it flawlessly, and consequently created the world’s greatest art museum in the MONA. The MONA is reason enough to visit Hobart, Tasmania. Without even leaving the parklike grounds surrounded by vineyards, you can sample their wine and beer, enjoy scrumptious food, or just relax in the many comfortable seating areas. They have thought of everything, including beautiful lakeside accommodations, but everything is secondary, of course, to the museum. So what makes an incredible museum? Let me take you on a tour.
STARTING WITH SACRILEGE
Modern art is by definition sacrilegious. It upends cultural conventions, challenges tastes and morals, and is universally hated by religious institutions. Therefore, every successful modern art museum needs a strong religious offering, in this the MONA starts off with intensity and never really lets up. The curators did a great job setting the tone with a darkened room, lighted only by faux church stained glass and crucifixes joined into helixes. From that moment on you realize you’re going to see some interesting things.
This display is immediately followed by x-rays of mice reenacting the Passion of Christ. Replacing Mel Gibson for mice is the right casting switch, I wish we could do this for more of his roles.
DISSIDENTS AND ANIMAL CRUELTY
In a remarkably museum like room between the crucifix of mice and a hallway of anus kisses, people stood, hand-on-chin, examining what appeared to be paintings on the wall. Upon closer inspection the paintings are actually tattoos, the medium is pig’s skin, the subject matter is political. Apparently they chose to do this work in China, but ran into various beuracratic and censorship hurdles, eventually causing the need to slaughter the pigs. Luckily they were able to keep the skins which are intricately tattooed and fun to examine.
The hallway of anus kisses is where things start to go from “interesting” to “hmm”. It would be easy to walk through this hall quickly, noting the red lipstick on various North American hotel stationary. I assumed it to be all the places this artist had been, kissed with her lips. Oh me of pure mind! No, the placard explains these kisses were laid down by putting lipstick on her anus, then stamping the pages. Good thing they started with sacrilege, it prepared me for this moment.
The next thing that caught my eye was a video playing in a small theater. Somewhat fast moving and blurry, I was captivated simply because I didn’t know what was going on. I could make out that there was pinkish skin and ooze. Hmm, what could it be? Worm removal? No, it didn’t look like worms, too oozy. Snot? Maybe, but the orifice didn’t seem right. Then someone said it: they’re popping a zit. Yes, that’s it, super extreme closeup of zit popping. Strangely, eerily mesmerizing…
I just couldn’t imagine what could follow that up until I saw the Cloaca. To put it eloquently, this machine is full of shit. Actually, it exists just to take a shit. Through very careful work, design and plumbing by Wim Delvoy, the Cloaca “eats” human food on one end and processes food mimicking human digestion. The end result? On a conveyor belt at the end it takes a shit, seriously smelly, intimidatingly large, shit.
What’s the story of the Cloaca? Apparently it is a joke, that the artist is mocking the fact that anything could be art, even a machine that makes shit. Jokes and grossness aside, it is a fascinating machine that took a ton of work to create. This is the only place in the world with a Colaca permanent display. Read about it on our guide:
We’ve now covered the highlights of the first floor. Don’t worry though, there’s more, much more, on the remaining several floors. The first thing you see by proceeding up to the second level is a wall of vaginas. Young ones, old ones, hairy ones and wrinkly ones, these 151 plaster cast vaginas probably represent the world’s foremost collection. While more modest people may collect vaginas in private or their memory, not this art collector, no he keeps his pussies on the wall for everyone to see.
There were other things on this floor, of that I’m certain, but due to my scientific interest in the wall coverings I don’t seem to recall exactly what else I may have seen…
I honestly wish I could walk you around the next few floors but the stairs are straight from an Escher drawing. I’m not sure where one floor ended and one began, that doesn’t matter, what matters is what you’ll see. There is a sarcophagus to fulfill the “old” art portion of it’s name as the Museum of Old and New Art. An obesity stricken Porsche which is a social commentary on obesity and how it harms society’s health and aesthetics. Then there was one of my favorites, a juke box of funeral songs. Purportedly playing the funeral song from hundreds of people’s funerals you can choose to rock out, cry, or wonder why in the hell people chose the songs they did for their funerals. Clearly I need to get invited to cooler funerals…
TO FINISH YOU OFF
Clearly what this museum needed…more cunts on the wall…
Oh, and another pooping machine. This time in a more classy, less industrial, setting.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
How did this immoral/magnificent/appalling museum come to be? The museum is owned by and presents the private collection of David Walsh a professional gambler. OK, let’s review how much cooler this just became: this is a guy’s private art collection and he made his money as a professional gambler. I’m pretty sure this is a guy I want to hang out with, he’s my kind of crazy.
The museum was built underground, limiting natural light, filled with things a lunatic wouldn’t think of, yet succeeds spectacularly in providing a remarkable and memorable experience. This is an art museum that you will always leave with something to talk about instead of, “oh wasn’t that nice, would you like to share a cup’o tea?” No, this is a museum that makes you want to sit down with a few beers and reminisce, “did we really just see that?”
Helping visitors make sense of it all are the iPods that they are given with information about the piece, artist bios and curators interpretation. Included is the ability to “love” or “hate” pieces of art. It has been claimed that the pieces that are loved the most are removed, leaving only the hated pieces. It fulfills art critic Michael Connor statement, “MONA is the art of the exhausted, of a decaying civilisation. Display lights and taste and stunning effects illuminate moral bankruptcy.” Yes Michael, it does a great job illuminating moral bankruptcy; and I like it!
IF YOU GO:
- Plan to stay a while. Not only within the museum, but get there before 5pm for wine/beer tasting and enjoy time on the stunning grounds, complete with comfy chairs for relaxing all afternoon.
- It costs $20, but well worth it.
- Catch the MONA FOMA, a two week summer musical festival hosted by the MONA throughout Hobart.