Arting Around: MONA, Tasmania

Even before you arrive at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), you’ll start to get the feeling that the place doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Maybe it’s the camouflage painted ferries that transport you up the Derwent River to the museum:

Maybe its their shuttle bus:

Or maybe it’s the adult trampoline in the outdoor area.

But in case you miss all that, the penny should drop when you view the museum’s most controversial and polarising exhibit: Cloaca Professional, an artificial digestive system that is fed twice a day and excretes at 2pm on the dot.

Yes. The tongue-in-cheek humour is strong here.

Engpass by Roman Felicetti (created for the opening of the museum in 2011)
Photo by Gareth Harrison on Unsplash

As the largest privately funded art museum in the southern hemisphere, MONA reflects the tastes and personality of its owner, David Walsh. Born in Hobart, Walsh is a university drop-out who made millions as a professional gambler and then found himself pondering what to do with it all. Deciding that owning an art museum would be a great way to assuage his guilt AND help him meet chicks, Walsh bought land on the Berriedale Peninsula and set about building a multi-levelled subterranean structure housed deep within in the region’s Triassic sandstone.

Since its official opening in 2011, extensions have been added above and below ground, and all are connected via a series of ramps, staircases and tunnels.

Photo by Don Ricardo on Unsplash

The museum is the permanent home to pieces like Cloaca Professional, and the awe inspiring 1620 panels that create Sydney Nolan’s Snake (1970 -72).

By jeffowenphotos – Tasmania, The Mona, museum of old & new art, CC BY 2.0,

It also hosts a series of temporary exhibitions, like Fiona Hall’s Crust, in which manmade tragedies like the Costa Concordia Cruise Ship disaster are fashioned out of bread and displayed on an open atlas.

I usually just toast mine, but whatever.

There are also interactive artworks like Marina Abrimovic’s Counting the Rice, in which you sit at a table and sort through a pile of black lentils and white rice, keeping a tally of how many grains you have on a pad of paper.

It looked quite relaxing.

There are a lot of oddities at MONA. A lot of things you might scoff at or roll your eyes at. But for all its eccentricities, the place is no joke. The museum, its mid-winter festival DARK MOFO, its restaurants, bars and regular events create hundreds of jobs for Tasmanians and generate millions of dollars for the economy of the small Australian state, previously known for its wildlife and natural wonders.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Because Walsh is independently wealthy and probably because he comes from humble beginnings and not the art world, he buys what he likes, often commissioning and purchasing pieces directly from the artist themselves. There is no board of directors to vote about what’s displayed, or fret about its public image. It’s all up to one guy.

As a result, MONA is home to the most eclectic and unique collection of paintings, installations and interactive displays I’ve ever seen in one place.

And the architecture is nothing to sniff at either.

Photo by Tim King on Unsplash
Photo by Dylan Shaw on Unsplash

It’s also fun. Which is not a word you ordinarily associate with art museums.

And sure, there are exhibits that some might describe as strange, baffling or downright puerile – like a certain notorious wall which I won’t name or provide photos of (Google it if you must).

But if you had the means to buy as much art you wanted, would you play it safe and stick to the “classics”?

Or would you get weird?

Untitled (White Library) Wilfredo Prieto, 2004 – 6



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