Hello everyone, I’ve just got back from a very enjoyable trip to “The Apple Isle” or Tasmania as it is properly known. The trip wasn’t all beer and skittles as we had some business to attend to in Hobart, but while we were there we did manage to slip in some fine eating and a visit to MONA.
The Museum of Old and New Art, to give it its full name is the largest privately funded museum in Australia and houses David Walsh’s art collection. Like MONA, Walsh is a polarizing figure – you either like him or you don’t there is no middle ground. Even his bio on the MONA website describes as being “a prick because he like it”. According to The Age he is Hobart’s most infamous son making his fortune off of gambling systems and card counting in casinos, and then apart from the paltry $32 million AUD owed to the Australia Tax Office used it to build the museum ($75 million) and buy his art collection ($100 million). To get an idea of what he is about Walsh recently MC’d his own wedding and out dressed the bride and his parking space at MONA is labelled “God’s”. The words vanity and control certainly spring to mind.
MONA is much hyped in Tasmania and indeed Australia, in fact so much so you’d be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing else. When you arrive there you realise that it is much, much more than just an art museum. It is a vineyard, a micro brewery (I’m very partial to the Moo Brew Pils so I’m not all anti Walsh), an upmarket resort, restaurant, event space and gallery. As you go through the mirrored entrance and descend into its deep dark depths it feels like you are entering a Bond villain’s secret lair. When I got to the bottom I fully expected to be met by a pudgy bald man in a grey Mao suit sitting in a swivel chair and fondling a siamese cat. It was a bit of an anti-climax not to be. There are some nice pieces of art in Walsh’s collection, I’m particularly drawn to the works by Australian artist Tracy Moffatt and South African Roger Ballen, but (and there always is a BUT) the overall the impression given is that a huge wedge of cash was given to an adolescent with which to indulge his puerile imagination. The central theme is that of sex and death and the collection relies heavily on shock value rather than other form of merit. Walsh obviously sees himself as a provocateur and impresario in the mould of Malcolm McLaren, but all that was done over thirty years ago and so Walsh’s attempt seems like a limp lettuce sitting in a supermarket cool shelf after a long hot day – in other words past its expiry date.
Perhaps I’m being a little disingenuous and a tad cynical, but I came away thinking that perhaps the real art at MONA is the marketing and relieving the punters of their cash, which would make all rather ingenious. Maybe Walsh is a Bond villain after all. For me the most enjoyable part of the whole MONA experience was watching how the visitors interacted with the exhibits.