savvy readers all know what and where MOMA is, (Museum of Modern Art) and being the globally-informed art lovers they no doubt are, visit every time they go to New York. But have they been to MONA? Chances are, not. At least not yet. What is MONA we hear you plead? Certainly a name to drop at the next art-wank event you attend, anywhere in the world. And certainly the art world is pricking-up its ears and turning its eyes on the Deep South - Tasmania
MONA stands for the Museum of Old and New Art. It is the largest private museum in Australia, and Hobart, Tasmania claims it for its very own. The museum is the brainchild of an extraordinary individual - David Walsh, professional gambler, passionate art lover, collector of antiquities and more, and proud Tasmanian.
What? A museum of modern art at the end of the earth? If you were expecting a museum with the exquisite profile of architect Frank Gehry's superb Guggenheim in Bilbao, you might be dismayed. But MONA has been stirring up controversy since the day it opened in January 2011, and is unlike any museum, any place, anywhere in the world. And that is part of Walsh's vision.
Situated on a small promontory jutting out in to Hobart?s Derwent river, no museum could conceivably equal MONA's position, position, position. Viewed from the water (most visitors arrive by ferry), there is no grandiose multi-tiered structure, or even a visually-arresting low-rise one. On first glance, there seems to be nothing much more than a cluster of rusty-red shapes in a fortress-like, rocky setting. And that suits Walsh just fine.
On dry land, the vista mellows into the lovely vine-scape of Moorilla Estate winery. But still, there is no serious suggestion of a museum. Hardly surprising when you learn that over 6000 metres of gallery space was drilled 17 metres underground into Tasmania's magnificent Triassic sandstone.
If you are looking for a quick summary of what is within and without MONA, you won?t find one. You may have to channel depths of 6000 metres within your own soul and psyche, or return again and again for affirmation, condemnation or contemplation of the concept and the contents. Many rate it one of the wonders of the world.
There are more than 650 pieces of art - some to view, some to turn your back on, much of it dark, macabre, and infused with black humour. Sex, death and religion are recurring themes, hence some exhibits are probably not suitable viewing for those of tender years or at least without some 'editing and navigational' skills of the accompanying adult. Other pieces of art and installations are joyful, playful, funny, stimulating, gorgeously beautiful but always downright provocative.
For some, the best way to start (or finish) is at the bottom of the musuem in The Void - the museum's lowest floor, which is 14 metres below ground and carved out of a 240 million-year-old sandstone quarry. Here, as well as artworks, there is The Void Bar, where you can sit in Victorian and Edwardian armchairs, sip locally-brewed Moo Brew beers, Moorilla wines and ponder the meaning of life, death, the hereafter or where should we go next? Walsh?s idea is that you should lose reason, caution and inhibition before you enter the gallery.
The installation MONANISM is possibly the cornerstone yet constantly evolving exhibition at the museum. Here new works come, go, while others stay - such as Sydney Nolan's Snake which comprises 1620 images and is almost as long as an Olympic-size swimming pool. Disconcerting exhibits to some are the decapitated, castrated life-size models, animals hanging from meat hooks, and extreme close-ups of female genitalia.
Currently showing until April 2013 Theatre of the World which is a collaboration between the Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, and David Walsh?s own collection. Visitors enter a series of environments containing 'a prodigal and discontinuous array of objects reflecting 4000 years of human history'. Among them are stuffed, mounted birds; animal skeletons; World War 1 'Trench Art'; Georgian watercolours; Melanesian masks and drums; scientific instruments and even teapots!
Our best advice is to set aside one whole day (minimum) for your visit. (There are eight guest pavilions on the estate for those who want to linger longer). There is plenty of food and drink - a delightful café, and an excellent restaurant, The Source, which serves seriously fine food featuring outstanding Tasmanian produce and cool-climate wines. And don't forget the Museum Shop. Perfect for those who have everything. Why not a Nevermore Urn to house the ashes of the dear departed, soap in the shape of a vagina, a breathtaking corset, or gothic jewellery modelled on human organs?
We dare you to nick in and out and say you've done MONA and ticked the box. Not possible. You will be compelled to explore further - get lost in the vast sandstone void, then wander and wonder through labyrnthine corridors. Are you brave enough to tackle the challenge?
Maggy Oehlbeck Updated 11/11/12