The other week I was down in Hobart for a show with my heavy electronics group Dead Boomers and – of course – amongst the indulgences of consuming local produce and catching up with friends there was an extended visit to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art.

I have no desire to go into all the ins and outs of what MONA means, I think we’re all familiar with David Walsh’s temple to sex and death. Plus, far wiser and more articulate voices than mine have already done that.

What I did strike me, as I contemplated what to say about the new exhibition, Theatre of the World on last week’s DIY Arts Show, was the idea of a singular and private vision and the impact that has a city and cultural communities.

Without a doubt, MONA has provided a focal point for the arts world. There isn’t another venue or collection like it in Australia (dare I say, the world) and everyone from the artistically literate to the curious are drawn like moths to a flame. But alongside this obvious economic benefit to Tasmania through tourism, MONA seems to have had a positive effect on the local community.

Untitled (White Library), image from MONAAs far as I can see, the Museum has for the most part been embraced by Hobart, with opposition and public outcry minimal. That isn’t too surprising, given how, err, strange Tasmanians are. I thought it was interesting to think about the effect of this incursion into public space.

But on the art:

Theatre of the World occupies the bottom level of the gallery. It’s a separate, curated exhibition, but seamlessly presented amongst the rest of the evolving permanent collection, Monanisms.

It was great to revisit some both the space – which is something to behold in itself – and works that stuck with me on my first visit: Wilfred Prieto’s empty ‘White Library’ is still a standout to to; as is ‘My Beautiful Chair’, an interactive installation by Greg Taylor chronicling the final moments of an assisted suicide.

Greg Taylor's My Beautiful Chair, image from MONABut I think MONA’s strength lies not just in the works themselves, but the manner of their presentation.

It’s about the engagement of the work within the space, not it’s position in the artistic canon. It’s an interesting concept and one that I – ignorant as I am of the various ins and outs of art history – am partial to. With no signage to distract you, you can experience the pieces in your own way. Of course the mobile device they give you (The O) can provide any info you want with the tap of button. I preferred to consume this after returning home.

This idea of reducing the barriers between the viewer and the work puts the gallery’s physical space well and truly into frame. You can quite literally get lost in the museum, meeting up with friends some hours later to compare notes and go in search of the pieces you’ve missed.

The strongest reactions I had were to works that utilised light, partly, I think, because they draw the architecture and the space into the work, (literally) bouncing off it and shaping it.

An untitled work by German artist Kitty Klaus (the image at the top of this post) was particularly arresting. With four simple light sources a dense landscape on the four walls of a small antechamber is created. It felt to me like a cityscape devoid of people (as they often are in architects, planners and artist’s visions). It resonates beautifully to the 60s sci-fi nature of the Museum’s design and projects a sense of melancholy that really resonated with me.

It’s interesting that these are the sorts of dystopian references that come to mind with MONA, because the space itself is heavily populated with people and a hive of activity and excitement. This private monolith; a self described activity in enhancing Australia’s cultural life and egoism is a hub for a community – tourist and local, art aficionado and Luddite alike. However much of that was intended, it’s a beautiful outcome.

For a private temple of a seemingly anti-social eccentric, MONA has created a home for a community. It’s interesting that it took a personal undertaking rather than a public initiative to create it. Well worth the $20 entry fee they slug you for being from the mainland.


(Images from the MONA website)

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