MONA: The Museum of Old and New Art

MONA is a new phenomenon just outside Hobart, a huge museum meandering up and down over three floors built into the side of a hill. Visitors arrive via ferry from the city, getting a great view of the Derwent River and the MONA facade as they arrive. Drivers walk down a path beside a band shell and lawn, past a barbecue restaurant and bar, the entrance to the Moorilla winery that is part of the property, and if they’re not lost yet, descend a zig-zag set of stairs and ramps to arrive at the front door of the museum. Clad in mirror-finish brass, it’s a bit disorienting, but that seems to be the point.

I started our visit by sitting on a stool held up by a gloved “Mickey Mouse” hand.

We rambled along the suggested route, from the lowest level upward, then took a break to go off-site for a picnic lunch break. Tickets are good for multiple entries on a single day, and no one paid much attention to our in and out. Musicians were playing in the band shell from around noon until after we left. We didn’t like the music much, but it was entertainment, and people were sitting on the lawn listening.

I enjoyed the moments of participation. We arrived in one room during the period when visitors are allowed to add to a pile of broken glass piled against a section of white wall within the dark room. If you hit the wall with the bottle given to you, a bright light goes off.

Another installation is a recreated studio of Vermeer with a discussion of whether artists of his period used lenses to project images to enhance the accuracy of their painting. I sat before a blank page with an inverted image pasted on the wall and a lens angled in such a way that I could draw the image on the blank page as if I was tracing it. I did a pretty good job if I do say so.

An ingenious piece emits water droplets in patterns that create words out of the falling water. I listened to an interview with the artist who revealed that as soon as he presented his piece he was besieged with requests to use it for advertising. He refused, and someone promptly worked out how he did it, creating a similar device to be used for advertising. It is already in use, with the artist gaining neither credit or money for it.

There was one piece that impressed me as a work of art and a commentary on life and art. This machine was created by Jean Tinguely  (1925-1991) as a commentary on the machine age as it runs constantly and does nothing but wear down. The intent was that eventually it would destroy itself. It was created long before Steampunk–I consider Tinguely the grandfather of Steampunk. Watch a very short video of the contraption working:

Jean Tinguely metamechanics sculpture at MONA

Outdoors was a life-size sculpture of a semi trailer carrying a cement mixer. The strange difference was the fact the entire piece was created from gothic style arches cut into steel.

Whether or not visitors like the art is beside the point. MONA provides all visitors with an “O” device that works easily and well, providing text about all the pieces. Press the button and O reveals what is nearest to you, click on the photo to read a basic description, then on other icons for more extensive comments. Sometimes there is a music or video link, though these are underutilized. The device was an excellent way for the museum to avoid labels and allows them to move things around at any time. The device elicits a “love”, “hate” reaction to each piece, and allows viewers to comment. I liked it better than an audio guide.

With the O device in hand, a visitor could easily spend many hours viewing and commenting on the pieces. But why? The pieces are sometimes boring, like the white table filled with random bits, or the Porsche covered with fiberglass, aka, the “Fat Car.”

Later, I looked at the MONA web page that shows some of the items in the collection. Most of them were items that I did not see during our visit. It looks like they do rotate material frequently. The web page doesn’t exactly keep up. That is probably intentional. MONA intends to do everything differently, for good or bad. Museum staff are numerous, friendly, and helpful. For example, they ask you not to take in water bottles, and provide water at all the bars/restaurants. There are many opportunities to purchase food and drink, souvenirs or “enhanced visits.” I opted not pay extra to go inside the white sphere. For another opinion of MONA, here is Jonathan’s review of MONA from TripAdvisor:

MONA is a difficult institution to review.  Is it a museum, as implied by the name?  Not really.  It is mostly a money-making entertainment venue.  The next big question is: is it art?  Well, kind of.  It is a bizarre collection made by the wealthy owner with no real focus except “sex and death”.  Much of it seems deliberately designed to shock or stymy the visitor and it does succeed at both of those.  Does it inspire a greater understanding of anything?  Not that I can see.  We spent four hours wandering around the dark tunnels and “exhibit” spaces.  It’s hard to get really lost, but you do wind up backtracking a lot.  My wife and I were reminded of the Dali Theatre-Museum in Spain, where the visitor is invited to put aside traditional pathways and explore the Museum as you wish. The difference is that Dali was a creative genius and the curators of his museum do a stunning job of displaying Dali’s art (and related artists).  Mona on the other hand has depressingly little of creative genius and the curators do a particularly bad job of presenting mediocre fare.  Go, have a good time, but don’t expect to be enlightened.



Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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