“MONA is a theatre of strange enchantments.”
Between the years of 2005 and 2011 David Walsh and a team of designers, creators and architects set out to create Tasmania’s now stupendously famous Museum of Old and New Art.
“I wanted to build a megaphone.”
Walsh intends his art museum to be different from any other.
MONA is a re-imagining, a reaction to past models in which museums tended to be didactic — viewing their primary role as a teaching one.
Traditionally, galleries display art in rooms which resemble white cubes. While there are white rooms at MONA, most of the spaces are quite different.
With his previous museum, the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, Walsh had been disappointed to see that, instead of studying his collection, visitors spent a lot of time reading the labels. It was as if the labels prevented visitors from properly seeing the beautiful and exciting objects.
In traditional museums the atmosphere is reverential. The mood is quiet and solemn. With MONA, Walsh wanted to create a different experience. He said,
“I wanted to build a megaphone.” David Walsh
In MONA, not only are there no labels, the art is not organised chronologically. This is no history lesson. The museum mixes ancient Egyptian and Roman artefacts with startling, shocking, sometimes disturbing contemporary works.
The layout is complex and disorienting. There are no signs to help you find your way around.
The MONA team have decided to trust ordinary people to come to art and establish a relationship with it. They want you to think for yourself.
Professor Adrian Franklin suggests that MONA is based on the model of the carnival. The museum is exciting and celebratory, and also challenging. Visiting MONA is like going to the theatre. You will come out and talk with your friends about how you reacted, things you were reminded of, the ideas it generates.
It leaves you with a sense of wonderment.
“People leave there and they’re in this kind of hypnotic … they’re in a state of astonishment.” Franklin
“a post-apocalyptic fortress, waffled-concrete walls intersecting with great trapezoidal battlements clad in rusting steel.” Richard Flanagan
Walsh wanted his visitors to ascend to the museum from the water, as the ancient Greeks climbed to the temples of oracles.
Just as it was difficult for the Greeks to interpret precisely what Delphic oracles told them, Walsh wanted MONA’s message to be uncertain.
“My fantasy is that MONA’s message, in common with that of Apollo, affirms life by undermining the reasons you have to lie to yourself.” David Walsh
Does anyone understand what that means? heh heh Is that Walsh being Delphic? He is inclined to be hard to understand. Have a look at his wonderful, complex and partly impenetrable autobiographical melange, A Bone of Fact.
A visit to MONA is definitely a disorienting, challenging experience.
“I want MONA to be a ship afloat on a sea of chance, a deliverer of the alternate idea … an antidote to certainty.” (Walsh in Verghis article)
MONA has been outstandingly successful. In his interview with Michael Cathcart, Prof Adrian Franklin pointed out that children and young people love MONA. There is not much problem with museum fatigue. In a world where the average length of a visit to an art gallery is around 20 mins, 30% of visitors to MONA stay for hours and then come back the next day. Some will come back days later and bring their friends.
Thank you to these people for the images
“MONA” by Lynette Flickr
“mona I” by Sahra Flickr
“Tastrip (276) by Owen Allen Flickr
“Mona, museum of old & new art” Jeffowenphotos Flickr
“Mona 171” by Ian Cochrane Flickr
“MONA ‘The Lovers'” by Steven Penton Flickr
“MONA Museum” by Rob Taylor Flickr
“Taken in The Museum of Old and New Art” by Fraser Mummery Flickr
Cathcart, Michael and Franklin, Adrian (2014), “The Making of MONA”, ABC RN Books and Arts Daily. 5 November 2014 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/the-making-of-mona/5826302
Cochrane, Peter (2014), “The Making of MONA” Open to Talent, Issue 2, May 2014, http://www.utas.edu.au/o2t-old/current-issue/articles/the-making-of-mona
Franklin, Adrian (2014), The Making of MONA, Penguin Group (Australia) Melbourne, 2014.
Flanagan, Richard (2013), “The Gambler: at home with David Walsh”, https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/february/1366597433/richard-flanagan/gambler
Also published as: Flanagan, Richard (2013), Tasmanian Devil: a master gambler and his high-stakes museum. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/tasmanian-devil
McGillick, Paul (2011), “Hobart’s New Anti-Museum” http://www.indesignlive.com/articles/in-review/hobarts-new-anti-museum
Verghis, Sharon (2016), “MONA’s On the Origin of Art: David Walsh’s tale of four visions” http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/monas-on-the-origin-of-art-david-walshs-tale-of-four-visions/news-story/47103bc02f2a9771f10a0b56208e9593
Walsh, David (2013), “An Inadvertent Icon: the making of MONA” An article for the Griffith Review, reprinted at https://www.crikey.com.au/2013/02/06/an-inadvertent-icon-the-making-of-mona/
Walsh, David (2014) A Bone of Fact, Sydney NSW, Picador.