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An ode to MONA - the haven that is the Museum of Old and New Art.

In the year 2011, I embarked on a journey to the pristine shores of Tasmania, a land still largely uncharted and brimming with mysteries waiting to be unveiled. Amidst the allure of this intriguing island, one name stood out – Hobart, the adopted home of the legendary Joachim "Blacky" Fuchsberger. Little did I know that my Tasmanian adventure would lead me to an encounter that would forever alter my perception of art and its impact on the human soul.

As I descended the snow-covered slopes of Mount Wellington, a thickly forested haven, en route to the venerable Cascade Brewery, fate introduced me to an elderly Parisian couple whose artistic inclinations matched the enchantment of the surroundings.

Fresh from my maiden voyage to the Louvre, where I had been reporting on the immersive experience of this iconic museum, I eagerly shared my favourite moment. It was the sheer exhilaration I felt while ascending the stairwell in the Sully wing, connecting the Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquities, and finally laying eyes on Anselm Kiefer's permanent masterpiece – the first since Georges Braque adorned Henry II's antechamber ceiling in 1953.

My tale continued with a worldly anecdote involving Sylvester Stallone, who had acquired a painting by the renowned German Expressionist, only to witness it slowly unravelling. In a bid to salvage his art investment, Stallone resorted to a peculiar daily ritual of gluing back the fragile bits of straw that the painting was shedding. This narrative, while captivating to me, failed to impress my Parisian companions.

Their nonchalant response altered the course of my Tasmanian exploration. The Monsieur casually remarked that Stallone would find himself perpetually gluing at a newly opened museum in Hobart.

This enigmatic place had constructed a dedicated pavilion to house one of Kiefer's colossal iron, lead, and glass sculptures – the SternenFall/ Shevirath Ha Kelim. This ever-evolving work of art, bathed in natural light, featured shards of glass protruding from a decomposing lead-framed bookshelf, evoking memories of a Kristallnacht-like nightmare.

To my astonishment, my Parisian Mademoiselle then spoke of a "machine qui produit des matières fécales" (a machine that produces faecal matter) – Wim Delvoye's "Cloaca Professional."

This digestive contraption processed food through various machine-like stations before producing a realistic faecal emission, challenging the boundaries of art and provoking discussions on the hermeneutics of desire. As the conversation delved deeper into these eccentric topics, I decided to forgo my visit to the Cascade Brewery and instead embarked on a journey to unravel the mysteries of this newfound museum.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) defies conventional definitions of a museum.

Funded privately by one individual, David Walsh, MONA is an amalgamation of concepts, experiences, rituals, and feelings. It is a brand, both serious and playful, a secular temple, cool yet unpretentious, and above all, engaging and mysterious.

Situated within the Dionysian Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula, MONA emerged on the cultural landscape of Hobart in January 2011. It was aptly described as a "subversive adult Disneyland" centered around the dual themes of sex and death.

Approaching MONA, you ascend 99 stairs to reach the entrance, and what you encounter inside is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The single-story building at street level gives way to a subterranean world of labyrinthine display and performance spaces carved into the banks of the Derwent River. It's as if you've fallen down a rabbit hole, a sensation that would have delighted Charles Lutwidge Dodgson himself.

What sets MONA apart is the tangible impact its collections and exhibitions have on the mind and body. They captivate your attention and immerse you in an art experience that is undeniably fun, devoid of the authoritarian voice that often accompanies art appreciation. MONA invites you to embrace art as pleasure, encouraging exploration without pretence.

My first visit to MONA transformed my perception of art and museums and its magnetic pull ensured that I returned at least once a year ever since. Hobart's enigmatic art haven challenges conventions, sparks curiosity, and creates an immersive experience that is nothing short of magical.

If you find yourself on the shores of Tasmania, a visit to MONA is an absolute must – a journey into an extraordinary realm of art, where the old and new collide to ignite the senses.


Words by AW.

Photos courtesy of MONA.


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