Image for MONA: Four  very different perspectives

Mona the museum of old and new art ... by Duncan Giblin

Rather than try to review individual works or even identify them all. I will try to explain my Mona experience from a punters perspective.

When I headed the Mona catacombs today (Saturday), first thing to hit me was the surreal vastness, then quite quickly I started to see the museum is an installation in itself.

I was completely blown away by the atmospherics created by very precise planning. The design works so well, there is incredible continuity, a sense of awe and anticipation, which does not leave until you do. People who were mesmerised by the experience became works of art themselves. I was having sensory overload but it was being managed by someone else’s design so it felt safe to continue.

Allthough at times I was thinking you could really lose it down here; I was drawn from one chamber to another. Another thing that was also was clearly apparent was that reports from some media that this collection is not just a shock for shock’s sake rich boy showing off, was to my mind unfounded. There were many, many wonderful conceptual pieces that weren’t confrontational at all and amazing artefacts that appeal to David Walsh’s taste. I don’t care whether David’s motivation is Showing off or sharing there is some very clever, very beautiful and very strong work in this museum.

When viewing the more confronting pieces, there were some I liked and some I didn’t. The work that I didn’t like belongs there, as much as the work I do like, this is a private collection being shared with the public. The few pieces I didn’t like is based on my personal belief that a confrontational image alone does not make art and some of these pieces for me lacked good narrative. My dislike is not a moral objection to the work being shown. There always has and always will be debate around the moral line with art and Mona will certainly invigorate this debate.

The museum is beautifully balanced with visual then sensory works that made the experience a journey disassociating me from the world above, immersing me in the light and dark of the human condition, not just the analytical modern man and our every day neurosis, but the primal monkey. In fact one of the themes I get from some of the more powerful works is that the monkey is never far from the surface, which even if you have no moral objection will be confronting for many.

Mona the museum of old and new art is as worthy a visit as any other art institution in the world. Don’t let the location fool you this is a critical piece of modern culture. The fact that there will be some ugly and emotional confrontations arising from some of the work is a given, the cultural impact and how our community deals with this debate is unknown. I also get the feeling that Mona will continue to grow.

“Though the danger keeps on growing the rowers show no sign of slowing “ 

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Monanism - the MONA opening party ... by Nicole Gill

I woke up this morning with a bad taste in my mouth.

At first blush, it appeared to be just another hangover, one of the countless bastard children of a night well spent.  But on closer inspection, this morning dis-ease, was a little different to those who had come before it.  I felt dirty, and I felt used.

I was one of the 2500 people who obtained tickets to the opening night of MONA, David Walsh’s much anticipated and hyped venture into cultural philanthropy.  Publicity for the museum and the associated opening party saturated mainstream and more alternative media for weeks leading up to the opening, with everyone from The Mercury to The Monthly running adoring puff pieces and profiles on this brave new feature of Hobart’s riverine and cultural landscapes.

This year, no longer standing alone, curator Brian Ritchie’s MONA FOMA festival, which is largely funded by David Walsh, had morphed into the opening act, warming up the crowd for the anticipated MONA spectacular.  I’d gone to every event of the MOFO program that I could squeeze into my schedule, and then some more. I had a ball. 

As last year, great use had been made of the space at PW1, transforming it into a welcoming, multi-layered and inclusive community space that was visited by a broad and varied swathe of Tasmanians as well as visitors from off-island.  Young, old, rich, not-so-rich, child-lugging, pregnant, childless, small-time politicians and big time trashers, rampaging art whores and cultural ingenues mingled, drank, wandered off for a picnic in the park and returned for more music, art and atmosphere.  Art met sport in The Interactive Ball Project - audience-driven performance art that drew everyone into the outdoor mosh, leaping like footy rucks for a tap at the singing sphere.  It was fabulous, it was free, and it was a whole lot of fun.

So my hopes were high for the opening of MONA.  I rushed back from work, had a quick scrub and put on my finest (and only) set of tails for what I hoped would be a Charlie in the Chocolate Factory kind of experience.  My partner and I car-pooled with friends to the Derwent Entertainment Centre, and were impressed by how frequent and organized the shuttle buses were.  Rumours flew about the bus of free food and grog, of famous and not-so-famous rock gods who may or may not be part of the musical line-up, and of VIPs that might be making an appearance at the party.

The bus dropped us at the gates, and we nicked into the pub across the road to get some money, just in case.  Then we walked up the hill, past lines of vines peppered with snoozing ducks, handed over our tickets, and walked into the party.  Fresh from manual labour, we were hungry and thirsty, and wasted no time hunting down a cold beer and some food.  We were a little disappointed to find that the beer wasn’t free, and nor was the food, but hey, the music still was.  We bought two pale ales at the food tent, noting they seem to have dropped the “Not for bogans” slogan for now, and tried to work out what was on offer to eat.

“You can have round meat or flat meat,” someone near the front of the line told us.  Sausages or burgers.  Nothing for vegaquarians then.  Maybe we’d find something elsewhere on site.

After a detour via the main building, where the alcohol queues wound rainbow serpent-like out the doors, we discovered there was something we could eat - a few pieces of halloumi on some salad for $10.  Not cheap, but considering this was a free party, just acceptable.  We went to line up, and found there were two lines - one where you paid and got your wooden cutlery, and then another where you got your food.  We waited half an hour to pay for our food, then had to go to the back of the second line to wait for another twenty minutes to get fed.  A pregnant friend stuck it out in line for about twenty minutes before giving up - we took her money, and stood in line for her, bitching and moaning for what seemed like hours, waving to the odd acquaintance on the overhanging VIP deck, before finally reaching the front of the queue. 

Some of our friends had gotten tickets to the VIP part of the party, and claimed they’d had to go through all sorts of background and security checks.  “Celebrities aren’t like normal people, apparently,” one friend observed, “can’t have them mixing randomly with the commoners.  They might catch something.”

There were a lot of very drunk people on site.  That’s all well and good - it’s a winery and brewery, after all, but I suspect a lot of them were a lot more drunk than they really wanted to be, simply because there were roughly twice as many bars as food tents, and it was much easier and cheaper to buy grog than food.  Not very responsible service of alcohol, but still, maybe just a symptom of poorly thought out event planning.  But having to wait an hour to get something to eat is enough to make many people just say “Fuck it - beer’s a food - liquid dinner it is!”.  If I’d thought I could make it to the 12.45 ferry without collapsing, I certainly would have skipped the food queue, but as it was, we waited it out.

The overworked BBQ staff were so busy flipping, stacking and serving they didn’t have time to keep track of who picked up what.  I watched an otherwise law-abiding colleague get to the front of the line, and walk off with three bratwursts, two more than she’d actually paid for. I suspect this happened a lot. “Good on ‘er!” I thought, “she’s been standing waiting for that tube’o’pig inna bun for an hour, I reckon she deserves a couple more.”

We eventually got our food, plus some more for friends, and went to catch the end of Wire.  They weren’t really my bag, but I was pleased to see lots of old people with long beards and grey hair gyrating up the front.  Maybe they’d plumped for the liquid dinner option too.

We spent the evening getting progressively drunker on expensive cheap champagne, chatting with strangers, acquaintances and friends we hadn’t seen for a bit, fanning the flames of speculation regarding later surprise acts.  One of my friends had put on her “David Bowie” outfit, in the hope that this would increase the chances of him playing a set.  We were hoping hard for Tom Waits, having heard rumours out of Moorilla six months earlier he was potentially coming out for the festival.  One friend had heard that the party tickets had been distributed according to postcodes.  Whether that meant trying to get a broader or narrower distribution of socio-economic classes, I don’t know, but postcodes 7000, 7004 and 7005 seemed over-represented in the milling crowds.  As a representative of 7004, I behaved as someone from my postcode might be expected to - I flitted about, spent far too much on food and grog, and generally made merry as best I could.

Wandering about, we spoke to people, people who should have known better, who pined for access to the netherworld of the VIP party.  They’d heard rumours of flesh, of herds of whole beasts served medieval-style, of artistic piles of dead animals, of phone-sex workers with strange devices strapped to their clits chatting live to the American sexually deprived, watched by the tipsy VIPs trying not to get hard-ons while their women were watching.  It sounded exciting, it sounded debauched, and they were all trying to work out how to get a piece of it. Somehow, they just HAD to get inside.

I didn’t want to go inside.  Don’t get me wrong - I’m all for a little excess and debauchery, but last night, rather than wanting to go inside,  I found myself wanting the inside to come out and play, out into the light where we could see it, interact with it, touch it with our dirty, common fingers.

A flannied Tex Perkins and his aging merry men came on, and put on what appeared to be a good show. It was a well lubricated evening: someone kicked half a bottle of champers on me, and shortly thereafter, another.  According to an article in today’s Mercury, David Walsh “reckons the understanding of many of the museum’s artworks increases as a person’s alcohol levels increase”.  I didn’t go inside, but judging by the behaviour of some of the VIPs I spoke to, by that measure their art literacy would have put Hunter Street’s lecturers to shame.

Tex and the boys got off stage at bit after 11, the lights went down, and suddenly, everything was shutting.  All the bars stopped serving drinks, and security staff started pushing us plebs out into the windy darkness.  While the VIPs and many of the staff slipped inside to the after-party, hundreds of people stood around in the cold, waiting without food, shelter or even grog for ferries not due to depart for at least an hour and half. 

Two of our friends, one exceptionally drunk, came careening down the stairs from the upstairs VIP section, cackling wildly. 

“What were you two doing up there?”

“Nothing.  Drinking. We snuck in. It was really boring in there.  Do you wanna go to the Brisbane?”  They made their way down the hill, hoping to snag a taxi before daylight. We stayed: we’d paid for our ferry tickets already, and they weren’t refundable or transferrable.  It had been a very expensive evening, and a taxi home from Moorilla was out of the question.

“This is bullshit!  Why did they sell us ferry tickets for such late trips if they knew everything shut at eleven?  That’s two hours of standing around outside, no food, no grog, nothing. What are we - a fucking rent-a-crowd?”  It finally dawned on me that this is exactly what we were - a colourful, noisy backdrop to the VIPs exclusive little party. 

Because that’s the thing - most VIPs need NVIPs to feel important. Otherwise, they’re just overpaid, overdressed upper class trash-bags chit-chatting about real estate and bluffing their way through self-aggrandizing discussions about capital-A Art. So when the outside spectacle was over, our NVIP services were no longer required.

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful - MONA is a very exciting idea and even as member of the art illiterati, I’m really looking forward to wandering around, checking out the exhibits and being pleasantly outraged at some of the content.  It’s just that the nature of the opening seemed to fly in the face of David Walsh’s much lauded “egalitarian streak” - his insistence the museum be free for all to enter, his generosity in sharing his collection with we, the masses, and his self-conscious, self-referential scorn for elitism and artistic pretension.

So why were the people left out in the cold?

But perhaps we’re also a little to blame.  As the masses, we shouldn’t have expected any better - they warned us in the program.  It was there in black and white, just above the photograph of the chocolate suicide bomber:

monanism [moh-nuh-niz-uhm]
noun
obsessive activity characterised by an inability to discriminate between normative public behaviour and displays of immorality and alternating self-loathing and egoism
a behavioural disorder which, when observed by a representative member of a population (esp. Australian), elicits the epithet “wanker”.

MONA no match for Gehri’s Bilbao Guggenheim
by Peter Brenner, Liveability Initiative

The Bilbao Guggenheim is a truly human, soul soothing, integrative and people friendly piece of creativity, surrounded by much greenery and general outdoor wellbeing.

And it’s free on Sundays.

That is what Tasmania needs so much. Given that a Gehri experience is beyond the local means, what about starting to take Jan Gehl’s revitalisation plans a bit more seriously and beginning to develop a strategy to implement them step by step?

Time to take your eyes off Mr gambler’s constipated mausoleum. You must have had your fill by now.

There still are worthwhile human endeavours that do something to people’s souls and wellbeing. Gehri’s Bilbao Guggenheim is pointing in the right direction.

Get inspired by the pix below:(photos: Peter Brenner)

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Veronica Foale:

MONA FOMA is something that I had been hearing about for 3 years, but it’s not something I’d attended before this year. Having small children makes things difficult sometimes.

This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as a “Micro Critic” for ABC local radio. With this impressive title came an obligation to attend as many of the events as possible and tweet about them, letting our followers and ABC radio know what we thought.

Always looking for a chance to do something different, I left my children with their Daddy and headed down to the city to sit in the sunshine and listen to music for a week.

I’m not sure I can adequately convey the vibe of the music festival, but I’ll try. Large beanbags were available for sitting, but you needed to be ruder than I was in order to get one. Either that or incredibly lucky. I spent a lot of time sitting on astroturf or concrete, hoping that the music about to start would be good enough to forget the rapidly growing numbness and in nearly every case, it was.

Lincoln Le Fevre was fantastic. The power of Chiri’s voice blew me away. Fourplay, the string quartet was just brilliant, but then I’ve always been a sucker for rock tunes played on string instruments.

Without the push from ABC to spend hours down at PW1, I would have read the program, maybe attended one or two things and then not gone again. I didn’t know any of the bands, and in my mind, that mattered.

I was wrong. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know who anyone was, because I soon found out who they were. It didn’t matter if some of the acts weren’t my cup of tea, because mostly everything was free.

I attended Phillip Glass’ recital and was blown away. Ninety minutes of almost non-stop piano playing, with no sheet music. Glass is a genius.

Speaking of genius however, if you get the chance, wherever you are, to see the Ballet Lab trilogy, then seize it with both hands. You won’t be disappointed. Confused, maybe, and shell shocked, but the raw power that those dancers controlled was amazing. The audience left with their mouths hanging open, trying to work out what exactly they’d just witnessed.

There were criticisms of us and what we were doing of course, but then, I expected nothing less. We weren’t picked because we were professional critics, we were chosen because ABC wanted people to be able to interact with us. To ask what we thought, as regular people, without the art wank speech that peppers most reviews.

Of course you all know that this year’s MONA FOMA culminated with the opening of the museum on Friday night. I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the VIP party and opening - proving that amongst the a-listers and journalists, you had 5 very normal people with phones, an opinion and a twitter account.

I spent 3 hours in the museum that night and left unable to do anything more than splutter adjectives and wish I had the scope of words to describe it. You cannot tell someone who hasn’t seen it yet, what it’s like. The raw overwhelming power that the art holds. The excitement that bubbles, knowing that you are part of something amazing, and the pride that this is Tasmanian.

I think that is the biggest thing. MONA is Tasmanian. It’s ours and it’s free. Anyone can visit and everyone should. There is no wank involved.

Making art accessible to everyone is something that I can get very passionate about. I am ‘general public’ and although I come from a family of artists and musicians, I think that art shouldn’t just be for the few who can afford it.

That is why MONA makes me so excited, because conceivably ANY artist could end up with work in there. The range of artworks, the eclectic nature of things, it’s making art accessible.

And in my opinion, that’s a good thing.