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Hobart: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Mona sounds like your great-aunt. Or someone with big hair that Craig McLachlan would sing about. It is also the snappy and memorable acronym for Hobart's newest - and so far, very successful - tourist attraction: The Museum of Old and New Art.

View from MONA Cafe

Opened in 2011 after a $75 million refurb of its former identity, the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, MONA is happily situated among the Moorilla Estate winery on the Berriedale peninsula of Hobart.

Outdoor stage area

Australia's largest privately-funded museum, its artworks come from the collection of David Walsh, a Tasmanian millionaire and professional gambler known as quite a character (or, according to the MONA website, a "prick"). The art featured tends to err on the side of shocking, frequently referencing sex, death and violence, and apparently designed to challenge the viewer's sensibilities wherever possible.

In a nutshell, MONA is the must-see attraction of Hobart, 'flavour of the month' if you will, popular with young and old alike - particularly them kulcharel types. It is approximately 18 minutes' drive from the CBD, according to Siri, but visitors are encouraged to catch the MONA ferry via the Derwent. We drove.

Hire car heaven

Admittance is free for Tasmanians (I found it rather amusing to learn of the term Hobartians... just me?), and for everyone else it's a flat fee of $20.00 ($15.00 concession). Admission includes the provision of slick Sennheiser earphones and an iPod, complete with custom-built MONA tour guide app. The app pinpoints your location within the Museum by GPS and provides a list of nearby works, variously including technical details, descriptions and critiques, interviews and video clips, plus some completely irrelevant (although amusing) quotes and random information. Visitors are encouraged to 'like' or 'dislike' artworks, and the data is tallied for all to see. You can also choose to register your details to later access a reproduction of your tour saved on the MONA website, based on your iPod use.

Bar on bottom level. MONA's three levels are built into cliffs

Designed by architect Nonda Katsalidis, MONA is built mainly underground, cut into the natural cliffs of the area, and, mixed with careful lighting, omits a moody, cavernous vibe. A spiral staircase spins, seemingly neverending, from the bright reception ground level down to the bar and lowest exhibition level. (A glass elevator, a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also runs through the centre of the staircase.) The building's three levels are amibiguous, each nook and cranny accessed through multiple staircases and suspended walkways. My housemate described navigating the Museum as like being in a "choose your own adventure" book. The space is cultivated well, neatly showcasing the huge assortment of artworks, from entire massive walls to miniscule prints.

Massive wall of looping electronic-y data signals

We visited Hobart during MONA's Dark MOFO (13 to 23 June 2013), its annual winter solstice festival. One of its most obvious - and heralded - features was "the blue light", an overpowering and yet oddly calming installation by Japanese electronic/sound artist Ryoji Ikedaspectra [tasmania] comprised 49 custom-made Xenon searchlights, collectively beaming white/blue light 15 kilometres into the sky from their base on Hobart's Cenotaph. Ikeda has designed similar installations in Buenos Aires, Nagoya, Barcelona and Paris.

Wherever we went in Hobart at night, this magical blue beam demanded our attention.

spectra from our hotel window (over Collins Street)

spectra from Battery Point

spectra at the end of the road

spectra from Salamanca Place

spectra from the chimneys

Driving past the Cenotaph and the base of spectra

Although a huge (literally) part of Dark MOFO, spectra [tasmania] was fortunately not the only artwork we were privy to. Our visit also coincided with the start of The Red Queen exhibition (18 June 2013 to 21 April 2014).

Red Queen-style tennis court at MONA

We spent a good few hours wandering the floors of MONA, absorbing the art. Expecting to be really shocked, I was surprised at how nonplussed I was about the works themselves. I think, among all its hype, I had forgotten that MONA is essentially an art gallery. I guess I was both disappointed and relieved to find that the experience still involved the convention of walking around, looking at each piece and forming a personal reaction. (Then again, what did I expect? for the artworks to be flashed subliminally through my brain?!)

I'm not going to look up the name of each work or artist (hey - just GO!), but some of the artworks I remember or enjoyed the most were:

  • Overhead lightbulbs that flash out your pulse, via a hand reader
  • Drawers you open to hear sound snatches of different ways "I love you" can be said (pretty cool)
  • A life-sized, stuffed cloth sculpture of a sprawling woman giving birth, complete with placenta
  • A computer which leads you through the process of death by lethal injection 
  • Flashing electronic signals and data across a huge wall (mesmerising)
  • A massive lumpy ball thing that you look inside of to see floating sort of currents and random items
  • Two facing giant buddhas: one armoured and intact, the other crumbling and decrepit (this one felt really meaningful, but I didn't think about it too hard)
  • A stone-walled maze room with ancient characters, culminating in a surprise overhead mirror
  • A 'white library': room filled with shelves, tables and books, all completely white and blank
  • Giant beanbags you lie on underneath ceiling-installed screens, showing loops of what looked like goopy vaginas and squelching body parts (not my favourite)
  • A giant trampoline-style structure with weird vibrating musical noises going on 
  • Pinball machine restyled in a horror theme 
  • Just go. 

Human pulse-driven lights

After browsing through all the amazing art, we re-caffeinated in the Museum cafe. They have their own coffee blend - not a shock, I suppose, considering they have their own wine. 

Specific-to-MONA coffee

The cafe looks out over the river and you can see the incoming MONA ferry. 

The MONA ferry is painted grey camouflage-style 

We then decided we hadn't had enough wine this weekend (ha) and moseyed over to the Moorilla Cellar Door. All the wines were pretty spectacular, and we had some interesting chats with one of the winemakers. We finished up the day - and our Tassie adventure - with (more) Moorilla wine and cheese, listening to jazz in the basement bar of MONA. Pretty awsballz, really. 

These things make the world a better place

So, should you go to MONA? Nah... it's shit.

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