I recently visited Tasmania. I had the privilege of spending some good quality time with some dear friends who recently moved there. Plus I got to explore the hidden delights of Battery Point and Salamanca. Last time I was there, MONA had just opened. MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art. It is a privately owned gallery, built deep into the ground, right on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart. I didn’t get to see it that time, but this trip I had an afternoon free, so jumped on the ferry and had a look around.
It is so swish. From the moment you step off the ferry, climb the 99 (curiously not 100) steps to the front door, and enter the mysterious building, your imagination and senses are engaged. Leaving your coat in the cloakroom, you make your way towards a glass elevator (Willy Wonka anyone?) surrounded by a spiral staircase leading down to multiple levels of galleries beneath your feet just waiting to be explored. Before you descend, a woman in black hands you an iPod. Curious. There’s no artwork names strategically placed on the wall. No guides. No pamphlets. You simply refresh the iPod screen and it tells you what you’re looking at. Clever.
Moving down through the levels, I see a room full of warm light globes. They flash in time with your heartbeat. Over there is a giant trampoline NOT only for looking at, there’s a queue to have a turn. I anxiously enter the affectionately titled ‘death room’. I’m not enjoying this. There’s a room full of individual arm chairs in front of televisions playing foreign news. There’s a pink furry room that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. There’s the ‘poo room’. Enough said. I stroll past a glass coffin with a life size doll inside. If if was a person, she would be about 8. She looks sad.
I wander into an exhibition that has something to do with enuma elish (the Babylonian creation story). It’s a bit like a maze. When I get to the inner room, I poke my head around the corner and get frightened by the man hanging from the ceiling. No, wait, that’s a mirror.
Everything about this place screams postmodern. There’s a lot in it that is not politically correct, a lot that many people would not consider art. I usually have a pretty open mind about art, usually I’m the one who defends a red square on a white canvas and insists that it can be art. It was different this time. Some of what I saw I’d like to forget. Some was offensive. Some was simply disgusting to me.
So is it art? Even, and maybe even especially, the works that made me gag and walk away?