Travel Story Weird and wonderful in Tasmania

The MONA museum in Hobart. Pic Mogens Johansen, The West Australian
Photo of Mogens Johansen

Discover the playful and sexy MONA in Hobart.

I am enjoying a perfect summer morning exploring Hobart’s vibrant harbour precinct and decide to visit the much talked about MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). The museum is one of the most popular attractions in Tasmania and it has been on my must-see list for quite a while. 

The privately owned museum is the brainchild of Tasmanian David Walsh who grew up in the nearby working-class suburb of Glenorchy. He became a mathematician and art collector and made his fortune perfecting algorithms that allowed him to beat bookies and casinos at their own game.

I take the camouflaged MONA ferry for a pleasant half-hour trip along the Derwent River to the museum, which is located on the Berriedale Peninsula. The imposing rust-coloured fortress building looks slightly out of place in the riverside suburb as we arrive at the gallery’s ferry terminal.

As I reach the top of the 99 concrete steps up to the fortress the weirdness begins. Fantastic views of the Derwent, Glenorchy and Mt Wellington compete with a red tennis court and a warped mirror-clad wall with an unmarked doorway, which turns out to be the entrance to the subterranean museum. Inside, a friendly staff member gives me an iPod touch and explains that it, with the magic of GPS, can tell me about the artwork I am looking at as I explore the museum. She recommends that I begin at the bottom and work my way up. (Where have I heard that before?) I do as suggested and make my way down a spiral staircase to B3. The sandstone walls have been left exposed and contrast with the modern iron staircase and glass lift well. 

At the bottom I find the conveniently located museum bar called The Void where you can slurp a “Postmodern martini” but, tempting as it is, I decide to bypass it and explore the art instead. 

One of the first things that catch my eye is the Bit.fall, which according to my iPod is a rain-painting machine created by German-born artist Julius Popp. With 128 computer- controlled nozzles it creates cascades of water in the shape of phrases selected daily from news websites against the sandstone wall. 

On the iPod I can choose to listen to “art wank” or just the basic information about each piece I’m looking at and along the way it warns me about “sexy stuff ahead”.

I explore a yellow-and-black spotted room with strange shapes and mirrors called the Kusama Room by artist Brian Boyd. I marvel at a series of tribal people photographed by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher and am amused and intrigued by a wall lined with moulds of female genitalia by sculptor James McCartney.  

The interior of the museum itself is as fascinating as the art, raw concrete, steel staircases, clever lighting and cool, funky places to sit and relax really enhance the viewing experience. 

A bright red Porsche Carrera Fat Car by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm catches my eye and Sydney Nolan’s Snake, an impressive display of 1620 sheets of mixed media, has me captivated for a while as I ascend towards the surface again. 

David Walsh’s passion for art and his sense of humour is clearly evident everywhere. The fortress-like building is as quirky and interesting as the eclectic mix of old and new art on display within.

The museum’s promotional material is littered with quotes like: “Looking at art used to be boring. It still is maybe but at least here at MONA you can get drunk and/or rage against the machine.” And their website asks the question: “We need art — but for what?” 

Outside again, I head for the adjoining Moorilla Winery and Moo Brewery where I spot what I assume is his-and-hers Tesla cars parked in car spaces marked God and God’s Mistress.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon enjoying live music, good food and wine on the green while trying to get my head around what I have just seen. MONA is like no other museum or art gallery I have visited.

 It is weird, wonderful, entertaining and unashamedly pokes fun at itself and the arts.

Fact File

MONA is at 655 Main Road, Berriedale, Hobart, Tasmania with free carparking on site. The MONA ferry departs six times a day from the Brooke Street ferry terminal in Hobart. Return tickets starts at $15 per person but if you want to “escape the riff raff and arrive in style” do yourself a favour and try the Posh Pit on board where you can enjoy complimentary wine, beer, coffee and canapes during the trip.

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