The half hour ride up the Derwent River on the MONA ROMA fast ferry is like a ritual crossing followed by a decent to the land of the dead. There is something cult like about MONA that expects you to be awed.
I love personal collections made into art galleries: the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, the Fondazione Artistica Poldi-Pezzoli in Milan, the Musée Magnin in Dijon and Gustave Moreau’s house in Paris (see my post). I went to a talk at the Johnson Collection by Dr. Bertrand Bourgeois of the University of Melbourne on the Villa Kérylos, another house museum. Dr Bourgeois spoke of the house museum as a dream machine, created to travel in space and time but also to show off to visitors. MONA is another kind of house museum.
Last year Everyone was talking about the opening of MONA, by the end of the year even my mother was talking about her visit. This is kind of talk that makes Hobart one of the world’s top tourist destinations. With all of this talk I had forgotten about MONA’s small presence in Melbourne; there is X+ at the Republic Tower on the corner of LaTrobe and Queen Streets. X+ is a large, two story high, curved billboard like space featuring large. How long has it been there – I’m sure that it was there before MONA opened. Last time I looked there was a photograph of the polished bronze of Wim Delvoye “Dual Mobius Quad Corpus”, 2010. The Flemish artist Wim Delvoye is a favourite of MONA’s owner and collector, David Walsh. Is this just advertising or is it an art project bringing art to the people?
MONA’s collection reflects the taste of the collector, David Walsh a professional gambler and the collection trends towards betting safely on firm favourites. All house-museums are intended to impress but there is nothing more to Walsh’s collection. He says that intended to be “a subversive adult Disneyland” but it is not very adult, it is adolescent and self-indulgent – it is as shallow as cellophane. Extravagance does not equal quality and there appears little point to this bombastic collection other than to impress.
MONA’s collection is reflected in the museum’s name (“old” and “new” are not recognized art history terms). The collection is divided between the very old, from a classical time in a culture – be it classical Mesoamerican or classical Egypt (I know that these are chronologically very different) but you are meant to be impressed with their antiquity. Or it is from the last 30 years, where you are meant to be shocked by the new art, there is almost nothing in between. At the time of my visit the TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) was being renovated and so a large amount of their collection was on loan to MONA for the “Theatre of the World” exhibition. Some of the best work that I saw at MONA were on loan from TMAG or the NGV.
If the sensationalism of the art wasn’t enough MONA is full of curatorial caprices – cord curtains that needed to be pulled aside to see the work, niches that only a single viewer can look down, carved rocks in a fish tank and low lighting that made the art difficult to see. And I really disliked MONA’s handheld catalogue – see my earlier post O No.
Parts of Walsh’s collection are a copy of the Saatchi collection especially from the Sensation exhibition: Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Jenny Saville, etc. I’ve seen the Saatchi gallery, so I’ve seen a room with several Chris Ofili paintings in it. I’ve seen whole exhibitions of Julia deVille and I’ve walked on a couple of Carl Andre sculptures in my time on this earth – curators keep on leaving them lying around on the floor where I’m going to step on them. Maybe my taste is too sophisticated for MONA but I wasn’t in awe of the exhibition – what appeared to be the intended effect.
I didn’t stay to sample the drink and food at the on site winery, brewery and café – maybe in this respect it is an adult Disneyland (there are plenty of good places to eat in Hobart). I did notice that the wine had a collection of Melbourne street artists on the label.
MONA made me think of bathos – I don’t bandy these words around lightly. Bathos is an abrupt, unintended transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace, producing a ludicrous effect. Even the architecture of the entrance has bathos from the ferry to the tennis court and then into the round white modernist space before descending the labyrinthine space beneath.