May 10, 2011


Without a doubt, Hobart’s Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) is the must see visual arts attraction – dare I say, probably world-wide.

With the pulling power of a Guggenheim, MONA opened earlier this year to much trumpeting and excitement. So my visit two weeks ago was an inevitable result of always being attracted to the unusual – or as Andrew Frost concluded in his most recent Artscape for ABC TV – an attraction to feel the weird.

MONA is David Walsh’s $150m home for his 3000 odd work collection. I’m sure you have heard about it! Installed & themed around ideas associated with sex & death, the range of works – from Egyptian mummies to recent (and rude) video art – jettison the rule book one might normally expect institutional caution and curatorial rules to follow. On entering, there is an excitement and theatrical escape from the norm to be felt, and from my observation people were lapping it up. On the Saturday we were there, the audience was huge, they were mixed (dare I say demographically), wide-eyed and sparking with enthusiasm. Solemnity is not a word associated with this place.

In retrospect what really stood out was the overall level of detail, of course architecturally, but also significantly, in visitor services and installation practice. The staff were remarkably attentive, unobtrusive and superbly helpful. The building has been beautifully designed, each install empowers the artwork. Overall intimate encounters and commanding views are provided, inside and out.

Much has been made of the lack of traditional instruction; there are no labels or didactic panels to inform visitors – no names, titles or hints towards artistic intention – the closest we came to this kind of old school formality was a wine list. Cleverly, they have combined a form of locative media, with the above information, which can be read through an ipod device ‘on demand’ in front of the artwork you wish to know more about. Selected works also have an audio component attached to their file. This technology allows your visit to be recorded in great detail, providing the museum with valuable visitor data. It can also be  emailed home and revisited with artworks ‘liked’ & ‘disliked’ highlighted.

Attached here is a link to the ABC website and more about Andrew Frost’s encounter with MONA. 

If the opportunity arises, make sure you get down there soon.

Michael Rolfe 
Museum & Galleries NSW

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