But Is It Art?

Our Tasmanian adventure is almost over. This time tomorrow we’ll be at Hobart airport, waiting to board our flight. It’s been short but sweet and we have packed a lot in to a few days.

More by luck than judgement we visited the important historic sites shortly after arrival. As I said, our accommodation is in Battery Point. Trying to find Tourist Information we strode the streets around Salamanca, finally making it through the doors minutes before closing. Our conversation was swift and to the point; we explained what we were thinking of doing, asked for relevant information, and advice on anything else we should do. Sorted. Battery Point has a Sculpture Trail. Without actually following it, we have managed to see most of it. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the area.

As well as Salamanca, Battery Point and Mount Wellington, we have also been to Port Arthur, a one hundred acre site of a convict penal colony, today a disorientating mix of the beautiful and the horrific. Along the route to get there we kept passing rusty sculptures; a tractor, a fish, a horse and many more. Much as I should have liked to add something similar to my own home, the practicalities of getting it back to Melbourne, let alone Walworth, made that a non-starter. However, I find that they come in various sizes, so I have a diminutive rusty Tasmanian Tiger who will fit in a plant pot. Result.


Anyone visiting Hobart must go to MONA. I think there’s possibly a law that stops you leaving until you have done so. The forecast had said today would be the hottest of our stay, 28C, so it seemed the perfect time to fulfil this obligation and to travel there by catamaran.

Breakfast at the excellent Retro café on the corner of Montpelier Retreat (lovely name, but due to demolition and insensitive rebuilding quite the ugliest street we have seen here) and we were good to go. It is possible to visit by road, and we have a hire car, but the boat’s definitely part of the experience. Arriving you see something that looks like a residence for a James Bond villain. You climb ninety nine steps and enter the world of MONA. No signs, but a door through a wall of funfair mirror glass, to descend the floors to the depths of the interior. I. Some respects, MONA is curiously womb like, though maybe that’s a thought due to the number of representations of female genitalia on display. I have been told the guy who owns this made his money from Australia’s first casino. He is a showman, an entrepreneur and MONA is an astounding success. It stands for Museum of Old and New  Art. The collection is eclectic, some pieces permanent, some pieces are on loan. There is stuff that is kitsch, there is bad art, good art, soft porn masquerading as art, stunning sculpture, tasteless paintings, thought-provoking installations. There are no notes on the wall. Each visitor receives a headset and iPod. The screen shows you works close to where you stand. You can listen to talking heads or not. I mainly chose not, as of the ones I tried, most seemed by self-referential egotists who were quite possibly masturbating as they spoke. MONA would probably be quite pleased with that comment as for some pieces you can click on wankart to read an interpretation.

It’s a slick trick. Impressively organised, and at times tacky. There’s a fair amount of knowing aren’t-we-naughty about it, almost balanced by stuff that wows. I was reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes on more than one occasion. This has been put together by someone who seems to want to thumb his nose at the art establishment while exercising power within it.

I’m very glad I went, but I’m not sure I’d go back. There’s something disingenuous that I find distasteful. I prefer Tate Modern’s integrity.

I can’t load any pictures at the moment so the visuals will gave to wait. Maybe later.

2 thoughts on “But Is It Art?

    • It’s an interesting place. I haven’t read anything about the thinking behind it, whether it set out deliberately to popularise art and upset the art establishment, or what.

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