Friday 20 January 2012

Wild Art of the Derwent

I've just had a pleasant short visit to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, and the four days I spent there were dominated by thoughts of MONA.

I refer, of course, to the Museum of Old and New Art, which has rapidly become the city's number one tourist attraction since its opening a year ago.

I was partly in Hobart to catch a few acts in the annual MONA FOMA arts festival (and the new opera The Barbarians and the Dresden Dolls concert were both fantastic); but also, to see what had changed at MONA since my first visit last year.

For those who came in late - MONA was founded by the eccentric art collector David Walsh, who made his millions via a professional gambling system he developed. It apparently gives him an edge, which ends up funding purchases of fascinating art.

The gambling dens' losses are Hobart's gain, as Walsh has thrown open his art collection to the masses, via the enormous purpose-built art museum dug into a promontory on the Derwent River.

It's a beautiful location, still the home of a winery and with million dollar views over the water. The best way to get there is via ferry from the city centre; the voyage gets you in the right mood for appreciating art.

Much has been written about the long-term exhibits which launched MONA last year. Most are still there - the bizarre loo with strategically placed mirrors, the timed waterfall which forms words taken from the Web, the all-white library with blank books and pages, the machine which mimics the human digestive system.

What's new is an exhibition of the works of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who signs his name in cheeky mimicry of the Disneyland logo.

There's some fascinating stuff here: old rubber tyres painstakingly etched with delicate art; figures of Christ twisted into Möbius-like loops; a lofty steel suppository with Gothic decorative elements; X-ray images of rats bearing a crucifix; a full-size carry case for a motorcycle, with motorbike within.

It sounds potentially offensive, at least to some; but that's not the vibe I was picking up from my fellow visitors. People were interested, fascinated, bemused, chatty, laughing... basically, being stimulated by the art.

We seem to have come a long way since the days when contemporary art was routinely attacked by the tabloid media as representing the impending collapse of civilisation; and isn't that a relief?

The Wim Delvoye exhibition continues to April 2012 at MONA, 655 Main Road, Berriedale, Hobart; adult entry $20 (free to Tasmanians). MONA FOMA continues to 22 January 2012. More at

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