Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Unpublished 13: MONA - Wild Art in Hobart (Part 2)

Continuing from the first part of my profile of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, which I visited in 2011...

Truck Corridor, by
James Angus
We notice as we walk that MONA’s visitors often engage in conversation with each other as they puzzle out each piece, and we get chatting with several fellow attendees.

It may be via the general sense of irreverence or just the fact that we don’t each need to stare at a patch of notes on the wall, but there’s definitely a greater sense of interaction here than in a standard white-walls gallery.

We also notice a lot of family groups taking in the exhibits. Though MONA does provide a recommended child-friendly path through the gallery, it seems that most adults are happy to have their kids see everything and talk about it as they go; which seems a sensible approach to me.

There are plenty of pieces that work perfectly with children’s lively imaginations in any case. The brilliant Truck Corridor appears to be a full-size Mack truck, wedged tight into a corridor and only visible from front and rear.  

Babylonia looks like an enormous rock, but is entered to reveal a miniature hotel corridor with locked doors emitting mysterious sounds. White Library is a fascinating room filled with dozens of completely blank white books and magazines, stacked in shelves and on tables.

White Library, by Wilfredo Prieto

Another remarkable exhibit – one which visitors have to queue for – is held within a dimly lit room centred on an artificial island surrounded by a shallow ornamental lake. On the island are two cabinets. The one on the left houses an ancient mummy, while the one on the right projects a digital image of the mummy, which gradually dissolves to reveal an X-ray of the skeletal form within.

It’s absorbing stuff – but visitors do not live on art alone, and we decide to have a break for lunch. Before the gallery was established, the site’s Moorilla Estate was a noted winery and brewery, and you can still enjoy its products in The Source restaurant in the main above-ground building.

However, we opt for the more informal setting of The Wine Bar, which has a pleasant view across lawns where concerts are sometimes staged.

The menu is a short list of classy dishes which could easily work as sharing plates. Some of the choices today are duck and orange salad; house-cured tuna; and sweet potato, cashew and apricot salad. It’s tasty food, imaginatively served.

Lunch at The Wine Bar, MONA

The beer list is as long as the food menu is short, covering 70 brews with a dozen on tap. I order one of Moorilla’s own beers, the Moo Brew Pale Ale; it’s hoppy and refreshing on a warm day.

There’s much more to see back at MONA, but for the moment we’re enjoying the contrast between the low-light world of challenging art and the sunlit, scenic world up above. Art matched with good food and drink seems the perfect combination, and we have plenty to talk about as we mull over the works we’ve seen.

Somehow, sitting here at lunch amplifies the impression of being the absent Walsh’s guests. From his eccentric art notes to this fine place to eat and relax, his presence seems to be unavoidable.

Back in MONA, I spot a brightly painted wheel which hangs above the floor, slowly spinning. It turns out to be a work by the famed British artist Damien Hirst. In the O, Walsh’s note about this work reads “I really like it now. Maybe I’m just trying to avoid facing up to the fact that I’ve blown half a million bucks”.

If so, that was half a million bucks well blown. Not to mention the rest.

Disclosure time... on this trip I was hosted by Tourism Tasmania.