I had been wanting to go ever since I first heard of it. Then a great opportunity came along and I made sure I had a full day to visit David Walsh's Museum of Old and New Art, outside Hobart, in Tasmania.
I knew beforehand that it was an art gallery that had been developed and created by one eccentric collector, using megabucks made from being very talented at gambling (and being able to borrow stakes from a very rich friend).
I also knew the museum had been designed to be as shocking and provocative as possible, with its main themes being sex and death, and big ticket items including some of the most outrageous modern artworks. For example, Chris Ofili's 'The Holy Virgin Mary,' which lead to a lawsuit brought against the Brooklyn Museum by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Even though I was keen to go and expected it to be entertaining, I was surprised by how big, beautiful, and even classy the whole thing is. I loved every minute I spent there, and have to go back to see the rest.
Outside there were a lot of chooks and other birds.
The main building is not that big from the outside. But to enter the first gallery, you have to go down three stories, cut right into the rock. It's dark down there and it draws you in to another world. Although some of the art belongs to MONA and some is only there for the current exhibition (The Red Queen), in general it's not organised in obvious themes. There are lots of interesting juxtapositions. Antiquities, such as Egyptian mummies and scarabs, are mixed in with everything else. Many of these were part of Walsh's first collections, before he ventured into modern art. There are no placards on the walls with even the name of the work or artist - every visitor is given an 'O' device (an Ipod touch) to carry, which locates nearby works and provides access to information about them.
And there is a lot of information, including unconventional and often quite personal essays by Walsh and the other curators, recordings of interviews with the artists, and sometimes music that ties in (a couple of bands have done songs inspired by Henry Darger, for example). And as someone who almost always reads all the info in museums, I had to stop myself from doing too much reading, at the expense of spending time looking at the art. A record of everything you looked at is saved anyway, and all this material is available for guests to look at later on the MONA website. Brilliant.
Tennis court with a view. (Walsh and his family live on the site). There is also a brewery and hotel and conference facilities. Oh and Mona Roma, the special ferry that brings visitors over from the city centre. The next day I returned to MONA for a work function, and this time we took the ferry, which was very nice as they served good coffee on board. When we arrived at the dock there was a small seal hanging around there, just near the waterline. I gather he is a regular there.