Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thank you for shutting up about MONA

By the time I left work today I was ready to strangle someone. Possibly myself.

Everyone went to the opening of MONA on Friday night, then went back on Saturday and/or Sunday. For readers outside Tasmania and/or the fine art world, MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art, a huge, privately owned art collection in a purpose-built architectural wonder. The whole shebang is open to the public, free. Pretty amazing. The word is that jet-ins from New York and Europe were gob-smacked by the whole thing, a bit incredulous that it could be HERE, just up the road from the Balmoral Motor Inn at that. The owner is a mathematician and professional gambler on a massive scale. He is going to live there, in the museum. It's all very Bond Villain.

image © felicetti pty ltd
I didn't go. Didn't have an invite to the party, but also just, you know, it's going to be there for while and I don't like crowds. It is unanimously acclaimed as amazing. One of my more clownsome workmates did not have an invite (I think there were about 2000 sent out) but weasled his way in. Each time I took off my headphones today he was regaling everyone with another story of his vodka-driven exploits. He climbed on the outdoor stage and made a speech just before the main act were about to come on. He was expecting to be scruffed by security but they didn't bother. After a while he says he got bored and hopped down.

It's starting to sound like I just don't like fun isn't it? I am certainly a misery guts at work. Clownsome workmate is actually a great guy and everyone loves him, but he is ON all the time, and it wears me down. Being at work today was like being the only one who didn't go to the Royal Hobart Show, when all around you people are donking each other with the giant inflatable squeaky hammers they brought home from it. You don't feel envy, so much as "shut the feck up!!!!"

Possibly its the media and marketing of MONA that's rubbed me up the wrong way. Every public pronouncement seems to emphasise how controversial and outrageous the art is. It's like the Turner Prize in the UK - always controversial and outrageous. Bond Villain has called MONA "an adult Disneyland", and "subversive". Like the Turner Prize it is grabbing 95% of the local mainstream media coverage of fine art. There is a LOT of good art being made that doesn't deal in sex and death, at least not directly.

It's a sad admission to make but most of what I experience as "art" makes me like "art" less. I am not gallery hopping but I am living and working on the outer edge of the art world. Once I was a kid who would bashfully admit to his sport-loving mates that he liked art. These days I don't even call myself an artist - I'm a bloke who does a bit of this and that but I am much more passionate about sport.

As an outsider looking in, one thing that does fascinate me is the completely positive reception the whole thing has got from the State Government, city council etc. The Premier and Governor were at the opening. Presumably they entered the Sex and Death gallery like most of the guests. Bond Villain is so keen to subvert something, anything. He has said he will be disappointed if people are not outraged, and that the only form they will have in the place is a complaints form. And the establishment are saying: "We love the wall of vaginas! We love the machine that makes food into realistic looking poo! We love the blasted corpse of a suicide bomber made out of Belgian chocolate!" They don't give a hoot about being subverted - look at the tourist dollars and the boost to the construction industry - and it's cost them nothing!

Villain says if people aren't offended, he will swap out the artworks for others in his collection until they are. What if the attendance drops off and the flow-on to the economy starts to flag? At what stage will we have a Bill Henson-type situation with the vice squad dropping in to confiscate the works? You have to imagine at some point Villain's dogged intention to upset people might outweigh the beneficial side-effects in the minds of the great and good who run the outside world.

And that right there is why people say I think about stuff too much. What I should do is shut up, get on a ferry, go out there, have fun, have a good look and THEN have something to say. OK, so consider this the Before instalment of a Before / After exercise.

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