Monday, February 14, 2011

MONA - not actually for kids, in my opinion

We decided that this long weekend was the perfect time to visit MONA, David Walsh's brand new Museum of Old and New Art. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was sick of people talking about it - it has started to simmer down now, so I felt ready to go and see for myself. It has billed itself as "subversive" and "adult" with lots of sex and death, but everyone I have spoken to has insisted that kids would love it, and there is nothing really offensive on show, unless you go into the "Gallery of Sex and Death". That sounded easy to avoid.

Now, having been there, I would actually say do not take your under-tens unless you have been there before and have a route planned to avoid the confronting stuff. Or you are a hipster with hipster kids who are exposed to sex and death pretty regularly - they will, I agree, think the whole place is a hoot. There is "15 and over" material all over the place. It is marked on the black map in red, but that is actually hard to consult in the dark. One large space was full of Egyptian antiquities, with a room of vibrant contemporary portraits opening off it - fantastic stuff. A tiny bit of nudity here and there. However on the end wall of the big space was a painting by either Juan d'Avila or someone similar - a painting of the last camp of explorers Burke and Wills, interpreted as a lurid gay sex scene with added bestiality. Observe the brilliant play on words. All you can do is steer your kids away, and stand where you hope you can block the part where the kangaroo is behind Burke who is on all fours and ... Sigh. David Walsh is so determined to offend people, and I guess I was offended. So well done Dave. I had to distract Michael by getting him to tell me all the names of the Egyptian gods painted on a nearby sarcophagus.

I agree with everyone who say that it is a wonderful place. A lot of what is there is not my cup of tea, but when I go back on my own there are heaps of things I want to have another look at, and I have no idea how much that I just didn't see. Both my kids were delighted with some things and actually quite upset by others.

Each visitor is given a top-of-the-range iPod (pretty much an iPhone that doesn't make calls) and headphones - you press a button regularly as you move through the museum - which gives it your location automatically. Then you can scroll through the thumbnails it gives you, to find the piece you are standing in front of. Then you can find out about it by navigating through various kinds of content. At the top level is a summary - the bare bones. Other stuff is under the icons Ideas, Artwank, Gonzo and Media. The icon for Artwank is a graffiti drawing of a cock and balls. Pretty subversive.

I didn't like having to carry the technology. I hid my headphones and Michael's behind a pillar, and kept my iPhone in my pocket most of the way. I suppose it was nice that there weren't labels and interpretation panels everywhere, but as I am not an iPhone person, it wasn't something that got me closer to the artwork - it was just this heavy thing I had to carry. iPhones are the hottest thing in the world, and I can see that it's an effective way to communicate to a lot of people. It does feel odd when you are looking at some amazing thing, and everyone else around you is looking at their iPhone.

Part of the idea is that as you are looking at something, you choose a Love or Hate icon and give them feedback. Elf and I didn't bother but Marcus was doing it enthusiastically. Afterwards it mostly said "76% of visitors also love this" or something like that. At some point it gave him a message that really upset him - we didn't see it but it involved the F word, he said. At the end he said that although there were things he liked, overall he did not like the place. I would recommend that kids under 10 not be given the iPhone.

There is a video piece that we all loved, projected on to the floor of the lowest level. A Korean artist filmed a busy intersection from a high angle - many pedestrians crossing to and from a large traffic island, and lots of traffic. The artist's hands fill the foreground and move around acting as though they are organising the cars and people - holding back the cars at the red light, ushering people safely across the street and then giving the cars and buses a little push as the light goes green again. It's light-hearted, gentle and beautifully executed.

After a little more the kids were pleading to leave - which is standard for any museum. We left and had lunch. We did not go to the brasserie, the cafe or the wine bar. We did not partake of the fine Tasmanian ingredients manipulated by world class chefs, or the micro-brewed super-beers or wines created on the premises (the whole thing is built in the middle of a winery). We drove to the Hog's Breath Cafe, home of giant steaks and extreme sports enthusiasts - mainly to offend David Walsh.


Anonymous said...

I know this is two years later, but seriously?
You were offended because you don't think that David Walsh's private collection of art is appropriate viewing for you kids?

This guy has spent a fortune building an amazing space in his home town for people to come to and share in viewing his personal belongings and you think that you have some sort of moral ownership over the collection?

MONA is an amazing gift to Hobart.

chris rees said...

Correct, I was offended because I don't think that some of David Walsh's private collection of art is appropriate viewing for my kids. It was advised that the sex and death stuff would be sequestered away and it wasn't. We can all be hipster parents each trying to be more open-minded than the next, or we can draw a line (which I did at bestiality) and say "I am responsible for guiding my kids away from this subject until they are older".

David Walch commented before MONA opened that if people weren't offended he would change the collection until they were. So without ungrateful bourgeois slobs like myself his schtick would fall flat.

I have a Fine Arts degree, and although I don't have my finger on the pulse of the bleeding contemporary arts coalface, I am fairly well informed about art. I am constantly disappointed by the equation confronting=good, controversial=good, upsetting=good, outrageous=good. Yes, a lot of that art IS good but it's not AUTOMATICALLY good.

In the end my blog is about being a dad. I got some dodgy advice to take my under-10 kids to MONA. As I said in the 2nd para my advice to my readers who may also have young kids is "do not take your under-tens unless you have been there before and have a route planned to avoid the confronting stuff."

Erin said...

But it's a private collection. Available for public view, but private nonetheless. It's not a state owned collection, it's one guy's personal fancies and it's truly generous of him to share.

It doesn't HAVE to be good art, it doesn't have to be pleasing to anyone but David Walsh, and it certainly doesn't have to be curated and sanitised so as to be friendly and safe for other peoples' kids. There is weirdness and ugliness and crudeness and filth in this world, and if a rich man finds that stuff interesting and beautiful and wants to share it, well he is free to do so. And more power to him.

I get that this is a parenting blog but railing at someone for organising their own personal belongings on their own property in a way that you don't deem fit for your children to see is just astonishing.

Apologies by the way for the earlier anonymous comment, I wasn't aware that I could leave a signature..

chris rees said...

Hi Erin. I didn't say I want him to take anything down or change MONA in any way. I didn't say don't go. I didn't even say don't take your kids.

I was told by several people "take the kids, they'll love it!" I was just moved to offer slightly different advice - which was go without the kids first, get the lay of the land, and then decide whether to take them and how much to show them.

If you have high-school aged kids, then I can see that (as a friend of mine said) that MONA opens up some awkward subjects to talk about with them, which is good thing. There is indeed a lot of weirdness etc in the world and at that age you want your kid to have an open mind and feel they can talk to you about anything.

If you have a 7 and a 9 year old in my opinion it is still your job to be the gatekeeper of what they see. I have no problem walking the kids past the wall of cast plaster vaginas - happy to talk about vaginas with my kids any day. But NOT prepared to field questions from the 7yo about Burke and/or Wills performing (if I remember rightly) cunnilingus on a kangaroo. I can think on my feet, could make something up. Sure. But I would prefer to have been there before, know that painting is there, and plan accordingly.

chris rees said...

Correction - I just re-read the blog, the kangaroo was buggering Burke.