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.