Our first full day in Hobart was dedicated to the must-visit world class Museum of Old and New Art, MONA. (Official site here.) We could have spent days there. The collection includes a few antiquities but most of the gallery space is dedicated to large contemporary pieces and installations. It is the largest privately owned museum in Australia.
The building itself is intriguing. From the outside you see a low, unimposing structure, but once inside you feel as if you’ve descended into a gigantic ancient tomb. It’s beautiful, and cavernous.
Some of the works were installed in vast gallery spaces, some were created in situ.
As much as we appreciate contemporary conceptual art, we were both even more drawn to the depth and variety of the collection on display in a subsection of the building called The Museum of Everything.
From the MONA website:
The Museum of Everything is a travelling institution, which opened in London in 2009. Its purpose is to advocate for the visibility of art that falls outside the confines of the art world proper; the work of ordinary people, working far (literally or otherwise) from the cultural metropolis.
I’m always drawn to people who live to create — I married two musicians, after all. I love artists like Alexander Calder and Andy Goldsworthy, who can’t help but make art out of whatever happens to be at hand. I especially appreciate craft, whether passed down through generations or invented.
Many of the works in this iteration of the Museum of Everything moved me beyond their beauty, or uniqueness or ingenuity. And that brings me to the genius of the MONA experience. There are no placards identifying the art. Instead, you are given an iPod Touch running custom software, and headphones. When you want to know about a work you touch a logo, a big O, and the device knows where you are and what you’re looking at. You get a description of the work, you can read a review of the work from a respected journal, if available, and sometimes listen to an interview with the artist. You can add your response to the work by tapping either + or x, only recording it for yourself. It’s the perfect way to appreciate the art, because there’s no visual barrier between you and the work — you don’t have to lean in to a small card identifying the artist, title, medium and date — but you can get that info from whatever position or distance you prefer, as your own curiosity dictates.
In one gallery a display of metal assemblages caught my attention and reminded me of one of my favorite contemporary artists, Toby Atticus Fraley, who started out making whimsical “robots” out of old Electrolux vacuum cleaners, Thermos jugs or other iconic 50s household items. But these objects before me were crude, rusted parts like shovel blades or can lids, perforated with large holes and festooned with strips of leather or heavy cloth. I was so transfixed that I forgot to take a photo. Finally I tapped the O on my device and learned they were made by a blind man born in the 1920s in Tennessee and they functioned as scarecrows. The strips would have fluttered in the wind, and the metal parts would have creaked and groaned on their mounts. As a collection the shapes and textures were beautiful. As objects created out of necessity by someone with no visual notion of what constitutes art they were profound.
Many of the works in The Museum of Everything were like that for me, life-affirming reminders that when people have a passion to communicate and something to say or a need to fill, creativity will find a way.
I wish I had taken more photos but I didn’t. Suffice it to say that the collection confirmed that for me, art in everyday life, art in the way we live, art in ordinary objects, art as a raw expression of the human condition, is the art I want to live with.
When we eventually emerged from the catacombs of the museum we joined the other visitors lounging on the lawn listening to a band playing New Orleans jazz. It was a pretty good way to spend a day in Tasmania.