Yes, I admit it, I’m artistically challenged! I perfectly fit the Urban Dictionary definition of “lacking all artistic ability and general creativity”. I mean, I was an accountant before I stopped work to travel. I’m great with numbers, I can read a map no matter what way you turn it, and I can organise anything, but ask me to draw something – not a hope in hell you will recognise it! So this is not your usual review of an art museum. This review is by someone who has no idea about art. This is a guide to visiting MONA, for the artistically challenged!
So, What is this MONA Place you Speak of?
Usually known as MONA, this is the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. This is a privately owned museum, that has, well, a bit of everything I think. One of the people I was with (sorry, I’ve forgotten who said it or I would credit you!) called MONA the folly of David Walsh, and that’s exactly what it is. It has a strong focus on things that shock, including what seems to be a fascination with sex and death. There’s no particular style here, but my uneducated self would like to call it all “contemporary art”. Most of the pieces are not what you would traditionally see in a museum like the Louvre (not that I’ve been to the Louvre), for example.
Getting to MONA
When I started reading about how to get to MONA from the centre of Hobart, I immediately saw there was a ferry to get there. There is also a bus run by the museum, called the Mona Roma that does the trip too. At $22 return for either, I wondered if there was a cheaper alternative. There is. There is a public bus that runs regularly and costs less than half the price for the return journey if you are on a budget.
I was all for the public bus, but we were with a group of people, and everyone else wanted to catch the ferry, so I decided to stump up the cash and join them.
The MONA experience starts as soon as you get on the ferry. The ferry itself is dressed in the latest camouflage style. There is no mixing this ferry up with any of the others going back and forth across the Derwent River! The stairs to the upper desk are decorated with graffiti, and there are animals on deck. I had seen something about sitting on a sheep when I booked my ticket, but I hadn’t taken it seriously. I should have. There on deck were five sheep, which were all now being used as seats. Over on the other side was a full size cow, gazing out over the side of the ferry admiring the view.
We sat back to enjoy the twenty minute ride down along the river. Many people grabbed a drink or snack from the bar, but I instead decided to venture out the the front deck to check out the view. Like the back deck of the ferry, the front was also decorated, this time with, well, pink torpedos, but that’s not what immediately comes to mind on seeing them!
The MONA Artworks
One of the things about MONA is there are no little panels next to the artworks to explain what they are. When you arrive you are given a phone-like device called “The O” that contains all the information. As you walk near each exhibit, it will give you information relating to it. The O is also the way to book certain parts of the museum. Some exhibits have a limit on how many people can enter at a time, so when you arrive, request a place in the queue, and you will be told when it is your turn and to make your way there.
Another thing is that MONA is like a maze. As you enter you descend down into the bowels of the earth as most of the museum is underground. We spent a lot of time wandering around without knowing where we were going. There was one area that was blocked off, which I heard was going to be a connecting tunnel between two sections that would make getting around a little bit easier. The best way to deal with this is to just go with it. Keep wandering until you either start to see new stuff, or ask an employee to point you in the right direction. You will hopefully run into another employee not too far away to ask the next directions.
Here are just a small selection of the 1900 artworks owned by MONA. While most of the big pieces are permanent (or fairly permanent. Even “Snake” was taken down for a year to make way for another visiting display), changes are always being made to what is on display.
A hanging glass hand with light shining on it to create reflections and rainbows as the light passed through it. It was a nice overall effect, but I have no idea if it was meant to represent something.
All the books on these shelves are actually books. All completely blank. It’s not just a façade of bookshelves. While I’m not sure it’s actually allowed or even morally okay, the books could be picked up and browsed through if it was. The point? I don’t know, but since I love books and libraries I was mildly interested.
This was the first thing we did as we arrived. This is one of the exhibits that needs to have a place in the queue reserved through “The O”. We were handed our device and and discovered there was already a “golden ticket” showing, so we were able to go straight here. This room is in almost total darkness (I have lightened up the photo to actually show what was in there. The black stuff is water, so it’s a walk in the dark over smallish, uneven stepping stones to a platform with a sarcophagus on it. Maybe there was a bit more to the display on the platform to that, but after the effort to get there, it was a bit of a let down.
This must surely be the most boring job in the world! Now this one is a bit weird. This guy has apparently “sold” his skin (or something) and a tattoo artist has “bought” the space and created this artwork. So even though it is on Tim’s back, he is not the owner of the tattoo, just the custodian. On his death it will go to the owner. So Tim just sits here, in this exact position every day. He has earplugs in his ears, so I am assuming he is listening to music. I wonder what happens when he needs to go to the loo?
Another book one. Or are those newspapers? I’m not too sure. But they are made out of lead, with bits of glass between them. The poor things look very neglected and sad though. Post-apocalyptic maybe?
Firstly, my apologies. This photo annoys me no end because no matter how I edit it it is crooked! (Yes, I am a little OCD!)
This is blue pigment on sand. Yes, just a big sandpit, totally covered in blue powder. We were talking to the security guard watching over it and he was telling us how they have a special machine that “fluffs up” the surface every day or so to give it the velvety texture it has. Our conversation was abruptly ended as he rushed over to a father and daughter duo, the daughter was about two and making a beeline towards putting her hands onto the pretty blue ground!
Oh, I liked this one. The Grotto is a room with all these foamy bits, and it’s allowed – even encouraged – to take your shoes off and sit in one of the comfy curves for a few minutes and rest. I found it at the perfect time in my visit, and sat back relaxing with a few friends for so long that my husband (who didn’t join us) thought I had fallen asleep in there.
I’m guessing this puffed up Porsche has some message about consumerism and our obese lifestyle but really, it just looks kinda cute to me.
Nearly everyone has heard about the vaginas on the walls at MONA. My photo is purposely vague, thanks to the bright lights highlighting each piece. There are something like 70 of these lined up one by one. Not really sure this is my kind of thing. It is really in your face as it’s at eye level for quite a distance. I don’t find it offensive, i just don’t understand how this is art and, well, why it is necessary??
This is better known as the poop machine, and I still can’t quite believe we missed it in action. At 2pm each day it poops. It rattles and bubbles and all of a sudden a horrible stench fills the air, and there in the beaker at the end is the poop. This is probably really interesting scientifically, but to me it felt a bit like a teenage boy joke they they found hilarious but no-one else is interested.
This room was kinda of cool. We walked through and the effect of the light glittering off of all of the broken glass was quite pretty in the dark. The photo above doesn’t quite show it in all it’s glory. Walking through the area a bit later we heard huge smashing sounds – to discover visitors throwing glass bottles on the pile and breaking them. We were rushing off to one of our queued experiences so couldn’t stay and watch, but it seems like it would be one of those mesmerisingly simple things that you could watch for ages.
Now this was cool too. This is a water feature, a bit like a waterfall, but it pulses every second or so with another word written in water as it makes it’s way to the ground. I have seen similar contraptions in other parts of the world, but this one is slightly different. It is not pre-programmed with certain words or phrases, rather it scours the internet to find what words are trending and they are what fall. We were there on Remembrance Day, hence the word remembrance above.
This exhibit assaulted more than just the eyes. That pool is full of recycled engine oil. It makes a perfect reflective surface. That pattern is the ceiling and walls being reflected. On the lower level visitors can walk almost right into the pool and smell and see the oil close up.
When MONA was designed, this part of the museum was built especially to house this huge piece of artwork by Sidney Nolan. It is made up by 1620 individual pieces of different colours that, when hung together, make the pattern of a snake. It really is impressive.
In a room in the middle of the museum you will find a wall of monitors showing different people. They are singing (in time) Madonna songs. In fact, the whole of her Immaculate Collection album is sung, acapella. This is another one of those things where it doesn’t sound all that exciting, except when you get there you end up spending ages just standing and watching. Oh, we didn’t watch the whole album, but did get through a couple of songs. I was tempted to pop back in again as we passed to relive another song too.
I don’t actually know the name of this exhibit. I didn’t take note of it, and and online search was futile. But yes, they are doing exactly what it looks like. The skeletons are not just static either, they are moving, and, while it’s between showings in my photo, the screen above them shows what is going on during the “performance”.
There is art outside too. This just looks like a trampoline (and I’ve called it that because again I didn’t get the actual name) but jumping on it rings those giant bells in the corner. Adults as well as kids can get on this trampoline and blow off some steam and be part of the interactive art.
Eating at MONA
There is a fantastic – I would almost call it fine dining – restaurant at MONA, with views out over the Derwent River. Faro is a great place to stop mid visit for a reviving drink (either coffee or alcohol), or even to grab some lunch if you are here for the whole day. Bring your own food though and picnic outside if you are on a budget, while good, the food here isn’t the cheapest.
Final Thoughts on MONA
MONA is not for you if you are easily offended. It may also not be for you if you have pre-teen children with you and you don’t want to be answering all sorts of awkward questions. Otherwise, I totally recommend visiting MONA while you are in Hobart.
Overall I enjoyed the afternoon out, and if I am in Hobart again I will quite possibly do another visit to see the changing exhibits. I mostly have no idea what I was looking at, and I don’t know if there is any artistic merit to it all, but maybe that’s the point. A lot of the artworks really do make you think – even if it is all done in a haze of confusion.
During my next visit I will make time to taste wine at the winery on site, and while I don’t drink beer, maybe my husband will taste the Moo Brew the brewery makes. If it’s in a few years time, maybe we will stay at the hotel that is being designed for the site. It’s said to be one of the most ambitious hotel designs ever seen in Australia, and is currently being colloquially called HoMo. That sounds perfectly in line with MONA’s intention to shock and be controversial.
MONA Opening hours and Entry Fees
MONA is open from Wednesday to Monday 10am-6pm, closed on Tuesdays.
Adult entry is $28, concession $25. Tasmanian residents and under 18s are free.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.