Saturday, April 21, 2012

Holy Shit Tasmania!

by Drew Martin
In 1999, then-mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani stepped into a big pile of pachydermal poop when he threatened to cut off city funding to the Brooklyn Museum because it displayed Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary made with elephant dung.

So where does art that even New Yorkers are not ready for end up? Ofili's Madonna is now at MONA (the Museum of the Old and New Art) in Hobart, Tasmania. I had my peripheral experience of the museum this afternoon when I awoke from a siesta with the May 2012 copy of Smithsonian on the bedstand, waiting to be read. I became thoroughly immersed in Tony Perrottet's article Tasmania's New Devil. The online version is titled Nudity, Art, Sex and Death – Tasmania Awaits You with the subheading: With one big bet, an art-loving professional gambler has made the Australian island into the world’s most surprising new cultural destination.

Perrottet strips down and takes the after-hours naturist tour, which he was encouraged to do by a museum attendant because "if you're going to confront sex and death - or even just the art world's latest depictions of them - you might as well do it naked."

David Walsh is the millionaire funding his creation to house his passion for art. At the age of 12, Walsh dodged church on Sunday mornings and spent the time this freed up at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Their mash-up collection of art, history and natural science, combined with his interest in Wunderkammer, the eclectic "Cabinets of Wonder" kept by Renaissance aristocrats that predated the orderly national museums of later eras, were his inspiration for non-chronological displays of art. Walsh understands art to be created by base, primitive drives that span all time.

Walsh's first art purchase came by accident in South Africa because he could not bring $18,000 of gambling earnings out of the country as cash. He purchased an elaborate Nigerian door with it. Walsh opened a small museum of antiquities, where MONA now stands, but fell into the white cube design trap so he reinvented the museum with a $75 million building that has "labyrinthine passageways and Escher-like stairways." Walsh estimates that MONA, with its own "Bilbao Effect" brought an additional $120 million to Hobart's economy in its first year.

The best video I found about the museum is on YouTube: ArtBreak MONA, which is narrated by Nicole Durling, the senior curator, and Adrian Spinks, the exhibition designer and head of operations.