April 30, 2012
Artist Stuart Ringholt leading a "naturist tour" of MONA
If you’re going to confront sex and death – or at least the art world’s latest depictions of them – you might as well be naked.
This notion was cheerfully explained to me by a fresh-faced Aussie attendant when I first arrived at MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, a radically innovative new institution in Tasmania, whose very purpose is to upend our pre-conceived notions of what a museum should be. I’d first noticed that an after-hours “naturist tour” was on offer, and asked what this involved. Apparently, participants would be escorted through the subterranean exhibitions while in the state that nature intended. The guide would also be naked, of course. Even the guards would be naked. Since many of MONA’s artworks deal with the intimate workings of the human body, any naked viewer’s involvement would surely be at a heightened level, the attendant said.
Who could turn an offer like that down…?
My piece on the museum is in the current May issue Smithsonian Magazine, or can be read online here… My project on the visit was to meet MONA’s owner and creator, a professional gambler named David Walsh, an eccentric character who has single-handedly transformed the cultural life of Tasmania, Australia’s remote island-state. He told me that he had expected his collection of confronting artworks would cause a certain amount of outrage – but it turns out Tasmanians are hard to shock. Instead, the museum has been wildly successful, bringing visitors from all over the world.
There are some great images of museum on the magazine website, but I thought readers might be interested in a few other photos….
The Museum of Old and New Art on the Derwent River -- one of the world's biggest private collections of contemporary art -- the best way to get there is by ferry from Hobart
David Walsh -- a Tasmanian professional gambler who has poured his fortune into acquiring provocative art
Over 100 plaster casts of vaginas line one wall...
X-ray images of lovers embracing (in one case, a man is having his way with a chicken...)
The Cloaca, a machine that reproduces the human digestive system -- staff "feed" the creation in the morning and collect the odiferous result in the afternoon...
Tony Perrottet is the author of Napoleon’s Privates: 2500 Years of History Unzipped and The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe; www.tonyperrottet.com