Last night I saw the Swedish film "The Square," which is about a modern art museum, the struggle to stay "cutting edge," and how far someone can push the limits of what is defined as art. It was a very interesting, long, artsy movie, but what I was most impressed by was the way the movie was able to give me the same feeling of discomfort that I've only felt in one specific modern art museum: MONA, outside of Hobart, Tasmania.
MONA, (the museum of old and new art), is unlike any museum I've ever experienced. And although I'm no art critic by any means, I've had the opportunity to visit several classical and modern art museums around the world and I'm not sure if I'll even be able to describe how different this is. I would actually recommend for any art lover to visit Tasmania, just to go to MONA.
I'll start from the outside. The architecture is incredible; it's sort of built into the side of a mountain on a small peninsula. In fact, the preferred mode of transport to MONA is by ferry up the river from Hobart. I think it's about a 40 minute ride, we didn't do it, but I will next time because approaching the museum from the water must be pretty special. When we were there in January they had just completed renovating a new wing of the museum, Pharos, and we were quite lucky that everything had just opened!
After we purchased our tickets, we descended down a spiral staircase about 3 floors underground. The walls are covered with a rocky façade which serves as a constant reminder that you're underground.
On the bottom floor, we were given iPods and headphones for the audio tour. At MONA, there are no placards with any description of the artwork. Their audio guide is called "The O," and you can either download the app or use the iPods they provide. It uses your location to list the artwork around you, with an audio clip, a short description to read, and often a few other options if you want to read more. (For example, one of those options was called "Art Wank" or something and it was like a Ginsberg style stream of consciousness page about the artwork). I think The O gets mixed reviews-- I personally wasn't patient enough to stand at each art work for the whole audio clip so I bounced around a bit more than they intended.
Anyway we were pretty clearly guided through the temporary exhibit, "The Art of Everything" which showcased pieces by "non-artists" from around the world. It was really well curated with a huge variety of pieces and mediums. When we came out of the exhibit, there was a little cart offering a free cup of tea and a biscuit which I thought was just precious.
Then, we were out on our own to wander the rest of the museum, which didn't follow as clear of a path as the temporary exhibit. Although there were definitely pieces in the temporary exhibit that were "out there", I think all of the pieces that are meant to make you feel uncomfortable are part of the permanent exhibit. As I mentioned, you're underground, and there are lots of ramps connecting different areas and floors and it is super easy to get lost. We'd end up on one floor and see something below it that we'd missed kind of thing.
Many of the pieces are interactive, and some of those follow a queueing system via The O where you are able to book a spot in the queue to return to enter the room. We didn't realize how many of these there were, and it wasn't until the end of the day when we had stopped for a bite to eat that we started joining some of the queues to see what the fuss was about. It actually worked out well because there weren't many people still waiting so we were able to squeeze in a lot of these without waiting, but next time I'd spread them out over the day.
There are also a few (at least one, but I think there are a few) extra paid exhibits that you have to book in advance. One of them is a sensory deprivation experience (very Stranger Things), where you go into the concrete ball pictured below (in the middle of a restaurant?!) and I have no idea what happens to you inside but I bet it's crazy! We didn't do those this trip, but I would next time. Sometimes they have the restaurant area open at night so you can go for dinner and just to go into Unseen Seen (the ball).
Overall, MONA was incredible and the feeling there is indescribable. There are a lot of very sexual pieces, but then they'll be next to a gorgeous sarcophagus. There is a hallway of like 200 plaster models of different vaginas that my boyfriend traumatically walked through with my mom (lol). There is a small room that you step into with a wall of old TVs with people singing "Like a Virgin." There is kitten taxidermy (hello Kendall from The Bachelor). There's this crazy spot where you hold onto two medal rods and the lights above the whole room start to flicker at the exact pace of your heart rate. I don't want to give it all away but I've captioned some of the pictures below! Just go, and see for yourself.
Oh, and last but not least, we had dinner at a gorgeous restaurant out by MONA, The Agrarian Kitchen. It's in an old mental asylum but it doesn't feel creepy! We shared a delicious lamb roast with local produce. Definitely book in advance, and the location is perfect after visiting MONA (via car).
Has a museum ever pushed you out of your comfort zone?