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Indesign Magazine

Hobart’s New Anti-Museum

Indesign Publishing’s Editorial Director, Paul McGillick, reports on Australia’s newly opened biggest and finest private art museum.


January 28th, 2011

The long-anticipated Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart finally opened on Friday 21 January.

True to his anti-establishment form, benefactor David Walsh made sure there was no pomp and ceremony, but heaps of energy, action and people – more than 1300 of them, in fact.


Photo by Sean Fennessy

We all arrived by dedicated ferries. And when you go – because everybody must go to this fabulous place – ferry is the only way to go.

There is a great sense of arrival, getting off at the special landing, then (after a quick look into the tiny Christian Boltanski pavilion) making your way up the grand ceremonial steps to the museum entry.


Photo by Peter Sackett

This is actually the original 1950s house designed by Roy Grounds for the art patron, Claude Alcorso, part of the Moorilla winery estate which also features the award-winning cellar door by Craig Rosevear, classy villas designed by Nonda Katsalidis (the museum’s designer) and other Roy Grounds buildings.

From the restored and modified Grounds house you descend either by lift or by an extraordinary spiral steel staircase down into Hades, sculpted out of the sandstone escarpment, into a fascinating labyrinth. Because this is an underground museum which actually ends up below water level.


’No Visible Means of Escape’ by Marc Quinn. Photo by Sean Fennessy

No white walls. No wayfinding signage, not even for the toilets. No labels for the art. No chronological or taxonomical organisation of the artwork which mixes ancient Egyptian and Roman with in-your-face contemporary.

Walsh wants you to think for yourself.

What Gehry and his Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao, Katsalidis and Walsh have now done for Hobart.

Now, as well as the wilderness and the peerless oysters, Tasmania also offers a unique cultural destination. And not a cent of government money went into it.


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