It's Only Art; We Can Make More

Matt Newton for The Australian

Irwin Weiner ASID - Frank Stella famously said, "Architecture can't fully represent the chaos and turmoil that are part of the human personality, but you need to put some of that turmoil into the architecture, or it isn't real." Australian math-and-gambling tycoon David Walsh put together MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, and it's filled with Walsh's personality, to spectacular effect. 

The building itself, which burrows three stories deep with twisting and turning concrete chambers into a limestone peninsula, is a concrete and rusted steel bunker surrounded by vineyards, accessible from Hobart by water taxi. The architecture is robust, anti-museum, and homegrown in Hobart. The art collections are all Walsh's, and they consist of antiquities and startling and participatory works from world-class modern art world stealth bombers like Jean-Michel Basquiet, Chris Ofili (yes, MONA houses his famous elephant-dung encrusted Holy Virgin Mary), Stephen Shanabrook, and Wim Delvoye - his Cloaca is a room-sized installation that's fed every day and digests and defecates onto a stainless steel dish at 3:00 each afternoon, a real crowd pleaser. 

And you can stay on the grounds as an overnight visitor. MONA has some guest "cabins" that are architecturally daring, and cheeky to the max; one sports a rug with the message, "Apropos of nothing, it's nice to have you here. Thanks, we need the money." Instead of a Gideon Bible, each room has a copy of Rchard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and there's talk of putting in real bibles, "but hollowed out, with sex toys inside." This is not your mother's art museum, and it makes me want to hop a jet tomorrow and fly down under to Hobart. 

So why the title of this post? A friend of ours was installing a David Hockney exhibit at the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis years ago. A worker was taking a crate marked "Fragile - This End Up" and flipping it end over end up a loading ramp. She went beserk, and then a man suddenly appeared and helped the worker flip the crate up and over the ramp. "David!" she yelled, "What are you doing?" David Hockney turned to our friend and said, "It's only art; we can make more." And David Walsh's Museum of Old and New Art is the perfect "art ain't precious" antidote to our too-serious museum, architecture, art, and interior design communities.


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