all things dark and wondrous

So, I had Friday off and took a mini-break to go to Hobart to visit Mona. It’s a new private art gallery which has just opened there, the brainchild of David Walsh, gambler, curator, genius.

Words will fail to do any of this justice. If you were to imagine what the very best art space would be like, if you had no budget restraints and no experts to tell you what was or wasn’t allowed, this is it. The whole experience is a contradiction of itself, a paradox. The gallery is carved into the ground, three levels underground of vast sandstone walls and spaces. It’s at once immense and womb-like; hard and voluptuous. The space is lush, gorgeous, stark and elemental.

The Monanism exhibition is the first to be shown in the gallery. It’s an eclectic mix of all the big contemporary art names from Australia and across the world. These works are placed alongside antiquities… there’s a Damien Hirst piece next to a collection of molten chinese coins from a shipwreck, which in turn is just around the corner from an egyptian mummy… I don’t know how to isolate my favourite pieces. Sydney Nolan’s Snake stretching the length of a sandstone wall was hard to beat, just for amazingness; My Beautiful Chair by Greg Taylor and Philip Nitschke, where you sit on a sofa and press the computer screen, as it takes you through the questions you would have to answer if you were about to euthanase yourself is pretty confronting. There’s really lovely video art – including the obligatory Bill Viola [Reflecting Pool], and a number of Marina Abramovic’s pieces [David Walsh’s curators notes on them are worthy of a whole post in themselves]. The line was too long for Serrano’s Morgue, but I’ll make the time when I next go. The water wall was lovely; the sewage installation wasn’t. It’s hard to know whether David Walsh [an art lover, not an art expert] has an obsession with sex, death and religion, or simply whether all art has an obsession with sex, death and religion, and the fact that the environment drips lushness makes it impossible to ignore. It’s complete sensory overload: marvellous, beautiful, moving, hilarious.

[Sean Fennessy has some photos here of the opening. The gallery let photos be taken, but ask people don’t publish them on personal websites without permission]

It all felt very australian, but not in any parochial way. It was cheeky, irreverent and irreligious, honouring the best australian tradition of not taking itself seriously, but being completely remarkable anyway. There are no curator’s notes on the wall, but people are given ipods at the entry. As you move around, it locates the art work that’s closest to you, you click the piece you’re interested in and it offers interviews with the artist and occasionally music to accompany the piece. There are also links to curators notes for the piece – most of the works there are two interpretations – the ‘artwank’ and the ‘gonzo’ versions. The first has the serious notes, the second is almost stream of consciousness from the curators. When you enter your email address into the ipod, it sends you an email with a link to your personal tour online, so you can revisit things after [for a sneak peak of my tour, go here and type my email address into the box]. It’s all still a bit unfinished, a work in progress, and perhaps it always will be. How lovely if it is.

There’s lots to learn about why this could only happen in Hobart; about how space changes art, and art changes space… about who has the right to do stuff, and how entrepeneurial opportunities take hold. There’s lots to learn about subversion and counter-cultural movements… but i don’t want to learn anything yet, i just want to soak it up for a bit and say ‘wow’. You can’t do that and be intelligent at the same time.

Seriously, it really was that good.

I’m still reading the catalogue [all 400 pages of it, it’s as lush and beautiful as the gallery itself]. I’m back in Hobart in a few weeks for meetings, and I’ll be adding a day at the end to go back to the gallery. I simply can’t wait.