MONA: “a subversive Disneyland for adults”

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David Walsh played ping-pong in the wharf that hosted his Festival of Music and Art (MOFO), wearing a t-shirt with: ‘I am listening to bands that don’t even exist yet’ written across his chest. This conjures an image of a man connected with his community and with the contemporary art scene. Mr Walsh invited Brian Ritchie, formerly the frontman of the Violent Femmes, to curate the annual festival exploring how art and music inform each other. International artists flew in from Serbia, Germany, the US and UK to perform, including eighties hip-hop artist Grand Master Flash for one of Hobart’s biggest concerts of the year. Even after 3000 people registered for the free event, there was still enough demand for people to colour photocopy the wristbands so they could watch the master of the turntables. Money could not buy a ticket to the event. The city felt a little tired on Friday. Many were hanging out in the Princes Wharf (PW1) resting easy on big pink beanbags watching video art from the Venice Biennale, enjoying a wine tasting comparing international wines with his Moorilla winery’s cloth label 2000 pinot noir or watching a cooking demonstration by the head chef at Moorilla’s award-winning restaurant. Whatever the activity – it was all free – accessible to everyone. But the cost of a one way ticket to Hobart last week was $450.

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FOMA is the beginning of a major injection of art and culture into Tasmania. The goal is to make people to think. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is currently being built with the launch date to coincide with the third MOFO festival in January 2011. The museum’s name does not let it be categorised beyond being a museum of art. Walsh is often heard saying, one of our philosophies is to have no philosophy. If people walk away hating it, at least they have talked about it and have formed an opinion. The Hobart businessman who has made his fortune by gambling online has turned his efforts into building one of the most exciting art and cultural environments in Australia. MOFO is attracting cool crowds. Some looking to understand the link between music and art, others starved of live music and the rest just wanting to be part of the energetic vibe emanating from Princes Wharf (PW1), the site of the Taste of Tasmania, on Salamanca.

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Mr Walsh likes to challenge conventions and demands those who work for him to do the same. His staff must research and interrogate how things are done in the cultural sector nationally and internationally, as well as in other domains. H4, the web development company hired to build MONA’s web presence, has never built a museum website before. With one year the until launch date, they have put all of their clients on hold so they can give MONA 100 per cent of their attention. They are building the online collection and linking their web presence to the visitor experience in very exciting ways. Librarian and Information Manager Mary Lijnzaad described the process of developing the website as a partnership. It is a collaborative process, looking at what other people are doing and extrapolating that out.

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Just to illustrate the extent Mr Walsh will go to challenge ideas, he has hired architect Nonda Katsalidis, known for Australia’s tallest building Eureka Tower to design the museum underground. Most museums command attention, they are monuments to themselves. Ms Lijnzaad said, Mr Walsh wants the public to feel underwhelmed when they arrive at MONA. Taking the lift down to the lower levels symbolises going down into the subconscious. The museum’s floorplan has been designed so that it is easy to lose yourself, creating an environment so that people are open to new ideas and experiences. He wants it to be a subversive Disneyland for adults, Lijnzaad said.

Sarah Rhodes

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