Shock of the old and new

Winsor Dobbin gets a sneak peek at the country's newest - and potentially most controversial - museum.

WHEN Hobart's spectacular $75 million Museum of Old and New Art opens this month, it will be quite unlike any museum Australia has known.

The long-held dream of professional gambler, entrepreneur and philanthropist David Walsh, MONA in suburban Berriedale is designed by Walsh to shock and offend, challenge, inform, entertain and provoke debate.

What was previously a small collection of antiquities has been transformed into a three-level, underground, multimedia museum of installations, paintings, light shows, mummies and African art, all of which will be free to the public.

It has been projected that MONA will attract more than 250,000 visitors in its first year of operation – about half the population of Tasmania. Local tourism operators hope it will attract increased numbers of interstate visitors. What is certain is it will certainly attract a lot of attention.

Walsh sought no funding help because he wanted MONA to be entirely his own vision.

Artworks range from a stunning Sir Sidney Nolan to one by British enfant terrible Damien Hirst. All have been selected for their points of difference.

Works showing a man copulating with a dog and another full-frontal painting of a transsexual may well provoke protests – though Walsh, who grew up down the road in working class Glenorchy and is a self-confessed eccentric, says that is not his aim.

Walsh has said he intends MONA to be "a subversive adult Disneyland" and it will be Australia's largest private museum complex.

The opening exhibition, Monanism, will feature about 400 works of art. Walsh has told a local newspaper, "The museum is my soapbox and I've got one hell of a microphone."


Most museums do not have MONA's waterfall (Julius Popp's Bit.fall), a water-covered gallery floor, a sex and death gallery or, for that matter, two bars and a cinerarium, where people can have their ashes interred.

MONA will officially be opened on Friday, January 21, marked by a three-day on-site extravaganza of avant-garde art, theatre and entertainment in a complex that also houses the ultra high-tech Moorilla Estate winery and cellar door, upmarket the Source restaurant, a microbrewery, wine bar and eight extravagant pavilions that overlook the Derwent River and provide some of Hobart's most exclusive accommodation.

Many visitors to MONA will arrive by ferry to be confronted by an entrance that looks like a suburban cottage with a tennis court. Walsh describes it as "deliberately underwhelming".

Guests will then descend three levels in a lift or spiral staircase beside a sheer rock face. On arrival they will be encouraged to enjoy a beer or wine before starting to explore an extraordinary space.

The interior is stark. None of the exhibits at MONA will be labelled and old will be displayed alongside new. Visitors will, however, be given an audio device that will give them as much information about each piece as they want, if desired. A couple travelling together may not hear the same information about a particular piece.

The art collection, valued at more than $100 million, includes pieces as diverse as an ancient coin collection and Snake, a 45-metre-long piece with 1620 different segments by Nolan that has rarely been displayed.

A number of works by the acclaimed Young British Artists group, which failed to make it to Australia in 1999 when Sir Charles Saatchi's Sensation exhibition was cancelled by the National Gallery of Australia, will be seen here for the first time.

The museum covers 9500 sq m, including 1300 sq m reserved for touring exhibitions. In gallery space, MONA is comparable to Brisbane's GOMA or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

There will be a private reference library that "revolves around the private collection and the preoccupations and interests of its owner". Walsh has very much put his own stamp on his museum.

The 3 1/2-hectare peninsula site has changed dramatically since be bought the Moorilla winery and restaurant from the Alcorso family in 1995.

He has added the original Museum of Antiquities (1999), the eight MONA Pavilions (2001 and 2009), the Ether Building and Function Centre (2005), the Moo Brew microbrewery (2005), the new winery (2010) and now MONA.

Trip notes

Getting there

MONA is at 655 Main Road, Berriedale. It will be open 11am-7pm daily from January 22. Entrance is free. A fast catamaran service from Brooke Street Pier in Hobart operates to and from MONA for $15 return. On-site parking is limited and visitors are urged to take public transport or cycle the 12 kilometres from Hobart.

Staying there

MONA's eight accommodation pavilions all feature artworks from the MONA collection and are named after prominent 20th-century architects and painters. They contain video art from David Walsh's private collection, commissioned works from Australian artists, ancient coins, Roman mosaics and "electronic toys" — wireless touch panels that control everything from temperature to audiovisual systems. From $490 to $950. (03) 6277 9900,

Eating there

The Source restaurant is open daily for lunch and for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Wine tastings are available at the cellar door in the Ether Building daily from 10am to 5pm while beer tours are held on Friday evenings from 4pm to 5pm (bookings preferred).