The Museum of New and Old Art, or MONA, as it is affectionately known, is a weird and wonderful place, where ancient Egyptian mummies are placed next to an overweight Lamborghini and intrigue lingers with you, long after you’ve left the gallery.
I flew down to Hobart hot on the tails of their Lonely Planet accolade (the city was crowned number 7 in the guide book’s top destinations for 2013) with no doubt in my mind that the newest museum in the country had something to do with this.
The first thing I noticed as I walked into the hillside monolithic museum was the smell. Everybody around me could smell it. They looked at each other perplexed. It was worse than any zoo I'd visited. People in museums are inherently polite, but you could hear whispers of disbelief as they furiously checked their guidebooks for clarification. I checked the walls for plaques, but nothing could define this smell.
I decided I had to question an official-looking woman. With nostrils of steel, she answered, without even flinching: "Oh, it's the excrement machine, it mimics the human intestinal system." I had heard that MONA is famous for its shock-factor. But I was expecting a few phallic shaped sculptures and some wild pubic hair brush-strokes - not this.
"We feed it twice a day and it poos daily. You've just missed the 2pm release of faeces, but you can see it over there on the conveyor belt." And there it was - a prize dump, fresh and still steaming before my very eyes. There was a row of machines representing the digestive system, breaking down the food, churning it around like soiled washing machines. "You never know what you're going to get. Yesterday it was runny," I overheard the guide.
We were lucky to see this solid, chorizo-shaped poo. The Mona Lisa of shits. My guidebook, which is actually an iPhone-like device, tells me this is ‘Cloaca Professional’, by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, part of the museum’s Monanism exhibition. The closer you got, the more horrid the smell. And yet, now that my brain has registered this healthy looking shit, the smell was kind of intriguing. Just one more whiff before I go. If this was the ground level, what else was I in for?
MONA is the brainchild of Hobart-born David Walsh, a self-made millionaire, professional gambler, university drop-out and all-round eccentric. He owns the museum and everything in it, therefore he has this I-can-do-whatever-the-fuck-I-want attitude, which is exactly what I love about this museum. This subterranean collection of art could inspire even the most terrified of art-phobics. In fact, the first exhibition is a bar, which we all know helps you digest the experience. (Pun intentional.)
Walsh is also fascinated with death, from the suicide machine, to the collection of funeral songs on a jukebox to the cinerarium where, for $75,000, you can put your ashes on display. I was enamored with the anal lipstick kisses that are prettily pressed on hotel paper. Don't ask. They are exactly as they sound, and perhaps a great idea for a Valentine's Day card, for those who have exhausted every other avenue. That didn't come out right. MONA has certainly perverted me.
Then there's the simple - the white library where the books and bookcases are all painted white. This is the calm before the storm. Outside you are met with 200 porcelain vagina moulds, like the anal kisses, each one tells a different story. Walsh doesn't call it the "subversive adult Disneyland" for nothing. It might not be for everyone but I can tell you there's nothing cheap about it. For a gallery full of shit and genitals it's surprisingly tasteful. Seriously, MONA makes the sex museum in Amsterdam look like a tacky hen's night.