Subversive Adult Disneyland

Exterior of MONA

Imagine if Tony Stark had one of the world’s largest private art collections, it was housed in the Batcave, and you were allowed to visit and even play with it some of it. It seems understatement to describe Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) as “the subversive adult Disneyland”.

Mona Roma

Financed by his success as a professional gambler, the eccentric David Walsh created a world-class museum up the Derwent from Tasmania’s largest city.  Clearly a personal vision, without the hindrance of boards or directors, the stunning, quirky, and  unusual pieces are housed within a beautiful and imaginative underground facility serviced by a his high-speed boat, the Mona Roma.

When My Heart Stops Beating

Elizabeth and I took the glass elevator down to the lower floor, and next to a bar serving beer made by Walsh’s co-located brewery, we were issued our iPods.  Instead of labels on the artworks, visitors use the iPods to read the descriptions of the art, which are often accompanied by personal notes from Walsh, along with other background information. Some of the iPod entries have topically related musical tracks.

Surreal Ping Pong

When first confronted with a huge trampoline, surrounded by brass temple bells, or a three-dimensional ping pong table, it isn’t immediately clear that you are actually supposed to interact with, even play with, many of the exhibits. Filled with paintings, statues, collages, and multi-media works, Elizabeth and I spent 6 hours in the place, and didn’t truly see everything.

On Perspective and Motion - Part II 2006

Many of the artworks are huge, taking up entire walls in a space that is the size, but certainly not the aesthetic, of a small convention center.  Screens are everywhere, some playing what could be easily understood as a movie or video, others defying easy categorization.

Vivian Girls

One room contained multiple pages from an extravagant 15,000 page work entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.  I’d never heard of creator Henry Darger, but it turns out that ‘out is the new in’.  Our iPods offered three different musical tracks inspired by Darger’s Vivian Girls, pictured above in their least shocking form (yes, that’s blood smeared on the right most revolutionary).

The Holy Virgin Mary 1996

Famously dissed by Rudy Giuliani, and fully at home in a museum dedicated to the roasting of sacred cows, the only MONA work I was actually familiar with was Chris Ofili’s 1996 The Holy Virgin Mary.  Perhaps elephant dung is an artistic accent that should be considered an acquired taste.

David Walsh's Head

An exceptionally unusual feature of the MONA is a set of windows between the floor of the owner’s apartment and the ceiling of one of the galleries. After Elizabeth noticed a big shaggy dog in the apartment, I managed to catch someone, apparently Walsh, sitting in a chair.


A visit to the MONA isn’t necessarily over once you’ve left the museum.  If you enter your email address on the iPad, you can later login to the museum’s web site, and use a 3D mapping function to replay your trip chronologically or geographically. The web site allows you to view photos, descriptions, and commentary on the works you visited during the trip, and the ones you missed.

Untitled (White Library) 2004-6

Fat Car 2006


Berlin Buddha

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