We’ve finally rocked up to see MONA and Theatre of the World in its final week.
Everyone must know about MONA. Opened January 2011, it’s a cavernous art bunker cut into a sandstone outcrop, clinging to the Berriedale peninsula in Hobart. Drawing on professional gambler David Walsh’s collection, it is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. Rex Butler has attributed it as one of only three significant galleries in Australia; and it’s worth noting that of the three, none are in Melbourne and GOMA is the only publicly funded institution.
It’s approached through the Moorilla winery or by ferry coasting the Derwent River. Designed by Fender Katsalidis Architects (FKA), with the heritage setting of the Roy Grounds houses preserved, descending into the subterranean sandstone is like entering some kind of tomb. It’s just very, very cool.
Theatre of the World, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, presents a cacophony of objects freed from the habitual restrictions of historical and cultural categorisation. Martin is best remembered for his 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre George Pompidou, a response to the highly criticised Primitivism exhibition at MOMA. A 1989 New York Times review of Magiciens is available online.
Reminiscent of the Renaissance view that art and knowledge are inextricably linked, Martin rejects the notion that ancient and contemporary works of art are inherently different. Rather than present art in a way that dictates to the viewer how it should be viewed, he told Radio National’s Sarah Kanowski “You don’t go to a concert to learn about the history of music, and this is where museums went wrong, because they went too much in this direction, and they think visitors can only appreciate art if they know the history of art.”
The thing is, sometimes you want to know the history of an object, or at least something about it. We’d grabbed an O, a modified iPod, but it’s spatially distracting. Compared with GOMA’s consistently pristine and clinical presentations of Ah Xian, it’s refreshing to see an Ah Xian bust in a different context, buried amongst a multitude of somewhat random objects. But I wanted to know what some of those objects were. Instead of having a quick reference, I was pulled between being in the space, in the moment, and the O. Rather than a reading device, a super brief video, a more visual device would probably be better.
One of the most impressive, soaring spaces within Theatre of the World exhibits dozens of tapa or bark cloths collected by missionaries and stashed away by TMAG, reportedly since 1850. Here, they’re abstract, extricated from their original function to wrap protectively around the bodies of newborn babies, young men and women as they came of age and finally the deceased.
A likely nod to Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, the most focused space within the exhibition surrounds the viewer in an abject spectacle of brutalities. Works include Jake and Dinos Chapman Great Deeds Against the Dead 1994, after Goya’s etching A heroic feat! With dead men! Wim Delvoye Osama tattooed pig skin 2008, Roman Signer Aktion Mit Fassern 1992 and a wallpaper by Robert Gober Hanging Man / Sleeping Man 1989. Its unnerving motif depicts a lynched black man, an image taken from a late 1920s political cartoon in Texas, alongside a sleeping white man, from a Sunday newspaper advertisement for sheets at Bloomingdales.
Michael Brenson, Juxtaposing the New From All Over, New York Times, 20 May 1989
Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you can see, 17 October 2012
Museo Rufino Tamayo, 2 December 2005