Art & Design

Feb 6, 2013

An inadvertent icon: the making of MONA

Hobart's wildly contemporary Museum of Old and New Art has become one of the most talked about attractions in the country. In an essay for GriffithREVIEW, founder David Walsh explains why he built MONA in his home town.

The Hobart of my youth was mostly working class Glenorchy, the satellite city of Hobart that is neither a city nor a satellite, at least in the sense of willing subordinate. The denizens of Glenorchy believed it to be a place where a life could be lived completely, mostly without ambition, but also without its attendant desperation. In Glenorchy and, I later found out, in Tasmania, we believed in shades of grey. People weren’t black or alcoholic or rich (actually I think nobody was rich except Claudio Alcorso, my predecessor at Moorilla, where the Museum of Old and New Art now resides). Everybody was just somebody. Most people weren’t even bothered by weird, demented, internal me.

We believed in shades of grey because our forebears were convicts, and we were in no position to judge. And we believed in shades of grey because we were the stunted cousins of the larger, flashier cities that the descendants of those felons transported to the mainland produced.

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22 thoughts on “An inadvertent icon: the making of MONA

  1. dunph

    David Walsh for Governor General!

    I’ve been to the Guggenheims and his is better – now wouldn’t it be nice if some of the WA billionaires (for example) were equally philanthropic towards great art and culture!!

  2. Gavin Moodie

    An interesting read. Thanx to Griffith Review for commissioning it and to Crikey for republishing it.

  3. Michael Noonan

    This is a marvellous article. An interesting story by an interesting person and a marvellous writer. Thank you publishers, thank you David Walsh.

  4. paddy

    On the off chance you are reading these comments David,
    a heartfelt thank you.
    It seems you write as well as you collect art and build places to display it.

    I’ve always thought MONA is *so* special because, it’s one person’s eclectic collection.

    Such a nice change from the conventional gallery/museum.

    So thanks again for your words on how it evolved and thanks to Crikey for republishing them.

    Quite made my day.

  5. Gavin Moodie

    I second paddy’s thoughts. MONA could be established only by a person’s benefaction, which we miss so much in Australia whose public culture is dominated by public institutions, as worthy as they are.

  6. zut alors

    A fascinating read and insight, thanks, David Walsh.

    If only you’d built MONA and, simultaneously, been a sportsman you would’ve been a shoo-in for Australian of the Year.

    A gallery built by a human being with vision – not built by a committee. How fortunate we are.

  7. Karina Randall

    A wonderful article, David! Sometimes stretching boundaries is the only way to grow.

  8. jmendelssohn

    Thank you David for having the courage to follow your own direction – and in doing so enabling the transformation of your island home.
    “The Door into Summer” was one of my favourite science fiction books when I was a teenager, and it makes perfect sense that it would have seized your youthful imagination.

  9. Kez

    recently went to both Hobart and MONA for the first time. I’m one of those just want to have a look types. It was the best art gallery I’ve ever been to. That massive skull with the flashing bits mad me cry.

  10. AR

    Magnificent; museum, motive and modest man.

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