David Walsh's Mona Lisa

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has been the centre of the Australian art world since its official opening in early 2011. Hopefully this article will entice those who choose to travel to the “South Island” to experience the attractions of the MONA. I wonder, however, whether the MONA will be a long-term tourist attraction as questions about the future of the MONA continue to rise.


David Walsh, the creator of the MONA, made his millions by creating a system of gambling for horse racing.  The MONA stands right beside Walsh’s own family home and tennis court. Across the harbour you can see the suburb of Glenorchy, where Walsh grew up in council housing. Walsh’s house is literally atop the museum. The proximity signifies Walsh’s connection to the museum. At one point in the exhibition, if you look up to the ceiling, you can see into the lives of the Walsh’s from the living room floor. I heard, from a friend of a friend, that Walsh’s girlfriend doesn’t particularly like wearing underwear.


Some may suggest that Walsh’s car park demonstrates Walsh’s self-absorption. His space is titled “God’s” and his girlfriend’s space is titled “God’s Mistress’s”. Others think that this statement represents his dedication to the museum and its themes of “controversy”. It is this form of controversy that drives the MONA. There is a poll on the I-POD touch museum guide where you can register whether you “like” or “dislike” a piece in the museum. Apparently, Walsh often decides to change the pieces that are the most “liked”.


Originally opened in 2001 as the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, Walsh spent 75 million dollars between 2007 and 2011 renovating the structure to create what is now known as the MONA. Furthermore, Walsh has invested millions of dollars in artwork, both buying and commissioning pieces for the museum.  The art that is on display in the museum only represents a small portion of Walsh’s actual collection. As you enter into the museum via the lift it feels like you are descending into hell. You go through masses of cut sandstone and arrive to experience the wonders of the museum. All of the pieces in the museum are meant to confront the senses.  From an obese Porsche to a poo-ing machine, you will be wondering what you will stumble upon next.


The MONA is unique in the fact that it is a museum that is not primarily state funded yet is of high international regard. Yet recent reports have alluded to the un-sustainability of such a venture. According to Richard Flannigan’s report in the Monthly, the MONA costs approximately 12 million dollars a year to run but only makes 4 million. Walsh pays for the difference out of his own pocket. Originally Walsh did not want to charge people for entering the MONA. In early February only non-Tasmanians had to pay for entry, and entry for a student was 15 dollars. If you find yourself debating whether or not to visit the MONA due to the fees, then please, choose to eat a packet of mi-goreng for dinner instead of fetching dinner out. In my opinion the MONA is the best art museum in Australia and well worth the fee. Even more so, I dare say, than the delicious Tasmanian salmon or leatherwood honey.


The dispute between Walsh and the Australian Tax Office in 2010 concluded that Walsh was required to pay 37 million dollars to the Australian Tax Office from the profits of the gambling system he created.  One native Tasmanian I spoke to was of the opinion that the dispute was a “punch in David’s face” because of the contribution Walsh has made to the Tasmanian community and economy. The MONA is now Tasmania’s premier tourist attraction. The Lonely Planet even registered Hobart, and largely accredited the MONA, as number 7th in the Best Travel in 2013 Top 10 Cities list.


The MONA is an attraction that is worth preserving. The museum has attracted more visitors in its creation than the total residents of Tasmania. Walsh says he created the MONA, to repay a “debt for getting lucky in a way that does no one any good”. Let’s just hope that this debt doesn’t run out and the creepy adult Disneyland that is the MONA continues to surprise visitors for many years to come.






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