Hobart des artistes

If we have apprehended Antipodean geography correctly (and it’s never been our strong suit), Tasmania is the closest Australia gets to New Zealand. The climate certainly reminded us of South Island and, after the warmth of Sydney, we were glad we brought our winter woollies.

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Hobart today has two claims to fame as far as tourism is concerned. One is its history of seafaring explorers. As with Kiwi-land, it seems the French were actually the first Europeans to arrive but got elbowed aside by the Brits.

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The other is as a contemporary artistic hub. We stayed in a converted jam factory called the Art Hotel, its jam-packed walls now a preserve for the fruits of Australian talent, spread thickly across the… (cont. p.94).

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Occasionally the two combine, as here in Salamanca Square.

imageAs rain clouds rolled across Mount Wellington, we briefly feared we might have got caught up in an open-air performance of the Rocky Horror Show.

imageBut soon the sun was again shining on Tasmania’s Government House, regarded as one of the best Vice-Regal residences in the Commonwealth.

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But these days the jewel in Hobart’s crown is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, hewn out of the sandstone of the Berriedale peninsula. It opened in 2011 to house the private collection of professional gambler David Walsh, who likes to describe it as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. Get the picture? He certainly did. (Photo by MONA.)

imageIn another downpour, we searched desperately for a way in. Not big on signage here.

imageFittingly, the first work we came across featured water cascading down the sandstone wall to spell out random words. Here, also fittingly, it’s Rockstar.

imageIt was dark in here. Maybe because this is a land of often searing sunshine, Aussies seem to like interiors, notably restaurants, where you stumble around, barely able to see your hand in front of your face, much less read a menu. (As a pro on one of the innumerable home improvement TV shows here remarked the other night while enthusing about somebody’s hideously gloomy new kitchen, “Black is the new white!” At least it’s an improvement on the old White Australia policy…)

Meanwhile, MONA’s order of the day seemed to be juxtaposition. Contemporary stuff alongside ancient artefacts…

imageA European artist’s Fat Car…

image… and nearby, one of those quirky Ghanaian coffins in the shape of a car.

imageHere, a ghostly photo of William Wordsworth’s death mask (top right) gazes down on an Egyptian sarcophagus.

imageThe attempt to juxtapose at all costs can seem quite desperate, to the detriment of the art and the viewer’s appreciation of it. These wall hangings from Mali and Nigeria stand on their own merits, unlike some of the western “art wank” (MONA’s own description) on show. The pieces called Cloaca and Cnuts (our deliberate misspelling) in particular spring to mind — fair descriptions of those who selected them for exhibition, perhaps.

imageAnd to these eyes, this massive Snake by Sidney Nolan, Australia’s best-known 20th-century artist, only seemed to emphasize the massive elephant in the room (or rather, not in any of the rooms): the total absence of any indigenous Australian art.

This is Brian Pseud handing you back to GautreysGoGlobal — oh, wait… they’ve nicked off to Melbourne!

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