... but is it art?

From raw meat to a di­ges­tive ma­chine, it’s up to you to de­cide

Central and North Burnett Times - - TRAVEL - With Ann Rickard

THERE’S an episode of Ab Fab where Ed­die de­cides to spend all her money on art, leaving it to the na­tion rather than her long-suf­fer­ing daugh­ter Saffie. Ed­die trawls Lon­don’s most snooty gal­leries and spends hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds on art – a toi­let seat to hang on the wall, from mem­ory, and a bunch of wire coat-hang­ers joined in a tan­gled mass. Mod­ern art. Out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive. She dis­plays it in her liv­ing room.

In the same episode, Ed­die’s fa­ther dies and un­be­known to her, Ed­die’s de­light­fully dith­ery mother, played by the mar­vel­lous June Whit­field, ar­ranges to have his body dis­played in an open cof­fin in Ed­die’s liv­ing room among the art.

When Ed­die and her mate Patsy stum­ble drunk­enly into the liv­ing room late at night and come upon the dead fa­ther in the open cof­fin (near the coat hang­ers) Ed­die leaps back in hor­ror, say­ing “this is a sort of corpse in an open, oaken, ob­long cof­fin”. Patsy, al­ways by her side, peers into the cof­fin and says “Yeah, but is it art?”

I re­peated the line to my­self as I ap­proached an en­tire wall of meat car­casses at MONA mu­seum in Ho­bart re­cently. For a mo­ment I thought I was in a ware­house cold room, a place where Rocky might go to use the car­casses as punch­ing bags. But, no, I was in a gallery/mu­seum, and yes, there was an en­tire wall of meat call­ing it­self art.

It was real meat, not some mocked-up in­stal­la­tion. Raw meat, hung in the gallery ev­ery day, stored in a chilled room at night.

“Is it art?” I said to the nearby at­ten­dant. She cer­tainly thought it was. She gave me a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion about feed­ing the poor or some such. She ob­vi­ously got it. I did not. And that was cool.

What a wank, I thought, and I be­lieve the man who founded and built MONA, David Walsh, would prob­a­bly have agreed with me.

He has “art wank” ex­pla­na­tions on the gad­gets you are given as you en­ter MONA to guide you through the un­der­ground gallery and read what each ex­hi­bi­tion rep­re­sents. You read the of­fi­cial state­ment and then you tap a lit­tle icon that says “art wank” and you read … well, the art wank ex­pla­na­tion.

MONA is all about ques­tion­ing your in­ter­pre­ta­tion of art, and that is its charm, cer­tainly its ap­peal for the hun­dreds of vis­i­tors who pour down its spi­ral stair­case ev­ery day into the dark gloom of the cav­ernous space. Ev­ery­one who has heard of MONA has heard of some­thing weird down there, mostly the di­ges­tive ma­chine, an in­stal­la­tion that takes up a vast space in a big room and gets fed ev­ery day and then di­gests its food through a se­ri­ous of pipes and tubes and strange con­trap­tions to even­tu­ally … you know … at the other end.

Love or not love MONA with its dark un­der­ground spa­ces and its mourn­ful mu­sic and its weird and con­fronting ex­hi­bi­tions, there is no deny­ing its power as a tourism draw­card for Ho­bart, in­deed Tas­ma­nia, per­haps the en­tire coun­try. That has to be good. Eas­ier to un­der­stand was the ex­hi­bi­tion at the NGV in Fed­er­a­tion Square in Mel­bourne. En­ti­tled Who’s Afraid of Colour? the ex­hi­bi­tion dis­played a com­pre­hen­sive range of art by in­dige­nous women artists: bold state­ments that ex­plored colour and as­serted the pol­i­tics of iden­tity. From wo­ven ob­jects to large oils on can­vases, from fas­ci­nat­ing dig­i­tal dis­plays to in­stal­la­tions of syn­thetic and or­ganic ma­te­ri­als, the works ex­pressed a mul­ti­tude of emo­tions.

So in the opin­ion of this philis­tine travel writer who vis­ited both gal­leries re­cently, it doesn’t mat­ter if it is tan­gled coat hang­ers, a wall of meat, a dead body in a cof­fin or a can­vas of ex­quis­ite colour, it is all up to the viewer to ask the ques­tion: “Is it art?”

PHOTOS: THINKSTOCK AND CON­TRIB­UTED

◗ The boat to MONA leaves from the Ho­bart har­bour and, be­low right, Ann Rickard at the Who’s Afraid of Colour? ex­hi­bi­tion in Mel­bourne.

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