... but is it art?
From raw meat to a digestive machine, it’s up to you to decide
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?”
◗ The boat to MONA leaves from the Hobart harbour and, below right, Ann Rickard at the Who’s Afraid of Colour? exhibition in Melbourne.