MONA goes bad!
Headline! Freak out! I have previously expressed my confidence in and delight with Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art. But on our recent trip to Tasmania we went to MONA again and the unthinkable occurred. David Walsh seemed to have lost his touch.
We went. The bottom floor was closed in toto but the upper two floors were still mesmerising. Yves Netzhammer’s giant installation and the welcome return of Nolan’s ‘Snake’ were among the highlights. I also discovered who is singing flat in the Madonna exhibit, and decided it wouldn’t be the same without him.
During a discussion about tickets we got invited back the next night to the opening of the new monster blockbuster — ‘River of Fundament’. The work of the ‘greatest artist in the world today’, or ‘one of the most important artists of our time’ (Nicole Durling from MONA, whose taste I have previously described as impeccable). (Did the ‘possibly’ escape me? I might be being unfair.) Matthew Barney!!! Munich. Beijing. Hobart. 143 crates of material, one casting weighing more than 6 tonnes. Forget Ben Hur. Bigger than just about anything.
And an opening … wooo hooo.
Watching le tout Hobart done up and out and about was worth far more than the price of admission. Special mention to the glittering onesie shorts set. Jack was there (Thompson) and Brian and Rach (Brown and Ward. Come on.) among other luminaries. I don’t know whether that was a bad sign or not. Probably. In the last Monthly David Walsh is quoted as saying, now he just rings up Steven Pinker and says have you got some neurophysiology stuff? And his book’s out. He might have tipped over and gone a bit spack. Or he might just be enjoying the perversity of it all.
‘River of Fundament’ has been growing for decades, longer, from a request by Norman Mailer to turn his worst book ‘Ancient Evenings” into an opera. It is an opera. It is also film described by an art gallery staffer who went to see it as a 6.5 hour marathon (and yes it is) of ‘an artist’s aggressive hatred for his viewing audience.’ That might please David. It would certainly pique his fancy. We didn’t see the film which might provide some sort of entrance to what there was on display in the bowels of Berriedale Point.
What we were left with was (dull)
‘Barney’s three phallus forms, cast in bronze, first appeared during the Khu performance in Detroit in 2010, which is now part of River of Fundament, Act II: when Isis gathers up the scattered physical remains of Osiris, god of the dead, resurrection and Afterlife, in an effort to restore his spirit’s integrity. Dredged from the riverbed in the wreckage of the Crown Imperial, they are a shaft of crystal salt, a muddy twisted root and a silt-encrusted metal rod: here rendered in metal so ‘feathery’ it seems almost organic.’
and (heavy, in literal usage)
‘The physical and iconographic origins of this powerful, immensely heavy (I think The Mercury, VOICE OF TASMANIA, said six plus tonnes) and more than car-sized form, completed just this year, lie in Barney’s great sculpture Djed which was cast on site in Detroit during the live Khu performance in 2010 (now seen in Act II of River of Fundament). Both Djed (too large to be brought to Tasmania) and the present work, Rouge Battery, are part re-embodiments of the Chrysler Crown Imperial that was beaten and ritually torn to pieces in Act I.
and sometimes big (although I quite liked this one. It’s Norman Mailer’s attic where he writes/wrote, upside down. Yeah I know, I know. Obvious.) But really …Excrement, putrifying matter, fighting or copulating bodies, all glisten with moisture. Sulfur is dissolved in urine. Organ pipes bubble. Molten metal flows. Mercury runs across a bathroom floor or falls from the cavities in a murdered car engine. Buffalo blood pours through the attic floor and down Mailer’s apartment walls when Norman III finally dies there. In the exhibition, the phallus forms in Coming Forth by Day [first pic above] seem to ooze into the base of their vitrine; something has drained out of Crown Imperial’s polycaprolactone tomb. The after effects of electrical actions, set solid in sculpture, seem still almost alchemically charged with metamorphic potential. And this great Boat of Ra is cast adrift here with its bronze mooring ropes, almost as far from either Egypt or New York as it is possible to be.
Mmmm obvious. You’ve now seen the highlights. It’s a mash-up of the end of the Detroit car industry, Mailer’s life and book, Ancient Egyptian mythology and the detritus of Barney’s mind. It was never going to be very engaging but without the 6.5 hour experience I’m afraid it’s nothing, just puzzlingly dull and trivial.
And we were left wondering if David had been seduced and violated by celebrity, one of the oldest and saddest stories of all. Or even, horror of horrors, whether he just might be bored.
But let’s be clear. Emphatic. This Emperor has no clothes. And now there’s whole floor of space that needs filling with good stuff. Like before.
So let’s turn to quality. TMAG. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. It’s been done up, completely re-thought, and it’s terrific. I loved it.
After a few hours you leave it with a very powerful sense of where you are, what it’s about and how it’s been with a very fine art experience thrown in for good measure.Upstairs is one of the two extant versions of Benjamin Duterreau’s ‘The Conciliation’ — George Augustus Robinson rounding up what he thought were the last of the Palawa Tasmanians and doing good by carting them off to Wybalenna on Flinders Island in Bass Strait where almost all of them died.
There is so much that could be said about this: the unintended irony of the title, the dog and the pademelon trading glances, the European obsession with the Palawa method of spear-straightening, the record of shell necklaces. And Robinson with his florid cheeks. A joke figure? It’s hard to read otherwise. But what gets me most is that, just like the other version in Canberra’s National Gallery, the paint is cracked and beginning to peel, mostly from the distinctive grey skin of the Palawa. They’re disappearing in front of our eyes. How appropriate.
Below from right: Woureddy (Truganini’s partner), Truggernana (Truganini), Tanleboueyer
We climbed The Mountain up the Ice House track
(That view is in front them and they’re taking a selfie! Ha ho.)
and the scoparia was out. Below the very top it was a blaze of floral colour.
We spent some time on Bruny Island, visible off the coast above. I like the complementary lines in the pic. below of the Neck. So much beauty everywhere.
National Park. Russell Falls falling.We were there to climb Mt Field West, a very rocky traverse of the Rodway Range before the Mt Field plateau. We were going the long way via Tarn Shelf for reasons of scenery. But when we got up the top, it turned out to be for reasons of self-preservation. The wind was strong enough to blow me off the duckboards. The horizontal sleet would come from one direction and then suddenly shift to the opposite. It snowed. This is an effort to take photo of snowing.
Rarely have we encountered so many varied types of precipitation (mostly violent) in so short a time.
And this is how it looked at brief moments. Glorious.
But, we were rebuffed. The track up the Newdegate Pass was a river, the wind noise from the tops sounded like a steam train driven by dervishes, and I’d lost the feeling in my fingers. We turned back. What a place.
The new header pic is the view across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel out our Bruny Island shack window with Hartz Peak in the background.
Perhaps the ceremony of marriage not to mention the fact that the newly minted wife may be exerting influence; have such happenings impacted on the latest exhibition. Who knows ?
Did he win that blue with the ATO? That might have had a derailing impact! Brilliant photography – again.
You have expressed my thoughts about River of Fundament moe eloquently than I could, but I also was reminded of the emperor’s new clothes. I didn’t sit through the film either! Loved your descriptions and photos of Mount Field, What a wild and inspirational place. Thanks.
Always interesting reading David .Need to visit Tas, again Happy Christmas Claudine