Nothing prepares you for a visit to Mona - The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. Situated within the Moorilla Estate winery in Berriedale, 12 kilometres north of the city, this remarkable museum was bankrolled by the fortune that Tasmanian punter David Walsh accumulated from developing a gambling system. The largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere, Mona houses ancient, modern, and contemporary art from Walsh’s collection.
The technically challenging Mona building was constructed in 2011 at a cost of $64 million. Its concrete construction is cleverly cut into the side of a headland of the Berriedale Peninsular on the banks of the picturesque Derwent River. It’s what’s inside Mona’s walls, however, that has fueled both controversy and critical acclaim since its shock-and-awe opening. Described by Walsh as a ‘Subversive adult Disneyland’ Mona attracts tourists from around the world.
Much to the disbelief of some critics, Mona continues to be one of Tasmania’s biggest attractions, bringing in tourists from across Australia and Internationally to view its weird, whacky, and often disturbing exhibitions.
Many recommend not taking the renowned art collection at Mona too seriously, or at least, keeping an open mind. It’s said to be a place to appreciate art, without the pretension. Whatever state your mind is in when you start your Mona tour, it’s bound to be shifted a degree (or many) by the time you leave.
It’s certainly one of the most immersive and unique museum experiences you will find anywhere in the world. David Walsh seems proud to have created a museum that is as ‘un-museum-y’ as possible. Visitors will want to spend at least a few hours wandering the three-level underground labyrinth that is Mona while taking in the incredible architecture.
It would be a shame to divulge every aspect of Mona prior to a visit. It’s the kind of unusual, utterly absorbing museum experience that’s best approached without too much knowledge of what to expect.
The Irish Times, in an article, posed the question, ‘Is Mona the world’s most expensive joke?’ It went on to describe Mona as ‘Shaking the foundations of every tenet of the museum experience to create a rollicking, irreverent, sometimes puerile but ultimately extraordinary trip deep into the subconscious mind of an ex-Catholic, multi-millionaire art collector.’ That perfectly sums up Mona… without giving too much away!
As well as showcasing the highlights (and lowlights) of David Walsh’s $110m private collection of art and antiquities, Mona’s collection is frequently updated. The museum is also home to a winery, restaurants, bars, accommodation, and an off-site brewery as well as playing host to annual music and arts festivals.
Mona is situated on the banks of the Derwent River in Berriedale, 12 kilometres north of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Leaving Hobart, you can reach Mona in 20 minutes by road, or 25 minutes by water. The best way to fully experience Mona is to catch the high-speed, camouflaged ferry that travels regularly between Hobart and Mona from Brooke Street Pier on Hobart’s waterfront.
From Mona’s website comes this concise description of the Mona story. ‘Mona is the playground and megaphone of David Walsh, who grew up in Tassie (just down the road from Mona), dropped out of Uni, played cards, won, did some other stuff, and opened a small museum of antiquities to which no one came. He declared it a triumph and decided to expand.’
The precursor to Mona was the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, founded in 2001 by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh. It closed in 2006 to undergo multi-million-dollar renovations. Mona was officially opened on 21 January 2011 during the third annual MOFO (music and arts) festival. 1,350 invited guests attended the afternoon opening party joined in the evening by 2,500 members of the public who were selected by a random ballot.
It depends on your level of interest. Two to three hours is an absolute minimum, but you could easily spend the entire day there.
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