On why generosity of spirit is contagious and more sustainable than you might think.

7 June 2013 – There’s an interesting contrast to be made right now between one arts centre in the making and another delivered.

But it’s painful.

At Barangaroo, the huge development on the northern fringe of the Sydney CBD, plans for a dramatic new cultural centre have been dumbed down.

Victims of ”pragmatic, cost-cutting solutions” that fail to create a ”proper architectural entry of great moment” for Sydney Harbour, said James Weirick, a member of the former Barangaroo design excellence review panel.

Weirick, also University of NSW director of urban development and design, believes the entry has been “dumbed down … it will always be a gloomy cavern with no sun,” he told and Fairfax newspapers on Thursday. Read more:

Seems the casino/s planned for the site (one, possibly two) are sucking out the creative energies. As they would. Negative energy does that. And you can’t get more negative than gambling. At least for the poor sods who get addicted.

In Tasmania a kind of opposite thing happened.

A bunch of punters at the local casino in Hobart, who were anything but poor sods, because they were each sharp-as-an-axe card readers and who were banned from that local pokie joint because they broke the rules and won, managed to turn negative gambling energy into something positive and amazing.

Well, one of them at least did so: David Walsh, with the Museum of New and Modern Art, that he conceived and delivered himself as a private citizen, a gift to his state and home town.

To visit it is to experience the antithesis of what the Barangaroo Delivery Authority or the NSW state government or whoever it is – Packer, Echo Entertainment, Lend Lease, Paul Keating – seems to be doing to Sydney at Barangaroo. In the northern harbour city the casino mentality is right on cue, doing what casinos and pals do: getting their way with offers gloss and glitter and seductively good food and wine with lovely architecture –  while the real business plan goes for broke. Ask Tasmanian anti- gambling campaigner Andrew Wilke about that one.  While the cultural centre is dumbed down.

The BDA should go to Hobart and see what an underground arts centre can do, sunshine or no sunshine. And why the things that money can’t buy are the gifts that keep on giving.

From the moment you step off the ferry, which is a MONA ferry and comes with small fabricated sheep (yes, “riding on the sheep’s back”) and a forlorn white cow gazing out on this other harbour city, you know there is something special about MONA.

You see it first visually.

It’s far more than the amazing engineering that has managed to slice straight down through rock face and made it a work of art in its own right. It’s more than the stunning architecture and the thick rust coloured metal panel exterior that seems to sit at just the right angles on the landscape.

It’s more like the sense of abundance in the design, and attention to detail – a bow to sheer pleasure and beauty.  And we haven’t even got to the art yet.

It’s generosity of spirit.

You see it in the number of staff and their demeanour. Can the meagre $20 entry fee for non Tasmanians really be paying for all this? Or is Walsh subsidising the local economy on an ongoing basis?

You see it in the way this place has touched the people to whom the gallery has been gifted  – foremost to the residents in this out of town suburb of Berriedale, where Walsh grew up.

At lunch you see an older woman with a friend at the next table. She’s wearing short curly purple hair that cascades down in plaits. No, wait, it’s a hat. She has an air of eccentric arty wealth.

The café is reasonably priced but the food is delightful, wholesome. It’s served in a room every bit as generous as the whole of the building and there’s a restaurant if you want “posh” just as the ferry has a private room that’s “posh as”.  There are views through huge windows to the lawn and the drama of the harbour beyond (Why do we always hear about Sydney’s magnificent harbour and not Hobart’s?)

On the lawn are beanbags – big ones – where you can loll about, sipping wine, eating, enjoying the sun, all the while protected by a small rust coloured fence just tall enough to stop any prevailing breeze, low enough to not spoil the view.

Chooks and a peacock wander and forage.

On the way down in the lift to the art the lady with the purple hat strikes up a conversation. She’s a fan of Walsh. She’s a local from this working class suburb and she sings the praises of the “knockabout” man who wears old t-shirts and whose many tales she could tell.

They thought he was dumb, she laughs. “If you see a kid at school you think he’s dumb; don’t be so quick to judge. He could be abnormally intelligent.”

She comes here a lot. “The moment I come through those doors I’m in fairyland,” she says.

How did Walsh do it? This sense of abundance, of no holding back? It’s a paradox and hard to describe. The closest is the amazing Leonard Cohen concert of a few years back, a singer whose every song takes a year to refine and perfect for his audience. It’s as if you’ve received a personal gift, but it’s more than was given.

You ride back to town on the ferry, replete. Peaceful.

Read about David Walsh in an article by Richard Flanagan published in The Monthly,

David Walsh first made global headlines in 2009, when he gambled on the life of Christian Boltanski, a French artist whose installations focus on death. Walsh was a mysterious figure even in his home, Tasmania, where, other than lurid rumours of a fortune made by gambling, little was known about him.

Read the whole story

Following is a Wikipedia entry on MONA.

The Museum of Old and New was officially opened on 21 January 2011, coinciding with the third MONA FOMA festival. The afternoon opening party was attended by 1350 invited guests. 2500 members of the public were selected by random ballot for the evening event which included performances by True Live, The Scientists of Modern Music, Wire, Health and The Cruel Sea.[3]

The precursor to MONA, the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, was founded in 2001 by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh.[4] It closed in 2007 to undergo $75 million renovations. The new museum, designed by Melbourne architect Nonda Katsalidis and built by Hansen Yuncken, is a three level structure built into the cliffs around the Berriedale peninsula.[5] The decision to build it largely underground was taken, according to Walsh, to preserve the heritage setting of the two Roy Grounds houses on the property. Walsh has also said that he wanted a building that “could sneak up on visitors rather than broadcast its presence … ‘a sense of danger’ that would enliven the experience of viewing art”.[6] It is generally regarded as best approached by ferry up the River Derwent. There are no windows and the atmosphere is intentionally ominous. On entering the museum, visitors descend a “seemingly endless flight of stairs”, an experience one critic compared with “going down into Petra“.[6] To see the art, the visitor must work back upwards towards the surface, a trajectory that has been contrasted with the descending spiral that visitors must follow in New York’s Guggenheim Museum.[7]

The museum houses over 400 artistic works from David Walsh’s private collection. Notable works in its inaugural exhibition, Monanism, include Sidney Nolan‘s Snake, displayed publicly for the first time in Australia.[8] Wim Delvoye‘s Cloaca Professional, a machine which turns food into excrement,[5] Stephen Shanabrook‘s “on the road to heaven the highway to hell”, remnants from suicide bomber cast in dark chocolate,[9] and Chris Ofili‘s The Holy Virgin Mary.[5] The curators of MONA are Nicole Durling for Australian contemporary art and Olivier Varenne for international modern and contemporary art.

Architecture [edit]

Katisilidis‘s architecture for the museum has been appraised as not only fulfilling its function as a showcase for a collection, but also succeeding as it “extends and magnifies into an experience … there is a sense that the work, the lighting, the space and the materiality have been choreographed with subtlety and skill into a singular if hugely idiosyncratic whole.”[7]


Michael Connor of the conservative literary and cultural magazine Quadrant said that “MONA is the art of the exhausted, of a decaying civilisation. Display lights and taste and stunning effects illuminate moral bankruptcy. What is highlighted melds perfectly with contemporary high fashion, design, architecture, cinema. It is expensive and tense decay.”[10]

Richard Dorment, art critic for the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, said that Walsh “doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the collection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.”[11]


In October 2012, a writer for the Lonely Planet series of travel guides ranked Hobart as number seven of top ten cities to visit in 2013, citing MONA as a major tourist attraction in a small city, similar to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.[12]


Operational costs of A$8 million per annum are underpinned by the winery, brewery, restaurant and hotel on the same site.[13] In May 2011, it was announced that the museum would end its policy of free entry and introduce an entry fee to interstate and overseas visitors while remaining free for Tasmanians.[14]

References [edit]

1.             ^ “Shock of the old and new”. The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2011.

2.             ^ Young, Kane (24 January 2011). “Biggest shock is the best”. The Mercury (Hobart). Retrieved 17 March 2012.

3.             ^ Coslovich, Gabriella (21 January 2011). “Hobart’s infamous son plays to the gallery”. The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 22 January 2011.

4.             ^ The Collector. In The Age, 14 April 2007

5.             ^ a b c Gabriella Coslovich, A revolt in art, The Age, 15 January 2011

6.             ^ a b Neustein, David (28 July 2011). “Museum of Old and New Art”. Australian Design Review. Retrieved 9 November 2012.

7.             ^ a b Farrelly, Elizabeth (3 November 2012). “Building breaks the mould for all the right reasons”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2012.

8.             ^ “A brush with greatness”. The Mercury. 1 January 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2011.

9.             ^ Art’s Subterranean Disneyland, UTNE Reader

10.          ^ Connor, Michael (April 2011). “MONA’s brutal banality”. Quadrant (Melbourne). Retrieved 17 March 2012.

11.          ^ Dorment, Richard (29 November 2012). “The art of Australia: coast to coast culture”, The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 November 2012.

12.          ^ “MONA helps Hobart make top 10 cities list”. ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012.

13.          ^ Boland, Michaela (22 January 2011). “Doors open on tycoon’s art world”. The Australian. Retrieved 22 January 2011.

14.          ^ “Hobart museum confirms entry fee”. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 May 2011.