MONA, Museum of Old and New Art – Hobart, Tasmania [part 2]

In a world class of its own.

I bought some ancient art.
It was getting a bit mouldy.
I built a little gallery.
I let people have a look.
I bought some newer art.
Some people made some art for me.
I built a bigger gallery.
I have some things I want to say.
You might not want to hear them.

When you have lots of money, you can do whatever the f*ck you want; and that’s exactly what Tasmanian professional gambler David Walsh did – he built himself a museum within the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula in Hobart, Tasmania and called it MONAMuseum of Old and New Art.

Despite his filthy rich background, at least he spent his fortune with good intentions by sharing it with the public through his own private art collection and vision at MONA. Through David’s vision, this museum is built to shock and offend, as well as challenge, inform and entertain – and he certainly has achieved his goal.

After a $75 million renovation, MONA was opened to public in January 2011. The building itself is a sight to behold. When David met Melbourne architect, Nonda Katsalidis in 2005, his brief to Katsalidis was to build a large building for a wide variety of exhibits where art should be discovered rather than shown off.

We followed our tour guide down a spiral staircase down to the museum’s lowest floor at 14 metres underground, suddenly we found ourselves inside The Void, a giant hole in the ground carved out of a 240-million-year-old sandstone quarry. It felt like being inside an Egyptian tomb with the expansive sandstone rock face all around us, except there were no mummies but The Void Bar. Yes, a bar! Visitors are invited to relax on the Victorian and Edwardian armchairs, enjoy spirits and ales to let one’s mind free, begin the process of losing reason, caution and inhibition before entering the museum.

Before our tour guide leaving us to explore the museum ourselves, he also informed us, “The art installation starts at the toilet, so you might like to go and check it out before entering the gallery.”

“Just like David himself, everything is unpredictable,” he added and walked off.

I won’t spoil it for you, but all I could say is…

“TMI.”

 

MONANISM

The exhibition MONANISM, is an evolving exhibition; art pieces will be removed or added as time progress, and some will stay forever. The current MONANISM exhibition started since July 2011 and has about 400 art pieces on display, and more new works added since. And that, is only 1/5 of David’s total collection of about 2210 that worth over $100 million. Okay, let me put that into zeros, it is

$100,000,000.00!

 

David Walsh collected stamps and coins when he was a kid. His interests in science, history, anthropology and with a bit of money, he started collecting antiquities and ancient art. Gradually, his hobby grew into obsession and started buying modernist and contemporary art. That’s what MONANISM exhibition is about, there are no boundaries but simply any art pieces that caught David’s eye.

Some are driven by aesthetics…

 

… and some are more polemics.

The Cloaca by Wim Delvove, for instance, is a large installation that turns food into feces. The staff feeds the machine through a “mouth” every morning, the liquid food passes through glass cylinders and slowly break down into waste with the help of enzyme. At 2pm every afternoon, the machine will poop.

As much as I like to share my experience at MONA with my readers, but I have to refrain myself from posting all the photos I’ve taken at the museum. I left the museum in awe and inspired. MONA has to be the boldest, most provocative art museum in this country that one needs to visit it in person to really tap into David’s mind.

 

Wine Tasting at Moorilla Cellar Door

Out the museum onto the tennis court, followed a fleet of stairs to the top and found ourselves at the Ether Building where Moorilla cellar door and The Source restaurant are located.

Moorilla winery was founded by Claudio Alcorso in 1958 and he was told it was a bad idea to plant grapevines in Tasmania. Obviously it wasn’t because for nearly forty years later, Moorilla is now one of Tasmania’s oldest contemporary wineries. David Walsh bought Moorilla in the mid-90s because he can.

At wine tasting, we tasted two styles of wine produced here onsite – Muse, the more sophisticated blend for the old-world; suitable for cellar; and Praxis, graffiti labels on bottles demonstrate the new-world potential, and should be drunk young. If you insist, they will also run a beer tasting of their Moo Brew beers.

My brain started getting fuzzy from art and booze, was time to leave the cellar door and walked over to the restaurant for something more substantial.

 

The Source restaurant

Led by head chef Philippe Leban, former sous chef to Gillaume Brahimi, The Source offers contemporary French-inspired cuisine using fresh Tasmanian produce. The restaurant for once, looks nothing like the gallery, it is modern, contemporary and elegant without any mind-blowing surprises hidden behind walls. Waitstaff are friendly and attentive; restaurant manager-cum-sommelier Joseph Burton had chosen 2009 Domaine William Fevre Les Clos, Chablis Grand Cru, France – a complex dry white wine to pair with our 9-course degustation menu this evening.

We commenced our meal with a fragrant scampi consomme, the clarity of the soup was impeccable with intense shellfish essence. Spherification of onion ravioli popped in the mouth followed by a river flow of sweet caramelised onion soup, it was a nice touch to match with the consomme.

The second course was a vegetarian dish. The simplicity of green beans with sweet figs, lighted dusted with licorice crumbs had me wanting more. Almond milk foam was subtle or perhaps lost while pairing with strong flavours like mint and licorice. Nevertheless, one of my favourite dishes of the evening.

Chef Leban likes to showcase the purity and clean flavours of the produce without over complicate the dish. The jack mackerel was sous vide and not at all fishy, dainty cuts of pickled vegetables and briny sea water jelly enhanced the natural sweetness of the fish. It tasted as divine as it looked.

The fourth course was truly an indulgence, small chunks of sweet spanner crab meat was sweetened further with a thin sheet of Pedro Ximenez jelly; the smoke oyster was surprisingly chewy and addictive, cubes of duck liver parfait weren’t really foie gras in true sense, but they were silky smooth and creamy all the same.

As much as I’d like to think all courses here were using Tasmania produce, I somehow don’t think the bug (balmain bug perhaps?) was sourced locally. Little specks of sour raspberries with sweet bug tail poached in olive oil was an interesting pairing that needed an open mind to really appreciate the ying-and-yang matching.

The sixth course, succulent quail lathered in foam, the game bird was having a bath on a bed of earthy shiitake mushroom royale and silky smooth garlic and raisin puree. It was French cuisine at its finest.

Next we were served rabbit two-ways; beautiful rabbit loin was cooked flawlessly, tender and juicy pink meat that was delightful, the rack resembled a mini lollipop that you just want to suck the bone clean in one hit. Despite the abalone in Tasmania had been infected with AVG virus last year and banned from NSW, since there is no evidence that the virus has any effect on human health, it still found its way onto the menu here in Tasmania.

The last savoury course is a modest portion of grass fed scotch fillet, cooked to medium rare perfection that happily soaking up an intense red wine jus that had the most shiny viscosity like engine oil, paired with potato mousseline that was lavishly smooth.

I was seriously hoping to conclude the meal with a bang but sadly the dessert was a let down. On the plate was two evenly cut rhubarb stems, lightly poached in syrup the topped with a mound of rhubarb jelly (soil?), served with sour grapefruit and campari sorbet and a trail of confit zest that was bitter and sweet. For me, I simply couldn’t get over the fact that the dessert was simply two rhubarb stems and a scoop of sorbet. It was the weakest course of this evening.

Our experience at MONA was nothing but amazing. It was indeed one of the highlights of our trip in Tasmania. It was truly “the subversive adult Disneyland. It is a roller-coaster that you just want to get on and take a wild ride, over and over again.

 

The Source Restaurant
655 Main Road, Berriedale
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
P: +61 (0) 3 6277 9904

Opening hours:
Breakfast 7.30am - 10am (closed Tuesdays)
Lunch 12pm - 2.30pm (closed Tuesdays)
Dinner from 6.30pm (Wed-Sat)


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[A Table For Two and The Pom visited Tasmania as guests of Tourism Tasmania]