IF you think you have experienced MONA, think again. As the Museum of Old and New Art celebrates its first birthday, the best is yet to come, says its enigmatic owner David Walsh.

With close to 400,000 visitors in its first year, the $175 million private museum’s popularity has astonished Walsh.

“When I opened, my state of mind was that I didn’t think I cared whether anyone liked it or not,” he said.

“But the thing that has changed is that I am actually tremendously invigorated by the positive responses.”

Walsh’s eclectic collection of 2210 artworks and antiquities ranging from Neolithic arrowheads and Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities to contemporary and multimedia artworks is displayed over 6000 square metres of gallery space on three subterranean levels at Moorilla.

Raising the state’s profile internationally as a cultural destination, MONA is a beacon, signalling that Tasmania is more than its extractive industries.

“The thing I like the most is that in the Hobart community, and in a lot of other communities, is that people call it ‘Our MONA’,” Walsh said.

“I had a childhood of attending TMAG [Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery], so whenever I hear ‘Our museum’, I’m astounded and then delighted that it refers to MONA.”

With pieces ranging from a simulated euthanasia machine to rotting sides of meat, not all “locals” would want to lay claim to it, however.

That is fine by Walsh - the museum’s collection was consciously targeted to create a backlash and generate media attention.

“I thought that was the only way I could get it but that turned out not to be the case,” Walsh said. “I didn’t need the picketing. I’m enjoying immensely the response that I didn’t expect to enjoy.”

His biggest adventure - bigger than the museum’s opening, Walsh says has been five years in the making.

Theatre of the World, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin (former director of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris), opens in June.

The exhibition will bring together pieces never displayed before, from the Museum of Old and New Art and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, in a dialogue between different cultures and times.

MONA’s relationship with TMAG is a personal one for Walsh.

“As a kid, TMAG was part of my intellectual and my social life,” he said.

“It was also the mechanism by which I began to avoid my strict Catholic upbringing ...

Read the rest of Rebecca Fitzgibbon’s report in Mercury HERE

TT has a permanent link to MONA events and opening times in What’s On: HERE

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