Sex, death and art: A weekend at MONA, Tasmania

Sex, death and art A weekend at MONA, Tasmania

An avant-garde private art collection dedicated to sex and death, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has been hailed as a new beginning for contemporary museums and derided by others as the end of art. Regardless of how you respond to it, MONA is without argument an extraordinary and unforgettable experience.

Located on the banks of the Derwent River in a working class suburb ‘at the end of the world’ in Tasmania, MONA has attracted a constantly growing caravan of visitors from far and wide since it opened in January 2011.

The brainchild of elusive Australian businessman and professional gambler, David Walsh, MONA is, like its owner, both controversial and eccentric. Walsh wanted to create an anti-museum and the result is what he describes as both ‘a secular temple and a subversive adult Disneyland’.

With a cylindrical glass elevator that plunges visitors into its depths on arrival, MONA takes you on a journey into the enchanting, disturbing and mysterious. Over three levels of galleries joined by Escher-like stairways, deep passageways cut through sandstone and an unusual aesthetic; it is sometimes beautiful, at other times confronting and always embellished with a healthy dose of black humour.

MONA was described by one journalist as feeling like “a mashup of the lost city of Petra and a late night out in Berlin. Everything about it is disorienting and yet somehow familiar.” The collection includes a waterfall which forms words from the most Googled headlines of the day to a wall of 151 sculptures of women’s vulvas, racks of rotting cow carcasses, Egyptian mummies, a couch that purrs and caresses you when you sit on it and a multi-screen theatre of strangers singing karaoke style along to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”. At its centre is the largest modernist work ever made in Australia – the near Olympic pool-sized ‘Snake’. Painted by Australian artist Sidney Nolan in the early 1970s, its 1620 panels – each a unique image – unite to form a mammoth rainbow serpent influenced by Aboriginal mythology of the Dreaming.

Part of the experience is also how you get around it. There are no signs or wall text, the only guide for visitors is a modified iPod Touch, known as the ‘O’, with an internal geolocation system that tells you what you are looking at. The ‘O’ also includes features such as “Art Wank” and “Gonzo” with curatorial descriptions of the work, artist biographies and audio interviews with artist.

Beyond MONA’s walls is the invitation to explore Tasmania’s wild natural beauty, Hobart’s rich colonial history and heritage, and the chance to enjoy amazing fresh local produce and wines.


  • Allow at least half a day to explore MONA, book your transport before you arrive and have lunch onsite (see details below).
  • Tasmania can dish up extreme weather so make sure you pack something warm, even in summer.


  • MONA is located on the banks of the Derwent River about 10 minutes drive from Hobart. You can drive or catch the ‘MONA Roma’ mini bus from the CBD but it’s much more fun to arrive the way David Walsh wanted visitors to – just as the ancient Greeks arrived at their temples – from the water by MONA’s slick ferry. Alternatively, you can hire a bicycle and ride out, which will take you about 30-40 minutes on an easy bicycle pathway. Book your ferry, bus or bicycle ahead of your visit through the MONA website.


  • MONA offers a smorgasbord of treats for food and wine lovers. There’s two bars, a formal restaurant, a café, Moorilla Estate Winery and MooBrew brewery. Between December and March the MONA Markets (MoMa) are held on the grounds every Saturday morning (see the MONA website for more information).
  • For fancy fare – head to Garagistes (103 Murray Street, phone: 03 6231 0558) or Ethos Eat Drink (100 Elizabeth Street, phone: 03 6231 1165). Both restaurants are renowned for their dedication to fresh, local Tasmania produce. Bookings are essential. Tasmania is also celebrated for its seafood and at Mures Upper Deck you can enjoy some of the freshest with views overlooking the fishing vessels in the working dock.
  • For casual daytime dining – the Pigeon Hole (93 Goulburn St, West Hobart) is as popular with the locals as visitors, so be warned you’ll probably have to queue but the food is worth the wait.  Daci & Daci (11 Murray Street), Jackman and McRoss (57-59 Hampden Road) and Tricycle Café Bar (Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place) also serve good coffee, tasty baked goods and light meals.


If you want to soak yourself in the MONA experience, have cash to burn and don’t mind being out of town, you can stay onsite at The Pavillions. But there are also plenty of other great accommodation options in the heart of Hobart’s tiny CBD. The Henry Jones Art Hotel is Australia’s first dedicated art hotel with more than 300 artworks located through the hotel.  Located on the waterfront within the former IXL jam factory, the hotel offers luxury boutique accommodation, a fine dining restaurant, café and bar. Also within the IXL complex, Sullivans Cove Apartments offers modern self-contained apartments, perfect for families or groups. There’s also plenty of cute B&B’s scattered around the picturesque streets of Battery Point.


  • The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (40 Macquarie Street) is well worth a visit especially for the upstairs art galleries and the ‘Ningennag Tunapry’ Aboriginal art gallery.
  • Explore the quaint streets, shops and eateries around Salamanca Place and Battery Point. Food lovers should drop into A Common Ground (Shop 3, 77 Salamanca Place) and for contemporary Tasmanian artists, jewellers and fashion designers visit The Maker (Shop 5, Salamanca Arts Centre). The famous Salamanca Market is also held at Salamanca Place every Saturday from 8am-3pm.
  • Stroll along Hobart’s harbour and working dock. Keep an eye out for Sea Shepherd’s infamous fleet of marine conservation vessels.
  • Give yourself a few more days to get out of town and explore Tasmania’s beautiful wilderness areas including Cradle Mountain, the Bay of Fires, Freycinet and Wineglass Bay.

© Kris McIntyre 2013

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