To the ends of the earth and back: PART I

I was raised in Australia and my immediate family still resides there, necessitating regular pilgrimages to the ends of the earth and back. That is no exaggeration. Australia is a hell of a long way away from anywhere, which may actually explain why everyone there is just so-o-o nice! One of my art goals this time round was to visit the wryly named Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania. This relatively new museum has placed sleepy Tasmania, the large island to the south-east of the main continent, on the global art map. Tourists are flocking in to visit this unique museum which is reached by ferry from Tasmania’s capital, Hobart.

Approaching MONA by ferryThe understated exterior architecture  represents the tip of the iceberg of this underground museum, which was dug into the cliff face and descends six floors down into the bowels of the earth. I personally prefer a museum to literally vibrate with natural light. It was only several days after an intense visit to MONA that some research revealed that the museum is in fact perfectly designed for the collection. But I am getting ahead of myself. The story behind the art museum is almost as interesting as the art itself. The $80 million wonder houses art estimated at over $100 million and has already been hailed as the Bilboa of the Southern Hemisphere. Not too shabby considering that the collection belongs to one individual – 50-year-old multi-millionaire David Walsh, a homeboy who made his fortune by gambling. A modern-day tale ripe for the big screen. For a truly fascinating read into Walsh’s unorthodox thinking and anarchic personality take a peek at Amanda Lohrey’s interview for The Monthly.

Even before learning of Walsh’s anti-citadel approach to museums, the cave-like undertones mirrored the often dark and disturbing art.  The collection is at once wild, downright gross and superb. And every so often the parade of mostly contemporary works is interrupted by ancient treasures such as a mummy in its own temperature-controlled room, or prescious Ming dynasty vases dotted around the various halls. It must be wonderful to be David Walsh, to be able to purchase art which appeals only to your sensibilities and not blink at the outrageous price tags, nor worry about pleasing the public, the board of directors or the donors.The works were relentlessly challenging and the scope overwhelming. I am devastated that I did not conscientiously research the names of the artists when I took photos of the following artworks but in the absence of any labelling, I am not entirely to blame.

One of the very coolest features offered by the museum is the option to view your own personal tour of MONA after you leave. The touch screen on the museum’s smart guides record the artworks you tapped and when you are done for the day you can request a link to your individualized experience for future reference, with full info and 3-D images of the art you saw. Please check out part of my personal tour (use the password My tour focuses on the enormously talented Wim Delvoye, creator of the poo machine, illustrator par excellence and unparalleled conceptual artist. Click here for the latest revolutionary exhibition Theatre of the World.

So next time you think of Australia solely in terms of koalas and kangaroos, think again…!

(Postscript July 10, 2012:  Astronomical Tax Bill Stalls MONA Expansion: In Australia, quirky art collector and professional gambler David Walsh is in hot water over a backdated tax bill to the tune of over $40 million. While Walsh denies that his personal finances will force the closure of his private museum, Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, he acknowledged that a planned expansion, which has already cost him $180 million, will have to be put on hold. [Sydney Morning Herald])

Riddle of the day: How can you be up when you’re down?

Another trip to Melbourne, Australia just reinforced how exciting, cultured and cosmopolitan the city has become. And obviously the word is out because my sources tell me that 2000 people move to Melbourne every week. With the city so much in demand there seems little prospect  that the cost of living will drop anytime soon – I believe it is currently rated as the third most expensive city in the world!

I went to check out the the National Gallery of Victoria and was met by a giant rabbit. Sigh…the contemporary art world pulls the wool over our eyes once again. At least it should have been a kangaroo! The gallery was

National Gallery of Victoria

holding some impressive exhibitions, my favorite being The Naked Face, a collection of self-portraits taking us on a  ‘journey through the history of the human face.’ I attended a fascinating symposium on the subject which featured presentations by participating artists, and a range of lectures by professors in multi-disciplinary fields. Recognize the portrait below…??

In the picture....

I also visited a drawing session with a live model in my role as feature columnist for The Great It has been quite a while since I drew from the model and it was an uplifting experience. Note to self: more of the same!

Drawing session in progress

                                    But it wasn’t all art, art, art. I also checked out the local food markets, hung out at a street festival, biked along the beach, had the best coffee in the Southern Hemisphere and did yoga with my niece and nephew!

                Answer to the riddle : When you’re Down Under 🙂


Back from Thailand and Australia!

I had never heard of the island of Koh Samui in Thailand, till my best friend’s daughter decided to get married there. And all I can say is I am very pleased she did make Koh Samui her destination of choice. Think deserted beaches, warm winds, Thai massages, fresh coconut and pineapple on the beach, fish grilled in banana leaves, lapping waves, and you might get a brief glimpse into a typical day on the resort. However, I did bring my trusty watercolor pad along and an always surprised at how enjoyable it is to paint small, loose watercolors without overthinking or overplanning the work. I gave a lot of these out to close wedding guests, and was even asked by the manager of the resort if I had more for their gift store. It was so fulfilling to see the genuine joy a little piece of art can bring. Here are three watercolors I brought back with me for my own memories.

Koh Samui beach front

Koh samui resortKoh Samui sun worshipper

After Thailand I was off to Australia to visit with my family in Melbourne. Did not have too much time for the art but did see an incredible Ricky Swallow exhibit and of course saw some pretty incredible street art too (I sort of blend into the picture like a Where’s Waldo puzzle!)

Street art Melbourne