Mona's creator, David Walsh
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 20.07.11
Location: 655 Main Road, Berriedale,Tasmania 7011
The Museum of Old and New Art – or Mona as everyone is calling the controversial Tasmanian gallery – lacks for nothing in challenges to one's notions of what art ought to look like and how it should be displayed. But it does lack for Aboriginal art!
There's otherwise a constantly surprising range from ancient Egyptian Mummies and unnaturally perfect Greek gold coins right through to the 'great' names of the present like Damien Hirst, Anselm Keifer and the AES+F film-making team. All are chosen by a single collector (and professional gambler) – David Walsh. And this art autodidact's aim is to start debates far more than he wants to soothe you aesthetically – hence his inclusion in Mona's opening show, Monanism of Wim Delvoye's machine for making shit – Cloaca; and the Chapman Brothers nasty sculptural copies of a Goya cartoon showing Les Mutilees de la Guerre in plastic 3D!
Throw in a Russian artist being sodomised by a dog and a delicious Japanese woodblock of Lesbian activity, and it's not surprising that Mona has been relentlessly characterised by he legend, Sex and Death.
But, back to the absence of Aboriginal art – though it's possible that Sidney Nolan's 1620-panel Snake has more than a touch of the Rainbow Serpent to it, and it does feature some tiny indigenous figures. But top Hobart indigenous dealer, Euan Hills at Art Mob, is naturally disappointed by this Aboriginal void in the physical void – three floors underground – that is this fabulous museum.
“It's not as though David Walsh and I inhabit different worlds”, Hills told me, “despite the absence of indigenous art at Mona. The art's full of sex and death, if only he could see it!”.
In fact, the ever-thoughtful David Walsh has seen a fair bit of Aboriginal art, and frankly admits to being more challenged by it than by the Chapmans or Wim Delvoy. So we workshopped his problems for a while, and Walsh eventually came up with a parallel between “good Aboriginal art” and Sid Nolan's amazing 'Snake' . “It's all in the muscle-memory, which just gets clearer as Nolan worked through that monster; he developed from single brush-strokes to whole sentences”.
“And the basic building block in Aboriginal art is the sentence, using a commonly referenced series of symbols. We haven't had that in the West since the Renaissance. There are three ways of making a written language – using an alphabet, using syllables, with a symbol for each, and using pictograms or logograms like Chinese. The symbolic level in Aboriginal art is more at the level of the first two, while Western art today uses logograms. In other words, Aboriginal art is more sophisticated – and I just need to know more to understand it”.
This understanding is significant. It should have wider currency and be debated; and may indeed lead to the appearance of Aboriginal art at Mona. It's certainly more significant than the chapter in the special issue of Island magazine (Issue 125 of Tasmania's own literary mirror) devoted to Mona, and also entitled Aboriginal Art at Mona w– which, unhelpfully, begins, “There isn't any....”
Neither of the images accompanying this piece are really fair to David Walsh. He's a vegetarian for a start! But the wild winds around Mona in July that are styling his hair as though it was a Tim Burton movie, certainly reflect the mind-blocks he's overcome in order to create a museum in his own image rather than follow anyone else's.
Geoff Dyer 'The Collector, David Walsh' 2011, Oil on Canvas - a finalist in the 2011 Archibald Prize, currently on show at the TarraWarra Museum of Art