On the Origin of Art is MONA’s boldest show
MONA owner David Walsh considers On the Origin of Art to be the most ambitious exhibition staged in his subterranean unmuseum on the banks of the River Derwent.
“This one exhibition continues out from how I see the world, it rarefies how I see the world … that’s why I built the gallery — to essentially be an anti-museum and to look at Art a little bit differently,” he told Sharon Verghis of The Australian.
The six-month exhibition, which opened in early November and will run until 17 April 2017, is actually four exhibitions by four guest curators.
It features more than 234 objects sourced from MONA’s collection as well as from other Australian galleries, private collections and 58 institutions around the world.
More items have been borrowed for this show than for all MONA’s previous exhibitions put together.
Walsh is obsessive about many subjects, including Charles Darwin and his thought-moulding 1859 publication On the Origin of Species.
"Darwin inspired the human race: his are the best ideas anyone has ever had, it’s as simple as that,” the man who transformed Tasmania insists.
The exhibition sets out to nail down the reasons for Art, just as Darwin nailed down the reasons for speciation in a creation-dominated, pre-DNA century.
Walsh deliberately looked outside Art academia to find diverse individuals who could contribute to a discussion on the way in which biology impacts on human behaviour and even how humanity's reproductive urges have been the deep motivation behind the drive to create Art since before cave-painting became a social trend.
Linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller and Professor of Literature Brian Boyd were Walsh's chosen four.
The reasons for their selection would fill a book.
The results of their selection are dazzling.
Verghis wrote in The Australian: "The earliest items on show include three prehistoric flint hand axes thought to be 300,000-800,000 years old, from Californian artist and collector Tony Berlant; the most recent include nine new commissions, one of them a yellow and black polka-dotted and mirrored room-size installation from one of the world’s most popular gallery artists, Yayoi Kusama, another new work, Graphos, by one of Walsh’s favourite artists, Brigita Ozolins: 'a bloody good artist and very clever'.
"In-between these two chronological points lies the entire creative history of the world, it seems ... bronze royal heads from Benin, funerary masks from Egypt, terracotta fertility figures from north-west Iran, an ornate Islamic tile work border from Bukhara, butterfly masks from Burkina Faso, partridge tureens from Germany, a feline effigy vessel from central Arizona.
"There are archival pigment prints of seed pods and coral snakes, Renoirs and Bouchers, sandstone architectural reliefs of celestial dancers from India, a gaudy Jeff Koons ('conspicuous consumption, see?'), a bronze lobster from Meiji-era Japan.
"The history of artmaking scrolls by in a blink — we leap from a replica of a delicate atlatl (spear-thrower) from Le Mas-d’Azil in France, c. 13,000 BC — an ancient example of the human urge to 'make beautiful' — to a 2011 music video by Gotye, to ornate shell necklaces made for the show by indigenous Tasmanian artist Lola Greeno."
The Sydney Morning Herald previewed the show under a headline: "Is Art really just about bonking?"
Steph Harmon of The Guardian put that question to Walsh in a slightly different form when she asked about his motives for creating the piece of art that is MONA.
“Let me ask you, if there’s someone who owns a gallery of this scale, compared with someone that doesn’t, which do you think is more likely to get laid?” Walsh responded.
Hermon answered the question with a pointed finger.
“Well, see, there’s the biological advantage,” Walsh said.
If Harmon's review and others published far and wide are an indication, thoughtful Art lovers will be flocking to MONA from around the world to try to unravel the On the Origin of Art for themselves.
Image by Matthew Norton, courtesy of The Australian
29 November 2016, Edition 178