Spectacular museum of old and new art opens

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MONA built to shock and offend’

Australia’s largest private museum, the spectacular $75 million Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), was officially opened in Tasmania last month.
The development is quite unlike any Australia or the world has known — it is a three-level subterranean concrete and corten steel development with more than 6000sq m of gallery space.

It is comparable in size to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum on the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum campus, the current San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Punta della Dogana in Venice and Australia’s Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland.

MONA is set to become Australia’s newest and most challenging art destination. Located at the Moorilla vineyard in Berriedale, Tasmania, the museum is dedicated to all things interesting and controversial.

It houses a plethora of multimedia artworks, including installations, paintings, light shows, mummies and African art. Its multi-millionaire owner, art collector, investor and arts patron David Walsh, says the museum is designed to inspire debate.

“The museum is my soap box, and I’ve got one hell of a megaphone,” Mr Walsh says.
“MONA was built to shock and offend, challenge, inform, entertain and provoke debate.”
It seems, like the art itself, nothing is usual about this museum — even the excavation and construction works required the specialist knowledge of mining consultants.
Coffey International Ltd was engaged to apply its geotechnical and mining experience to the site which was originally a sheer cliff face beside the Derwent River.

By applying tunnelling, shaft and extraction techniques from large-scale mine operations, more than 35,000cu m of sandstone and fill were excavated to create the 140 metre long building.
Coffey International Group general manager of operations Dan O’Toole says this is an unusual application of mining technology and skills to suit the commercial development.
“With a large amount of rock and sandstone to be moved, architects Fender Katsalidis knew it would take specialist geotechnical and mining consultants to perform the foundation and excavation design works. Coffey is a multi-skilled specialist consultancy, and we continue to monitor the site,” Mr O’Toole says.

Walsh’s architect, Nonda Katsalidis, designed the museum as a visual extension of its natural landscape, and the design continues to play on the interrelationship between the environment and built form within the museum.

Constructed by Hansen Yuncken, the building includes 6000cu m of concrete and a 1400sq m sandstone feature wall. The rock wall provides a 12 metre high exposed feature in the museum, and is “living” as parts will flow with water during rain.

Hansen Yuncken executive chairman Peter Kennedy says MONA had been a unique and exciting challenge for the company’s Tasmanian project team.
“This building project really has become a work of art in itself, from the exterior concrete and Corten steel panels to the spiral staircase constructed around a glass lift leading you down to three subterranean levels devoid of natural light,” Mr Kennedy says.

It has been projected that MONA will attract more than 250,000 visitors in its first year of operation — about half the population of Tasmania. Local tourism operators hope it will attract increased numbers of interstate visitors.