Smelling excrement might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but for those who like to push the boundaries, Australia’s most controversial new museum might be just what they are looking for.
Dubbed “the subversive adult Disneyland,” the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is located in Tasmania and features about 400 works of art, from Egyptian mummies to Young British Artists, including Chris Ofili and Jenny Saville.
However, the most talked-about piece is the Cloaca Professional, 2010 labeled the “poo machine.” It was built by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye to mimic the actions of the human digestive system.
A series of glass receptacles hang in a row with the machine being “fed” twice a day on one end. The food is ground up “naturally,” the way it is in the human body, and the device produces feces on the clock at 2pm at the other end.
The smell is so powerful that not many visitors can take it.
“It put me off because of the overwhelming assault on the senses,” said Diane Malnic, a Sydney-based accountant.
Yet this was her second visit in five months, following a family holiday in Tasmania earlier in the year. This time, she flew without her husband and children just to have another look at the collection, interested in Delvoye’s other pieces.
She took great care to avoid the “smelly” parts and still talked vividly about the “vomit room,” part of an earlier exhibit no longer on display.
“I wouldn’t go back to see them,” she said, laughing.
The Cloaca is part of a series of at least five similar machines built by the artist, another of which will soon be exhibited at the Louvre. It is the most hated piece in the museum, but also the most visited.
The museum, which opened in January last year, is owned by eccentric and philanthropist David Walsh, who made his fortune as a professional gambler, and features one of the largest private art collections in the world, with an estimated value of about A$100 million (US$100.12 million).
Its motto is to shock, offend, inform and entertain.
“It definitely challenges your interpretation of what art is,” Malnic said.
Pieces include Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary, which features elephant dung and porn-magazine cutouts of genitals. It caused controversy in 1996, with then-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani reportedly describing Ofili’s work as “sick.”
Another piece that has been much talked about is The Matrix by Jenny Saville, a full-frontal large painting of a naked transgender man with his modified genitals exposed.
“It’s confronting,” said Margarita Silva, a Melbourne-based dentist making her third trip to the MONA.
Detractors say that some of the pieces do not belong in a museum, which is also what Malnic initially thought. However, upon reflection, she said the Cloaca machine opened her mind and said that perhaps it was the future of art.
For Silva, her favorites were a soundproof room of 30 Madonna fans who were individually filmed singing a capella the artist’s Immaculate Collection album. The other was a waterfall with droplets spelling out a series of words.
Keeping with the MONA’s sensibility, none of its art work is grouped or chronological, leaving viewers to walk at random.
“Overall, it’s a fantastic experience,” Silva said.
The museum charges A$20 for entry and has drawn about 389,000 visitors in its first year.