Three corsets greet you with glaring colors as you enter, and 3,000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagi flank an exhibit entitled Fat Car, a red polystyrene and fibre-glass full-size model of a Porsche Carrera Convertible bulging with rotund cartoonish bumps and lumps, perpetrated by Austrian Erwin Wurm.
Welcome to Hobart's Museum of Old and Modern Art, known as MONA, founded by Tasmanian professional gambler and art fancier David Walsh. It's a large box-type edifice built at a reported cost of more than $75 million into a sandstone cliff on a promontory a 30-minute ferry ride from Hobart, Tasmania's capital, on the north bank of the Derwent River.
Billed as a must-see sight and site, described by locals as magnificent, stunning and truly incredible, it's been dubbed by some joker on Tripadvisor as 'gob-smacking.' MONA provides you with earphones and a console to explain what you're being 'gob-smacked' by, together with a written commentary appropriately called Art Wank.
For those unfamiliar with the term 'wank,' look up a British or Australian dictionary of the Queens's English, although Her Majesty has not been known to use the term herself, at least publicly, not even when opening Parliament, all be-crowned, be-robed and be-jewelled, even though that might be the most fitting occasion for its use. I think you can work out 'monanism' and its derivation on your own.
You get the tenor of the place by the explanation it gives for 'monanism,' as it calls its general permanent exhibition. The brochure says, "When we say 'permanent,' we mean we change it quite a lot when we feel like it."
As for fat car, Art Wank enlightens: Wurm has taken 'one of the world's most desirable symbols of motorized power, style, design and speed, and engorged it and distended it almost but not quite beyond recognition.' Ta very much, art wanker!
Thus equipped yours truly wends his merry way through three vast floors past: Dandelion, a misshapen child looking into a pool à la Narcissus by Tomoko Tashiki of Japan; semi-Chagall like versions of the Greek myth of Zeus disguised as a Swan screwing Leda by an Aussie, Sidney Nolan; and on to fresh water cascading down a rock face, its highly regulated drops spelling out in digital points the latest news headlines.
Now, on to the 'seven stations of the dross' -- or at least pause to ponder whether gob-smacking maketh art.
Deluxe Suicide Machine: This work by by American Meghan Boody is a pinball machine tarted up like a Rube Goldberg contraption with glass canisters of bubbling water underneath, and portraits of an apparently dead, or at least sleeping girl on the sides. You can even vote your opinion of each display -- love or hate -- on the console.
No visible means of escape: British artist Marc Quinn is represented by a naked trussed-up body of plastic hanging from a hook like a side of beef. Art Wanker informs us that this portrays "human awareness of mortality, no escape from self," and recalls Michelangelo's self portrait in the Sistine Chapel as flayed skin hanging from the hand of St. Bartholomew on the wall of the last judgment.
Self portrait: Belgian Jan Fabre has perpetrated this installation -- a 25-foot long fabric worm with his own head as he imagines what he will look when he is 88, crawling over a morass of inscribed black tombstones to the sounds of heavy breathing and gasped words.
This shows "the theme of life's transience, suffering, death and metamorphosis," says Art Wanker. Really? As of this moment on our run-around, 4,025 people have hit the 'love' button, while 3,246 'think it is an outrage,' giving the 'hate' button an energetic shove.
Painter: This pièce de résistance is a video presentation by American Paul McCarthy, showing a -- you've guessed it -- painter with a bulbous clown nose mashing around in paint and swirling a huge phallus protruding from beneath his smock in circles around a canvas, all to various animal grunts and calls.
Zizi, the affectionate couch: If the painter smacks you so hard in the gob that you need to sit down, you have Zizi just down the hall. Zizi has orange-red poodle hair and growls when you plonk your bum on it, or is that her? Or him? It/she/he purrs and moans if you start stroking it/her/him, so the brochure says, but it/she/he's making a gawd-awful bubbling sound when I try my hand at it.
The arse at the end of the world: It's not actually called that, but a kangaroo is licking a guy's arse hole. This large canvas collage bravura comes via the brushes and brains of Chilean expatriate Juan Davila, who is taking the piss out of Aussie cultural icons. He's turned Robert Burke and William Wills, who led a continent-crossing expedition 2,000 miles from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860-61 and died on the return journey, into lead stars in a homoerotic epic.
It's not clear which one is having his sphincter massaged by the kangaroo's tongue, but the other one is lying on his back with a naked erection and his middle finger in the air. Oh the indignity of it all. How are the mighty fallen.
Art Wanker's not much use on this one, is he! Aha, it's a she, called Jane Clarke. She waffles on and on about rival Aussie Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, who are spoofed in this chef d'oeuvre with newspaper clippings of the insults they hurled at each other, but she says nothing about the feelings of the poor tongue-tied kangaroo.
Cloaca professional: If you're craving a breath of fresh air after that one, be careful which corner you turn because yours truly has just stumbled into the exact opposite, a conceit of mechanically digesting glass bowls by Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye that turn food into shit with all the requisite concomitant aromas.
For those unfamiliar with Latin, cloaca means sewer and is used as a zoological term for the posterior opening of the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animals. Wow, we're back to the arse at the end of the world again.
This masterpiece consists of eight separate glass bowls, valves and pipes filled with the many bacteria that nestle lovingly within the human body and the food we eat, and shows the precise workings of the human bowels, accompanied with those very realistic scents.
Thus do bowls become bowels, and a defecation machine art.