David Walsh and the MONA

An approach to communication: 1/3

February 2015
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It is clear that communication is defined through elements like message, medium, source, sender/receiver, encoding/decoding…context and channel are key ones. Perception, even if it is not traditionally included on the list, is quite important to me, as well as noise. Perception affects everything. But what leads to good communication? Are there any other elements that could improve the way we communicate?

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A different way to communicate. David Walsh and the MONA. A 360° experience.

This year I had the opportunity to travel to Australia for five weeks in order to work on a client’s project. Once there, the idea was to make the most of every free moment to discover and experience everything that might be different from the so-called “old world”. One weekend a colleague and I decided to fly to Hobart in Tasmania to visit a magical place: the MONA, Museum of Old and New Art.

Basically, this place exists because of the brilliance of one individual: David Dominic Walsh. Walsh, who owns this original private collection, is an Australian millionaire who made his fortune gambling and decided to build what I would say is more than just a museum: it’s a 360° experience.

MONA offers you a different mind-set. Everything in this place is a fresh way to communicate.

This alternative experience starts with how you decide to get there, by bus or by a very special ferry, which is nicely decorated with distinct artworks. The first big thing that hits you is the arrival to the museum: I decided to take the ferry, arriving by sea just as the ancient Greeks arrived to the temples in Athens.

In David’s Walsh words: “My rule was we’ll never spend any money on advertising, we’ll do stuff that attracts attention.” He accomplishes it. When you see the MONA Shop poster in the airport you’re not sure if it is a marketing piece for the museum or a piece of artwork itself.

Once on the grounds you find a building carved in stone. Built largely underground, descending into the museum feels like the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. A massive architecture effort. The first thing you’ll find on the tour is a cocktail bar, such a beautiful way to start the journey, accompanied by bohemian duet music that will follow you through the different galleries.

The collection’s narrative is admirable and charming, truly something to be seen and an extremely enjoyable way of storytelling. Exhibiting prehistoric stone points, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian scarab beetle, Leni Riefenstahl 1938 documentary work Olympia,and a modern vinyl in the same room is such a different way of telling the story of art.

The magic of this well-curated exhibition goes on and on, mixing sex, nature, life, death and all the basic impulses/instincts of humans.

In addition to the museum the space has a brewery, winery, a restaurant, and there are plans for a hotel, even a cemetery where patrons can have their remains laid to rest! The experience continues with The Mofo festival.

Not only is the physical space worth a visit, but the digital experience is quite engaging as well. I had the opportunity to try The O app guided tour (when I visit museums I normally take the self-guided tours, to leave the headphones hanging forgotten from my neck 20 minutes later).

The O is an iPod Touch app that replace the wall labels in the museum and much more. Technology here enhances already great content. Walking around, the device brings up nearby artworks and gives you the possibility to find out more using “Art Wank” (yes, you read right), which explains the facts about each piece.

Other great O features are: “Gonzo” (collection owner David Walsh’s opinion and explanation about why he bought specific pieces), “Media” (unedited interviews with the artists, sometimes lo-fi and intimate, recommended music to accompany each piece, like punk music to enjoy a watercolour), and “Ideas” (provocative texts that make you think deeply about things outside the artwork itself).

The “Love / Hate = + / x” feature give you the possibility to tell the world if you love or hate a specific piece. What I realised after using the feature is that pieces that reflect and generate thought about universal feelings and emotions (love, religion, death, illness, etc.) are the favourites.

The 360º communication doesn’t end at the museum. Post-engagement continues after you return the O device, even once you get home. With O you can save your tour itinerary, which will be sent via email so that you can then comment on the pieces you loved, see how many were hated by the public that day, and (most importantly, from my point of view) go back to each of the pieces you visited to deepen your knowledge.

Apparently, MONA does not turn a profit. The gallery’s shortfall is covered by the owner’s gambling profits. Hopefully, this will change because this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in an art museum, and I’ve been to quite a few. Why? Because this was an entirely different way of communicating.

Continues here: 2/3