I took my kids to a sex and death museum



Hobart’s $75 million Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) had been on our radar for some time, and my partner and I were not ignorant of its frankly dubious fixations – death and sex. The good, bad and ugly of owner David Walsh’s “subversive adult Disneyland” unfurls over three dimly-lit subterranean levels with visitors relying only on a gallery-supplied iPod and their own moral compass for guidance.

Current exhibitions include a plaster cast of the remains of a suicide bomber, a horse on a meat hook, a self-administering suicide machine, bestiality, a full-frontal transgender nude, anal lipstick kisses and a wall of 150 delicate porcelain vulvas.

In short, hardly the place for someone with a pacemaker let alone two small children. But with no Plan B (read: babysitter) in place, the children were coming with us and that was that. We’d deal with the vexed issue of innocence lost at a later date.

Upon entry I half expect some responsible adult to pull us aside and say, “What the hell do think you’re doing?” Instead, the attendant happily takes our money, and shows us via a map the areas we should perhaps avoid taking the kids to (this should be easy as most of the more disturbing displays are behind floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains).


We pass the vulvas (which at my eye level literally go over our kids’ heads), catch the two-year-old just before he makes a grab for “The Bowl with Fish and Sharp Knife” (my words) and marvel at the strobed stop-gap animation inside Gregory Barsamian’s giant metal head.

The longer I spend at MONA the more I’m convinced that Walsh, a father of two and something of a former enfant terrible himself, designed the gallery (at least partially) with kids in mind. There’s the theatre, of course, and it’s not all sex and death. Much of the collection is simply playful.

“Look, there’s Lightening McQueen,” our eldest points excitedly at Erwin Wurm’s hilariously unambiguous “Fat Car”. “But what happened to him?”

We do falter the once, during Delvoye’s “tattooed-pig” exhibition. Stretched pig skins line the walls, while playing in an adjoining room is a video of the pigs—pre-tanned and very much alive. The juxtapositioning of life and death leaves the four-year-old bewildered and us pathetically tongue-tied.

We’re saved by the belch. Next door, a Cloaca, ostensibly glass cylinders, metal casing and rubber tubing, is busily digesting day-old café fare. Another sits oddly serene after a job well done. My kids hold their noses giggling madly; shifting readily from disgust to delight and back again.

Back in Melbourne, our decision to take the kids to MONA receives, at best, a muted response. While we remain comfortably numb to criticism, it does give us cause to reflect on how MONA might have impacted our four-year-old. Weeks later, we get our answer.  

My partner is collecting him from childcare when he announces, “Dad, I forgot to tell Euan about the water that falls from the sky and makes all those words.”

It takes him a moment to realise our son is talking about a MONA exhibition, bit.fall, a waterfall of words taken from daily Google searches. It’s a curious choice as he’s yet to fully grasp the alphabet, let alone reading.

“Could he be responding to the work on some intuitive, conceptual level?” my partner asks me later that evening. I admit it does give me pause. The room fills with possibility.  “Then again,” he adds, “he told everyone about the Cloaca.”


  • How you choose to bring up your child is totally up to you. Your children are your offspring, the continued generations of your ancestral linage. What, if any path you send your hereditary line down will hold you accountable to your responsibility to your people including mental physiological functioning.

    Thank you for sharing a sample of your responsibility to how you chose to parent the offspring of your people to build upon their inheritance. Fascinating.

    And wonder where all the weirdo's come from.

    Date and time
    March 09, 2012, 9:49AM
    • @ wayne and Dr (?) Christine

      Calm down - she took her kids to an art museum. I dont think we are going to see drastic effects on society by her kids being exposed to different types of art - I am more worried about the kids who are raised without any exposure to the diversity of culture and people.

      Teaching kids how to critically analyse the world around them as opposed to just accepting the mainstream trends is the most important lesson we can teach kids and that is something the art world provides.

      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 11:51AM
    • Deep breaths, sunshine!

      I'd far rather kids go to an art exhibition, however challenging, than watch Home & Away. The former asks questions and allows for all sorts of interpretations, the latter creates entirely unrealistic images of what is 'normal' in everything from body types to the lack of women's friendships that aren't all about men.

      No child has ever come out of viewing a Damien Hirst piece determined to cut sharks in half for a living, while plenty of kids decide they need to go on a diet and wear age-inappropriate clothing because that's what everyone on TV is doing.

      Personally, I prefer kids who are weirdoes -- the ones reading books, climbing trees and just being themselves. They give me hope for the future.

      Ms D Writes
      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 4:37PM
  • V. civil rights/freedom of expression/Nietzschean article. However, there is a reason exhibitions like this are controversial, with people saying they are repulsive. That is because their subject matter is offensive. Because of the negativity and ugliness, they leave me feeling rather nauseated. Replicating the offensive is a new way for artists to get a gong. I think people should be aware of this method of getting proclaimed an artist, Do something controversial like fill a bathtub with lard or put the Virgin Mary in a glass jar filled with urine. Then you get your work debated in an art journal. When the pros and cons of whether your work is art gets debated, it is purportedly official, you are an artist. The jar of urine with the madonna is now officially art. Why bring children to see the repulsive and help reinforce the sham? It;s like kids isn't that ghastly? We are now going to trot through, looking at it carefully, feeling repulsed, but intellectual because is is purportedly art. Modern kids have enough problems as it is.

    Dr Christine
    Date and time
    March 09, 2012, 10:49AM
    • A child at 3 months can be made to go through the torture of baptism, or circumcision, and they should not see the female genitalia they were born from? They can eat a pig or wear a cow, but not know how it was put in front of them? And, we wonder why we are living in a confused world?

      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 11:43AM
      • @ Dr Christine

        I'm sorry that there are things in this world that repulse and offend you.

        Just to help you a little: art is not equal to things that make you feel nice. Some art may make you feel that way, but the two are not mutually inclusive.

        Some artists produce art that they feel will induce a response in people that may make them think about things a bit more than they otherwise would. This may be because there are people in the world who only like to see the nice things because the nasty thing make them uncomfortable. A dose of uneasiness is not necessarily a bad thing. Denying that there is nastiness in the world is unconstructive.

        Showing kids that not everything in life is lovely is, in my opinion, a much healthier way to bring them up than to shelter them from bad things so that they have no concept of life outside of their own life (which in this country is pretty good generally speaking). But form the article, the authors children were not exposed to anything particularly nasty. A dead animal is a fact of life as is a digestive tract.

        Just curious, but a doctor of what exactly?

        Professor Bollocks
        Date and time
        March 09, 2012, 12:00PM
        • I'd rather a weirdo child than a boring fuddy duddy named Wayne.

          Just sayin.

          Date and time
          March 09, 2012, 12:06PM
          • Your kids will survive. And just maybe be better for the experience knowing that in this world there is room for crazy concepts, ideas and art as opposed to the 90% of our lives which are made up of the mundane.

            Date and time
            March 09, 2012, 12:10PM
            • I think you are over-analysing your kids. I just took my three kids (aged 4, 3 and 18 months) to MONA and we loved it. We went to every exhibit and to be honest there is nothing there that is particularly shocking or offensive. The Cloaca machines were a hit with my kids, as was the waterfall, the goldfish bowl and the fat car.

              My only complaints, albeit trivial, is that the museum could be a little more kid friendly in their cafe and potentially add a kids program. I saw plently of kids there during our visit.

              Philly Slim
              Date and time
              March 09, 2012, 1:14PM
              • Having made the trip to Hobart a few weeks ago to visit MONA, I agree with the writer's comment that parts of the gallery seem made for (or at the very least suitable for) children. I would not suggest MONA as an immediate place for children, but if one chooses to take their children along, the gallery could certainly be made suitable for children by avoiding a few key displays and being prepared to do some explaining. MONA, by the way, is truly world-class. The euthanasia machine is one of the most powerful pieces of modern art I have experienced. The falling waterfall of words is exquisite and ingenious. I'm so pleased to see such a gallery in Australia.

                Date and time
                March 09, 2012, 1:27PM

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