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Why MONA’s Saga Is Among the Best Performance Art Pieces I’ve Seen

In the latest chapter of the Ladies Lounge saga at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), curator Kirsha Kaechele has confessed to creating fake Picasso paintings that are displayed in the newly established ladies toilets. This move comes following the forced closure of the Ladies Lounge earlier this year.

This unfolding drama stands out as one of the most impactful pieces of performance art since Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece in 1964. Ono’s work involved her sitting passively while members of the public cut pieces of her clothing. Like Ono’s piece, Kaechele’s performance has stirred intense reactions, except it has captured a global audience over a prolonged period.

The saga began with the creation of the Ladies Lounge, a space where women could enjoy high tea, appreciate fine art, and be attended to by young, handsome male butlers. These butlers were the only men allowed in the lounge, fulfilling every need of the female guests, from showering them with praise to offering massages.

The story took a turn when a man named Jason Lau complained about being denied entry based on his gender. The media seized upon the controversy, which spotlighted the lounge’s gender-exclusive policy. In a world where women have historically been denied access to certain spaces, Lau’s exclusion was precisely the point: he was experiencing the artwork as intended.

The situation escalated as Lau took Kaechele and MONA to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This hearing marked the second act of Kaechele’s performance, where she and her team reacted in sync to the judges’ scrutiny. Although the tribunal ruled against them, declaring the Ladies Lounge discriminatory, the troupe left the courtroom to the tune of Robert Palmer’s Simply Irresistible, making a bold statement.

During the lounge’s closure for reforms, Kaechele brainstormed her next move. She flirted with the idea of a ladies’ bible study room but ultimately chose to decorate a toilet with artworks, including supposed Picassos. When pressed on the odd choice of venue for enjoying champagne, Kaechele noted there’s historical precedent for indulgence in such spaces.

Once the toilets were revealed, media attention exploded, particularly over the presence of Picasso paintings. This led to scrutiny from the Picasso Administration, which governs the rights attached to the late artist’s works. Kaechele then admitted the paintings were her own creations, crafted three years prior to match the green aesthetic of the Ladies Lounge. The lounge cum toilets also featured other fakes, such as modern spears labeled as antiques and plastic jewelry claimed as heirlooms.

Through this elaborate performance, Kaechele has highlighted the importance of viewers using their own judgment rather than relying solely on exhibit labels. Her immediate confession upon being challenged by the Picasso Administration avoided potential fraud charges. This incident serves as a humorous exposé on the fragility of male egos and offers a critique of the legal system’s priorities.

This saga brings to mind Melbourne artist Ivan Durrant, who in 1974 displayed a dead cow at the National Gallery of Victoria. The following year, he announced the exhibition of a severed human hand, which turned out to be a prosthetic, fooling national media in the process.

For MONA and Kaechele, the Ladies Lounge saga has been a resounding success, combining artistic experimentation with critical social commentary. Kaechele’s work stands in the tradition of performance art, reminding us of its power to provoke and engage. However, she takes a more playful approach compared to some of the grittier works from the 1960s and ‘70s, such as Pat Larter’s Tailored Maids, which used raw meat to critique female circumcision.

Since its inception, MONA has consistently drawn attention for its unique exhibitions and the ability to generate global buzz. Founder David Walsh aims to make the arts accessible to everyone, not just the cultural elite. Kaechele’s controversial acts have certainly contributed to this vision, reaffirming MONA’s status as a must-visit for any art aficionado in Australia.

Source: AAP