The End…

Thank you, Wim. Thank you, David. Thank you, MONA. You gave birth to me. You let me live. You made me die. I no longer look in the mirror in fear. You gave me the strength to smile at the fucker… TT.


MONA Blog – Five prejudiced affairs with Mona


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Tim, 2006 – 2012 (ongoing), with various pigskins
Wim Delvoye
Photo Credit: MONA/Remi Chauvin

1. The art of knowing whether you are flirting
The art of consuming modern art

You never know what to expect, when you first walk in. Something, nothing. Something that turns out to be nothing? Nothing that becomes something? But that’s part of it, it’s part of what you crave. The not-knowing, the possibility, the risk, the anticipation.

Or, you walk into it, always, knowing that you want something. Anticipating. Breath-held wonder and the greed for Meaning. For something Beyond. For Something.

Forgetting that you always bring something, too. Into that space filled with sound and furious signifiers. A look, a wink, a glance, a colour, an ellipsis of thought…

And sometimes it feels like there is a lot of empty space here. Whatever that means. It doesn’t mean space with nothing in it. It just means space where what’s in it isn’t something you know how to find. But that’s part of it too. And if you don’t crave that, then there’s no room for you to become anything else.

Every visit, every interaction has a memory of the last, and the last-but-one, and the very first, and all those between. And not just your own, but everyone else’s too. Whether that makes you feel good or not. You can never be independent of it. You don’t even have to listen carefully to hear it. There’s nothing new here, and nothing old either – everything exactly as you see it as you come to it at this moment: the wink, the shadows, the abstract moment, the ambiguous words.

You ignore what doesn’t speak to you. Dismissive. (And yet you still think you’re better than the girl beside you who snaps a photo, winks a wink, pretends to see something, sees nothing.) You sidestep around the arti/fact for a moment, you make it what you want it to be, you read it, you act on it, you understand it, you live by it, you love by it, you are – for those moments and their repercussive pre-dawn awakenings – defined by it, and it by you.

And then you turn a page, a corner, a blind eye, and you discover a new star (or disavow an old one – all your past loves are eventually Plutos).

I stop near the end, as always, to check that my heart is beating. As always, it’s not. As always, I pretend I don’t care.

2. Don’t touch

There’s water dripping through the walls here. I’ve never noticed before. I’ve read about it, in all those things that people write, but I’ve never seen it. That interests me. To know about a thing and to touch a thing are not the same at all. At all. Peter Carey, in the voice of Lucinda, once said as much. I bookmarked it – a real bookmark, subcutaneous in the skin of a book, not a click on a word that once meant something real. Before ‘bookmark’ was a verb in my vocabulary. When it was still a noun I could touch. I held that page, with my bookmark, and came back to it over and over. And over. I could still find the page, I think, just with the curve of spine from so many visits.

Lucinda’s knowledge was about sorrow – about suffering and conceiving of suffering. Mine is about something else. About seeing what you want instead of what’s there. At least I think it is.

(Well, wouldn’t you touch that wet wall?)

3. The idea of absence

This place is just filled with your voice – literally, literarily. It’s all you. I can’t imagine how it feels to experience this place without you. On my own, with anyone else.

I think I’ll visit here when you die, and I’ll forget what it means to die: it won’t make any sense because you will be here and everywhere and I won’t understand the idea of absence.

That’s assuming that you die first. And I don’t know why you would. Maybe I’ll die first. And if that’s what happens, then I’ll come here after I die. I’ll haunt your words and your presence here and then you won’t know what it’s like to be here without me.

4. The blind leading the blind (after Peter Buggenhout)

A great hulking thing hangs above me. I think maybe it’s art. Or maybe dread. Or maybe love. It is huge and blackish in the blackness, embarrassed by its own size. An apologetic, deformed monster trying desperately and writhingly to disappear backwards into cracks nonexistent: a mutant spider, an octopus, without the proper experience of its species, to disappear into cracks. For every limb it squeezes into one corner, two more vomit themselves out of another: messy, dripping, scrabbling for purchase on the surfaces, alive yet utterly inert. Grasping at the ceiling, ashamed of its own clumsy bulk, its corners are impotent and its curves broken. Its rusting creaking groaning strength is a kind of unkind joke against its ludicrous body. It is Kafka’s Gregor, horrified by its own existence. I am afraid to stand beneath it. It is some kind of nightmare – to itself?

And also I want nothing more than to be closer to it in the half-light, for it to somehow ingest me, excrete me, validate me.

5. Why shouldn’t we?

I finally manage to book in for one of Tattoo Tim’s tours of the Wim Delvoye exhibition – his third-last tour. He’s had a few days off, and he says he hasn’t been so nervous in a long time. He’s buzzing. He greets us all individually, welcomes us, tells us that he’s not here to explain the art, but just to tell us a story. His story is his way of giving us the gift of recognising what he calls the ‘beautiful absolute irrelevance of our existence’. And somehow I think I understand what he means.

He talks to us for seventy minutes, in between the pigskins and the sharp points of the laser-cut steel. He is funny, self-deprecating, self-important, performative, honest, naive, cynical, charismatic, entrancing, exploding with energy. I suppose he has a lot of time to come up with clever things to say, sitting for five hours a day on his plinth with his tattooed spine towards his audience, his eyes on his one small white speck in the middle of the black window shade. During the tour, we never once see the tattoo. But we see the impact of it on his life, on his experience of being in the world. And it’s bizarre and mundane all at once.

Everything he says to us is engaging. But at the end, in the dark room standing against the projected reality of Delvoye’s Art Farm, where the tattooed pigs grunt and shove and scratch and sleep, he gets to the part that hits me most. He orates a kind of fanatical frisson of absolute adoration for Mona, and that’s part of his story now too. He tells us, from the outside, that ‘everything has changed here in the last 14 months’ – this city isn’t the same one it was before. I could not be more convinced by his arguments.

At the end of Tim’s tour, I’m shaking. He’s articulated a passion for this place that I’ve heard around me since the museum opened. I hear it everywhere – in the museum, away from the museum, on airplanes, interstate, in supermarkets, everywhere. It’s an uncontainable and weird sense of ownership, pride, excitement, gratitude, wonderment. I feel it too, and I resent it. I hate feeling so sentimental and I don’t want to be one of the anonymous masses who somehow feel that since it has entered our lives, we now have some righteous connection to this place. Last year I went for the first time to MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Neue Gallerie, The Dali – so many wonderful American museums, but all the time I was holding this secret smugness that I live in the place where there is Mona. I couldn’t wait to come back and visit. It feels unsophisticated to experience so much joy about a place, especially this place. I am embarrassed by my passion for this place. But why shouldn’t we feel in love – what’s so incredibly wrong with being joyful?

Mona has done something to me that nothing in my life has ever done before. It’s connected me to people I don’t know and don’t ever want to meet. It’s torn a gash in the emotional, creative, psychological space/time continuum – a great fissure that allows glimpses into everything we dream of, and forget to dream of, beyond the everyday. The things we search for in love, in religion, in our unknown selves. Meaning, connection, extraordinary grief and extraordinary radiance, and – more vitally – things wholly intangible, but so deep that they lift us away from everything else.

I thank Tim; he hugs me. I walk away fast, because I need to find a dark space to be alone and cry my guts out, because I can’t remember the last time anything made me feel so alive.

When I come back outside into the air, the steady rain takes me by surprise. But I don’t remember, anyway, what kind of day it was when I went inside. It was a million years ago. As always, when I leave here, I’m new. Better. Taller. Hungrier. More alive. More certain. More uncertain.

That’s all.

-Anica Boulanger-Mashberg

Anica is a writer, editor and critic. She has an ellipsis tattoo and if you notice it and identify it correctly, she might fall in love with you. We don’t know how to pronounce her name.

To get to MONA Blog click here…

The Human Canvas: Tim the Tattoo Man


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Interview by Thomas Hyland for

The practice of tattooing is more 5000 years old. Google tells us this. Whilst the idea has stayed the same, the motivations of the practice are more varied now than ever. Some willing subscribers will canvas themselves for no other reason than a drunken desire. Others will get inked out of love, fashion or to announce their rebellion – but there are other reasons.

Throughout the 1990s, Belgian neo-conceptual artist Wim Delvoye began a new body of work based around the idea of tattooing pigs and went about setting up a live art farm in Beijing. Part of the point was to watch the pigs literally grow in value. It was a piece that was only exaggerated by a subject’s eventual death. The inevitable conclusion of such an exploration took place in 2006 when 35 year old Swiss-born Londoner Tim Steiner volunteered to be marked and included in Wim’€™s touring exhibition, offering his back as a canvas for Wim. For a reported $205,000 the work itself, the literal skin on Tim’€™s back, was sold to a German collector. Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Tim about art, death and the most aberrant contract you’€™ll ever encounter.

How did you come to meet and be involved with Wim? Were you familiar with his work?

In 2006 Wim was part of a group show in the Zurich gallery, de Pury & Luxembourg. My girlfriend was working there and he approached her, saying that he was looking for a human being that he could do the same thing with as with his pigs. He wondered if she knew anyone and because I had a few tattoos she called me and told me one of her artists was looking for a person to tattoo and sell. At the time I didn’t even know that she was speaking of Wim (whose work I loved for years), but I agreed immediately. It sounded wild, different and in today’s art world it was about time that a person was turned into a commodity.

Did you have to think about it for long before agreeing? What were some of the considerations you were wrestling with? What was it that made you say yes?

I agreed immediately. Didn’t think too much at all. Sounded like an extraordinary experience. Once in a lifetime type thing. No thoughts, just did it. I think sometimes life throws stuff at you and you just have to go with it.

Part of your contract requires you to exhibit the work three times a year, in public and private shows, in different corners of the world. That means travelling to the other side of the world to sit facing the corner with your shirt off all day. How does it feel to be on display like this? At the time are you conscious of the fact that you’€™re being viewed as a piece of art?

It all depends on where I’m on show. At times I’ve felt extremely vulnerable and naked. At MONA I felt amazing. They all took such good care of me that I never worried. At the beginning of every show I’m very nervous, but with time I just disappear in my head. The music I listen to really helps because the world around me disappears and I have no clue what’s going on. I love doing it / I hate doing it. It’s everything at once.

It’s been a couple of years since the initial sale. Has your perspective or philosophy behind the work and your choice to be involved in it changed from when you first agreed to being tattooed?

Yes. The project and I have both grown. At the start I felt like a clown at times, but now there seems to be a certain amount of acceptance from the art-scene for what we’ve done. Makes it easier. MONA and the Louvre were extremely important for me. I always felt that this thing was ‘big’, but it feels good to get recognition from the professionals.

Do you find yourself reflecting on the fact that you’€™ve ultimately been bought as a piece of art? Does it change how you see yourself or what ’€˜art’€™ is?

I see no difference between what I do and anyone who has a contract for the job they do. Art is an idea. Everything is an idea, a concept, a limited understanding. I’ve learned that I, and basically everyone and everything else, am looking for answers to questions we don’t really understand yet. My spectrum has broadened. I have experienced amazing things because of this project. I’ve seen myself from new angles and am simply enjoying the bizarre intensity of it all.

Have you ever regretted your involvement?

No. I’ve had pretty desperate moments, but never regretted it.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the sale of the work is what happens after death. Can you talk me through what happens and how you’ve reflected upon this?

When I die my skin will be removed, framed and given to the owner at that time. Of all the things that have to do with this piece, that aspect interests me the least. I’m dead. No longer here. Who cares. I’m an organ donor and my back is just skin. I used to find it cool that I’ll be remembered, but Wim will be remembered, not me. It’s a Wim Delvoye work, not a Tim Steiner. And that’s just fine.

I’m interested to know more about the person that purchased the work. Was it important to you who it was that was ‘buying you’? Did you meet them before or have you since? What did you talk about?

When the project started there was a German art collector from Hamburg called Rik Reinking who worked on different exhibitions at de Pury & Luxembourg gallery in Zurich. We met and got along splendidly. Once the piece was completed and for sale I contacted him and offered it to him. The idea took some getting used to for Rik, but eventually he agreed and the piece was sold to him. It was after a conversation he had with another collector who told him ‘this piece carries the signature of the devil’ that he knew he had to have it. We have become very good friends over the years and it’s been a great pleasure to do this together. We’re also the same age which helps.

That highlights another interesting point. If Rik is the same age as you, doesn’€™t that essentially mean it’€™s likely he’€™ll die before he gets a chance to see ‘the finished work’? What happens then?

It’s unlikely that Rik will still own the piece then. Wim would like a resale at some point. Secondary market with auction and profit. The whole shebang. Really take the concept to the extreme. Wim wants me to be a ‘Lot’ and have people in suits bidding on my living skin. Rik knows this. I would also like to know how it is with various owners. Wim calls it a commodity. Rik owns it now, the value rises, he sells, on and on until I die. No different from any other piece on the market.

I vaguely remember a quote from a long forgotten film about everyone knowing their death was coming and secretly believing they could somehow avoid it. Do you find that this permanent mark on your back makes your death all the more real or immediate? Has this changed the way you see art or the way you see life?

I fully agree with the quote from the movie. I also find myself strangely confronted with death because of this project. There’s an actual focus on me dying. Until then, there’s a story. My story. Which is the story of the piece, but it isn’t. Because the piece and I are separate, but we’re not. For me the tattoo is always there and doesn’t exist. It makes me more alive, but with a huge dose of my own death around the corner. It all makes complete and no sense to me. I’m doing this very public thing which essentially has nothing to do with me. It’s Wim. How much of it is Tim? I don’t know. I try to share with people why I do this. The majority don’t understand, or don’t care. I sat on a box in Tasmania, motionless for 500 hours. But it is not performance art because I am no artist. I am an artwork. By someone else. The death thing doesn’t bother me too much. It’s my dependence on others that sometimes worries me. There’s a lot of parties that I’m dancing on and I have to keep all the hosts happy. If they disappear, I disappear. But the only one actually doing/living this is me. What I have experienced because of this project over the last six years has been a blessing and a curse. I sold myself. From now until the end. That trips me out at times. But I want to pull this off. I think it’s very real and for me it’s become very important. I have become something that I have no control over. I just have to go with it. Art imitating life. Life imitating art. Same difference.

‘Work II’

Tim Steiner, Human art work – ArtsHub


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In 2006, a group show was being organised at de Pury & Luxemburg contemporary art gallery in Zurich, Switzerland. One of the artists exhibiting was Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who was preparing to display his infamous tattooed pigskins.

During the preparation for turning his section of the gallery into a macabre tattoo parlour, he was speaking to one of the gallery assistants and said, “For many years I’ve been setting up this project, but I’ve never actually had anyone to tattoo. I’d like to use the concept that I have with the pigs and project it on a human being.”

After a brief discussion, Wim queried whether the gallery worker knew anyone that would be interested. Her response was that she would ask her boyfriend, who had “a couple of tattoos on his arms”, if he knew anyone that would be interested.

The boyfriend of the gallery assistant was Tim Steiner, a Swiss musician who would soon be known to the world as Tattoo Tim – and perhaps the only living, breathing piece of art in the world.

“So she gave me a call from work,” Tim explains to us from Hobart, where he’s preparing to be exhibited at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). “And she said ‘we have a crazy artist here and he wants to tattoo a person and sell them – who do you think would want to do that? And I said, ‘That would be me.’”

What followed was a two week discussion between Steiner and his girlfriend, who he tells us “wasn’t really into it”. According to his girlfriend, Steiner was “getting [himself] into something that’s going to have dimensions [he didn’t] really understand”.

But then after much discussion they agreed, and Delvoye travelled to Zurich and met the man who would become perhaps his most famous work of art. “Until the day that I met him I was very relaxed about it and the morning before, I thought I’ll Google his name,” Steiner laughs before his voice firms over the phone line – taking on a grave edge the affable Swiss-man hasn’t yet used. “Then I figured out who I was dealing with and I was very small again and a little bit terrified.”

Yet, as fate would have it, after meeting Delvoye, Steiner says he was “amazed and blown away by him and immediately agreed”. Next Delvoye showed Steiner the design and the two began their journey together.

Getting a massive tattoo across your back is a huge undertaking for anyone, but when the objective of tattooing you is to turn you into an artwork and sell you, the process is undeniably even more daunting. And like most tattoos, there was always going to be some pain.

“Well the tattooing process was horrible,” he reminisces. And it wasn’t going to be achieved without any complications. Though the actual tattooing would take forty hours, during the inking Steiner had a herniated disc in his back and needed to get an operation. This would delay Delvoye’s masterpiece for another two years. “Honestly, the back is really sensitive, and the forty hours were really, really [terrible],” he continues. “But… for me it was like me becoming art and I kind of had to suffer for it – you know how people say you need to suffer for art? Well I certainly did!”

With the ink drying and Delvoye’s tattooed signature carved into his flesh, the next logical step was to sell the piece. However, since Steiner is a person and “you cannot make a financial contract over the body part of a human being”, untangling the red tape took a lot of work. During the time that Steiner was laid off healing his back a German law firm worked out the legal ins-and-outs, finally coming up with a way to sell him.

“Then we took that contract and we put me in the boot of the car and went on tour,” he chuckles. The tour would include visiting prospective buyers that had already started collecting Delvoye’s work. “They loved the project and were very much interested in it,” he elaborates, “but they didn’t want to burn their fingers on this.”

But what did that actually mean? As you can imagine, Steiner has encountered a great deal of people who are either for or against the artwork tattooed across his back. The reaction he gets from people is “always… extreme, there’s no middle ground, people are either into it and say its great or they’re really against it and say ethically, you’re doing something that’s really not agreeable”.

And it’s not necessarily who you would expect that are either for or against this unique piece of art. The people in Steiner’s age group, “the tattooed freaks that… [he] thought would be really into it were very, very critical”, and it was a criticism that Steiner has since confronted many times.

The opposition, according to Tim is “because the tattoo is going to be removed after [he] dies” and framed, “just like the pig skins and they thought that was morbid”. Interestingly, on the other side of the coin were the older generation, people his parents and grandparents age, who said, “Oh this is a really, really exciting concept”.

So then who would be interested in such a gruesome piece? After touring around the country, Steiner returned to Zurich to work in the gallery where the idea was formulated. While immersing himself into the art world, a young German art collector from Hamburg visited named Rik Reinking.

If there was anyone that Steiner would’ve liked to be sold to, it was him. In Reinking, Steiner found someone that was of a similar age, had a similar artistic vision and their attitudes were aligned. Yet after Steiner proposed to Reinking that the German purchase him, the sale still required a lot of contemplation. Over a period of three months, Reinking wrestled with the decision. “One day he had a discussion with a lady,” Steiner tells us. “And she said, ‘Rik this project carries the signature of the Devil’ and he said ‘whoa! That’s pretty extreme’ and he decided to buy it.”

With the sale finalised for €150,000 ($205,500), Delvoye had achieved the first step in his vision for Tattoo Tim. The Belgian has always intended for Tim’s back to be treated just like any other piece of artwork. “That means to do the primary sale first, which we have achieved by selling to Rik,” he says, “but his big vision is that we make a secondary sale at an auction.” Delvoye dreams of a big auction at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, where Steiner is given a lot number and paraded before collectors who make bids on his flesh.

Quite an aberrant proposition, but it’s the exchange of capital and the process of selling Steiner that makes his tattoo more than just a tattoo. “It’s a tattoo, what makes it art?” Steiner says, again relating reasons of people’s aversion to it. “There’s nothing special [about] a guy walking around with a bunch of ink on his back, why is it suddenly art?” To Delvoye, Steiner tells us, “this piece is art because it got sold and that’s an important aspect for him”.

Under the agreement with Reinking, Tattoo Tim is required to be exhibited four times a year and once he’s dead his back will be removed, framed and the property of the German art collector. But at the centre of the contract is Steiner’s control over the deal. At any point, he can refuse to be exhibited, which you get the impression he finds relatively amusing. “I’m probably one of the only pieces of art that needs to be kept in a good mood,” he laughs. “If I’m not then I cancel it tomorrow and that’s it.”

Yet the question begs to be asked – who would allow themselves to be transformed into a piece of art? “I’m really open to all of the experiences that this can give me, I always believe that if you get the opportunity to do something, try it at least once,” he says. He also enjoys the idea of “possible permanence”, the notion that even after he has died, part of him will exist forever. There will be, according to Steiner “part of [him] out there that will survive much, much longer than [he] will,” which the man finds “fascinating.”

“I enjoy the possibility of me hanging in a little museum and people walking by saying, ‘Hey I knew that guy’”, he explains on his demise. But it’s not just about achieving posterity, which he explains when talking of being exhibited in Germany, there’s a will to share the experience with art lovers.

While standing facing a wall with his back turned to gallery-goers, Steiner overheard a father explain to his son what the artwork is about. “If that kid comes [into a museum] in thirty years… and sees an elder gentleman with a faded tattoo sitting there and says to his kid, ‘Hey I remember that guy when I was little and he was much younger’ – that’s when the project will become really exciting.”

Another exciting thing that Steiner enjoys is that he never knows when the project will be complete. Depending on how long he lives, he will forever be a work in progress, and the aging process is something that interests both Delvoye and him. “What Wim wants to show is how art does fall apart with time,” he explains. “If I fall off my bicycle and I get a scar… he wants that to be seen. The difference with me and other works is that I am alive and [Delvoye] wants that to be clearly seen”.

Where Tattoo Tim is seen is in art galleries. Having travelled the world being exhibited, he’s heading to Hobart’s MONA from December 10 to January 29. After hearing about MONA’s opening at the beginning of the year, Steiner had found a place that would be perfect to exhibit him. “If there’s any place in the world, whether it’s the Guggenheim or MoMa in New York, that I want to be exhibited… it’s MONA,” he tells us. “I’ve never read anything about a museum that I’ve agreed with so much and I thought – they think like I do”.

But we’re interested to know if he ever sees himself becoming sick of being a walking, talking exhibition. “My thought is if I managed to pull it off this long, then I’ll definitely continue enjoying it,” he says. “It’s still exciting for me… I’m nowhere near close to being bored or tried of it.”

In fact, Steiner can see himself enjoying being the exhibited for many, many years to come. “I’m really, really hoping that at eighty five they’ll wheel chair me into a place and there will be an old man sitting there [with a faded tattoo] – that would be the best. I’m always thankful for the experience, there’s no complaints on my part.”

For now though, Tattoo Tim tells us that, “the coolest thing… is to be here in Hobart now – it’s just blowing my mind everyday. The museum is nuts but when you add Wim’s show to it it’s the cherry on top.”

Tattoo Tim will be hosting intimate tours through Delvoye’s exhibition at MONA from December 10 to January 29 Wed-Mon (plus Tuesday Jan 17).

This art’s not easy to digest, but MONA has the stomach for it


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‘My G-Spot’…

DESPITE his flair for publicity, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is largely unknown in Australia.

His most famous artwork is a series of machines that mimic the human digestive system, taking in food and producing faeces. Another is Tattoo Tim, the body art tattooed on 35-year-old Swiss-born Londoner Tim Steiner. A German collector paid $205,000 for the “work” and intends to sell “when the art market improves”.

Some of Delvoye’s works have been displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW, others were included in Sydney biennales but no Australian collectors or museums have taken the next step and actually bought an item. Except, that is, millionaire gambler David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, which owns a faeces-producing Cloaca machine, the only one Delvoye has agreed to sell from a series of nine. He has retained all the others.

It is fitting, then, that the first Australian survey exhibition of the 46-year-old’s work is being staged at the sprawling Tasmanian gallery, which celebrates its first birthday in January.

Tattoo Tim is one of 100 works loaned to MONA for the exhibition, which opened to the public on Saturday and closes on April 2. Tattoo Tim will take tour groups through the exhibition, which include a sterile, mirrored Cloaca room displaying five of the digesting machines. In one room, tattooed pig skins hang from the walls, in another, framed lipstick “bum kisses” appear on hotel stationery. There is also a collection of exquisite metal sculptures displayed under mock cathedral stained-glass windows.

Sydney gallery owner Roslyn Oxley believes there is a market in Australia for such sculptures, so in February she will stage the first commercial exhibition of Delvoye’s work in Australia.

“I think our collectors are ready for Wim,” she said at MONA yesterday, just moments after finalising details of the exhibition with the artist. “It will be pared back and different.”

Walsh, who generates an undisclosed fortune from his international gambling syndicates, hasn’t taken a pared-back approach to this show. A fact for which Delvoye could not be more grateful.

“I think he’s doing more for Australian art than all the other Australian museums,” the artist said.



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Image courtesy of Margot Foster

Radio National – Creative Instinct

The Museum of Old and New Art (or MONA) in Tasmania isn’t noted for its elegant still-lifes or heroic landscapes.

It was built just over a year ago now by the millionaire gambler David Walsh to house his private art collection.

MONA is often described, including by David Walsh himself, as a temple to sex and death and in it, you can see the bizarre, the beautiful, the confronting, and the just plain silly.

For its first birthday, MONA has a survey show of one of David Walsh’s favourite artists, Wim Delvoye. Delvoye has given us the Cloaca, a machine that turns food into excrement, and a farm of tattooed pigs.

Wim Delvoye has often defended himself against claims of animal cruelty because the pigs’ backs are tattooed while they’re living and, once they’re slaughtered, their tattooed skins are tanned and exhibited in galleries around the world, including at MONA.
David Walsh bought a pig skin — called Untitled Osama — a few years back, and he also has one of Wim Delvoye’s Cloacas.

For his survey show, the Belgian artist has brought along a colony of Cloacas — and Debra McCoy was in Hobart to see the show and talk to the artist about having his name forever associated with a device that replicates the human digestive system.

And just so you can be prepared, there’s some strong language and adult themes to come…

Listen to the interview here

Tattoo Tim takes MONA visitors on tour


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Celebrating 100th Tattoo Tim Tour with MONA crew and friends…

Not many people can claim to be a walking work of art, not even Beverly Hills socialites who are more silicon than skin, but there is one man that has the right to declare himself an artwork – Tattoo Tim.

How are we so sure? Because he’s owned by art collector.

The creation of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, Tattoo Tim features an original Delvoye work on his back that once he’s dead, is the property of Rik Reinking. He’s also required to be exhibited at his owner’s request four times a year, and in a coup for Australia, this year he’s headed to Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) this December to take gallery-goers on an intimate tour of Wim’s work.

From December 10 to January 29, Wednesday to Monday, Tattoo Tim will lead a group of visitors through MONA’s impressive collection of Delvoye’s works including intricately hand carved tires, X-ray images of conjugating couples and rats, inked-on pigskins, bronze sculptures, video works, and more of the notorious cloacae.

And let’s not forget Tattoo Tim himself, who will be sharing stories of his encounters and experiences with the artworks and artists.

Tattoo Tim’s tour
Dates: 10 December to 29 January, Wednesday to Monday (plus Tuesday 17 January)
Time: 11am-12 noon
Place: Meet by ‘Suppo’ [the six metre, hanging Gothic-style tower based on the Cologne Cathedral spire and a suppository – you can’t miss it]
Price: $15 per person
Guide: Tattoo Tim aka Tim Steiner

Outsider’s bold move pays off – The Australian


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Tattoo Tim, David Walsh, Wim Delvoye – Image courtesy of Peter Mathew

IT’S almost a year since Tasmanian gambling millionaire David Walsh opened the doors to his sprawling $101 million Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart.

In that time the art gallery, which was originally free to enter but now charges non-Tasmanians via an honesty system ($20 entry), has become the state’s single biggest tourist attraction. The numbers are a little tricky to compare but MONA reports 330,000 visitors since it opened in January. By comparison, Tourism Tasmania estimates in the year to September, 233,000 tourists visited Port Arthur and 291,000 went to the weekly Salamanca Markets. Walsh, 50, is thrilled to have been embraced so warmly. “The local community expresses it in the most poignant way. They refer to it as ‘our MONA’, and refer to it as a gift,” he says. It’s the morning after the night before, when Walsh hosted a party for about 350 people to launch MONA’s first artist survey, for the Belgian experimental artist Wim Delvoye.

Guests kicked on until about 2am drinking and dancing. It’s now 11am and Walsh has emerged, recently showered, from the apartment in which he lives, adjacent to the museum. His trademark long grey hair is hanging wet and he grabs a soft drink from the fridge of the cafe. “You can have a coffee, I don’t drink it,” he says as we take a seat outside.   The sun is bouncing off the water on a glorious summer Hobart day as visitors begin turning up to view Delvoye’s exhibition. His most famous works are machines that mimic the human digestive system, taking in food and producing faeces. They are incorrectly titled cloacas — because a cloaca is actually a bird’s body part that triples as a vagina, anus and urethra. Delvoye is a headline hunter: another artwork is Tattoo Tim, a tattooed 35-year-old Swiss-born Londoner Tim Steiner, whom the artist “sold” to a German collector for $205,000. Beyond some of these nuttier works, Delvoye’s beautiful and intricate metal sculptures can attract some serious prices.

The artist met Walsh when the collector walked into his studio in 2008. “I thought he was astonishing because I’m used to another type of collector who is bald and greying,” Delvoye says. Walsh is unmistakably greying. “He looks like a rockstar and he’s well informed about art and well informed about me,” Delvoye says. Delvoye took some convincing but he eventually sold Walsh Cloaca Professional, the only one of nine Cloacas made to have sold (it’s not entirely clear if anyone else ever seriously wanted to buy one). The installation typifies MONA’s sex and death theme. Other works include Chris Ofili’s famous Virgin Mary painting featuring vaginas cut out of porn magazines. There is a wall of plaster-cast vaginas. And elsewhere, a space housing Philip Brophy’s vagina simulator.

Art auction house veteran Mark Fraser helped Walsh establish the gallery. But Fraser left early this year and now Walsh is the site’s most senior curator. His displays freely juxtapose collections of Egyptian relics, coins and collectables next to paintings and video installations. MONA’s walls are mostly dark and wall labels have been junked in favour of individual wireless navigation devices. Walsh said before the site opened that the mainstream museums would be challenged by his gonzo approach, which so proudly shows little regard for the conventions of the art world. A world that, frankly, thrives on convention.

Ever the outsider, Walsh said at the outset: “I’m pretty well anti-everything. My brother once said about me that I’d rather be outside a barrel pissing in than inside the barrel pissing out.” So when I tell him the director of the National Museum, Andrew Sayers, credited MONA recently with shaking up the paradigm of conventional museums, he tries to stifle a very gratified smile. “When I get that (recognition), it’s really important to me,” he admits. Walsh is deeply admired in the broader Hobart community. No cab or bus driver or local shopkeeper is without an opinion on him. They note his chutzpah and say: “Look at everything he’s done for Hobart.”

What about the art? Does it offend you? The chocolate sculpture of a suicide bomber? The photograph of a naked vagina with an ugly man’s head? The answer tends to be that not everyone likes the art, but MONA is a private museum and if people don’t like it, they can stay away. There’s a little part of Walsh that wishes people were not so pragmatic, that they were picketing his front entrance in outrage.

Walsh was reared a Catholic and says three priests privately have offered him their congratulations. He shrugs and says with a laugh that he must be doing something wrong. This year, the outsider has become an insider. Walsh observes that when people visit Venice they see the many palazzi and wonder who lives inside. Visitors to MONA are similar, he says. They come with some curiosity about him; they want to peek into his life and, from one of the downstairs galleries, they actually can if they look through the glass ceiling into his apartment. Tasmania is famous for its gambling millionaires. There’s the Farrell family, founding owners of Australia’s oldest hotel chain the Federal Group and its Wrest Point casino; and the island state is home to many heirs of the fortune made by Tattersall’s founder George Adams. Then there’s Walsh, the maths whiz who grew up in the working-class Hobart suburb Glenorchy and not long after leaving school began honing a mathematical system from which he has generated a fortune gambling at casinos and on horse racing, mostly abroad. Given his working-class roots and the unusual way Walsh generates his income, he had little choice but to cast himself as a gonzo in the art world.

When MONA opened, the heads of the nation’s leading state galleries were there, as were artists and dealers, mainstream media and Walsh’s family and friends. He wore a pink T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “F . . k the Art — Let’s Rock and Roll” and mingled nervously on the fringes while people swarmed through his gleaming new $101m purpose-built part-underground Nonda Katsalidis-designed site beside Hobart’s Derwent River. He did a handful of interviews in which he said: “I’m standing on my soapbox and I’m shouting my views like they mean something.”

A year later the site is beginning to pay for itself. The annual running costs, of course, are higher than the anticipated $8m but the adjacent winery, brewery, hotel and restaurants are ticking towards profitability and, suddenly, Walsh is beginning to make sense.