There’s something incredibly refreshing about visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art. From the small but perfectly formed bookshop to the friendly coat check ladies to the snippy queens in the restaurant who inform you that they’re now serving lunch and not seating patrons for coffee, it’s nice to be there. The MCA has two big shows on; Mona Hatoum: Over My Dead Body and The Unquiet Landscapes of Rosemary Laing. It’s a veritable cavalcade of contemporary art and the fact that Telstra pays for our tickets is always a pleasant surprise. True, we feel a little tetchy being forced to say “Thanks Telstra!” every time we walk through the doors, but a massive corporation picking up the tab feels right.
The patrons of this art palace by the harbour are of a very different stripe to the people you see at The Art Gallery of NSW. Over at Edmund’s place, people are there because they meant to be, it’s on the map and it says “Art Gallery of NSW” and so if you caught catch the bus there, that’s where you are. The people at the MCA, on the other hand, come in to shelter from the weather or when the guys who juggle kittens and chain saws take a break. They may not be too sure what they’re looking at, they may not be able to understand the full meaning of all the words and pictures, they may be not be able to speak English, but they are art patrons and should be treated with respect.
The curators at the MCA have designed wall texts which explain to patrons just what they are looking at and then describe for them what it means. It’ so everyone can get the difficult meanings of contemporary art. For example, if there was a photo of a dog scratching itself, the wall text would say something like:
“This is an image of a dog scratching itself. The domestic pet is, for [this artist], a way to portray anxiety about our society.”
The visitor to the gallery, who can neither use their own eyes to see the picture of the dog nor think through the possible contextual meanings of why the artist would choose to show a dog scratching itself, has all the art work’s possible meanings explicated for them, or dispensed with by simply ignoring them. Of course, most art works are much more complicated than just a picture of a dog scratching itself and are therefore much harder to understand. Luckily, wall texts are always on hand to explain every nuance of the artist’s work. Blimey, we think, we are so lucky to go to an art gallery where we don’t have to do any thinking for ourselves – we can experience the whole gallery and its art works just like we are watching television.