Museum Gambles on Controversial YBA Works to Fund Pricey Expansion

Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary (detail).
Photo: pulse.ng.
The Museum of Old and New Art.

The Museum of Old and New Art.

David Walsh, founder of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)—who has described the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”—is selling off some of the most iconic works in his collection, including Chris Ofili‘s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), in order to fund the museum’s expansion plans (see Gambling Millionaire David Walsh’s Kooky Tasmania Museum MONA Clocks 1 Million Visitors), which include a wing devoted to light artist James Turrell.

The trove of works by Young British Artists will be sold at Christie’s London post-war and contemporary art sale on June 30, and will be displayed at the London location from June 26.

Chris Ofili The Holy Virgin Mary (1996).  Photo Credit: MONA/Remi Chauvin Image Courtesy MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Chris Ofili The Holy Virgin Mary (1996).
Photo Credit: MONA/Remi Chauvin
Image Courtesy MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

In addition to the Ofili, which was originally acquired directly from the artist by Charles Saatchi and is estimated at about $2.3 million, one of the highlights is Jake and Dinos Chapman’s 1994 work, Great Deeds Against the Dead. Former Art Review editor David Lee once wrote about the Chapman Brothers: “I am curious about their work in the same way that I would slow down to look at a car crash.”

Both Ofili’s work, and the Chapman Brothers, were included in the controversial, and much-cited, 1999 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, titled, “Sensation: Young British Artists From the Charles Saatchi Collection.”

Jake and Dinos Chapman,  Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994).Photo: Tate.org.

Jake and Dinos Chapman,
Great Deeds Against the Dead (1994).
Photo: Tate.org.

Walsh is also selling Jenny Saville‘s Matrix (1999), and one of Damien Hirst‘s first spin paintings, titled, Beautiful mis-shapen purity clashing excitedly outwards painting (1995).

Jenny Saville, Matrix (1999). Photo: Saatchi.

Jenny Saville, Matrix (1999).
Photo: Saatchi.

It’s hard to imagine parting with a work as groundbreaking as The Holy Virgin Mary (which former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani infamously referred to as “sick stuff” during a show at the Brooklyn Museum—see Chris Ofili’s Glittering, Dung-Encrusted Paintings Return to New York), but Walsh is prepared to make the sacrifice in order to create a wing filled with large-scale light sculptures by Turrell.

“I made my money gambling,” Walsh said in a press release. “Here, at this auction, I’m gambling again…My wager is that the future, for me and my museum, is more rewarding than the past.”

James Turrell, Amarna (2015).

James Turrell, Amarna (2015).

The museum currently owns Turrell’s Amarna, a gazebo-like outdoor installation that operates during sunrise and sunset. The National Gallery of Art in Canberra has seen great success with “James Turrell: A Retrospective,” for which they even offered naked tours for a small group of (see National Gallery of Art in Canberra Offers Naked Tours of James Turrell’s Artwork) brave museumgoers.

Recently, MONA found itself at the center of a controversy when artist Leon Ewing, a speaker at the museum’s annual Dark Mofo festival, claimed that children should be prescribed “educational marijuana” (see Artist Leon Ewing Proposes Giving High School Kids ‘Educational Marijuana’).


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