Man Sues Australian Museum Over Women-Only Exhibition

A man is suing Tasmania’s Museum of New and Old Art (MONA), alleging gender discrimination after he was barred from entering an ongoing women-only art installation. New South Wales resident Jason Lau filed a complaint with the Australian state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner after visiting the contemporary art museum last April, claiming that MONA’s “Ladies Lounge” installation violates Tasmania’s 1998 Anti-Discrimination Act.

Created for “any and all ladies,” artist and curator Kirsha Kaechele’s participatory art experience “Ladies Lounge” purposely excludes male visitors as commentary on the country’s historical exclusion of women from specific spaces. Before 1965, Australian women were prohibited from drinking in public bars, instead relegated to small so-called ladies lounges (if admitted at all), where they were usually charged excessive prices for drinks. Still today, there are still private “gentlemen’s clubs” across the country, such as the Melbourne Club and Sydney’s Australian Club, that exclusively permit membership to men.

The museum, and Kaechele herself, have their own complicated histories. Established in 2011, MONA is a subterranean museum in Hobart, the capital city of the island state of Tasmania, Australia. The institution showcases the art collection of its founder David Walsh, who owns the Canadian mining company Bre-X. Kaechele, Walsh’s spouse, made headlines in 2005 for buying up five deteriorating houses in New Orleans’s low-income St. Roch neighborhood to host her elaborate and exclusive art soirees. She faced criticism for contributing to the area’s gentrification and for letting the properties fall into disrepair after she left the country for Tasmania — while still owing tens of thousands in real estate taxes and building code citations.

First presented at MONA in December 2020, Kaechele’s “Ladies Lounge” features luxurious furnishings and silken green curtains and provides women visitors access to a collection of antiquities and modernist works by Sidney Nolan and Pablo Picasso. Taking inspiration from the artist’s great-grandmother’s lavish “ladies-only parties” in Basel and Beverly Hills, the only men present are butlers, who provide guests with champagne while they peruse some of the museum’s most prized artworks.

But in his lawsuit, Lau argues that prohibiting men from the interactive experience is discriminatory.

“I visited Mona, paid $35 (AUD), on the expectation that I would have access to the museum, and I was quite surprised when I was told that I would not be able to see one exhibition, the ‘Ladies Lounge,’” Lau told the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal during a court hearing last week, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Lau could not be reached for comment.

In response, Kaechele and MONA argued that the installation is designed to provide an equal opportunity to women and serves as an “opportunity to gather in peace as women without men.”

“I have taken something that was used to keep women down and I have repurposed it into a triumphant space for women that excludes men,” Kaechele said during the hearing, concluding her statement with a reading of the Guerrilla Girls’s “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” (1988).

While Lao’s complaint is not the first against the museum — another man previously accused MONA of discrimination in August 2023 before dropping the case after speaking with Kaechele — the court’s decision may determine the “Ladies Lounge” installation’s future.

“The Ladies Lounge is an essential space for perspective and reset from this strange and disjointed world of male domination,” Kaechele told Hyperallergic. “There should be more of them.”

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