Museum ordered to stop discriminating in Ladies Lounge

MONA women supporters at the Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Source: TikTok

Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art will no longer be allowed to bar men from its Ladies Lounge exhibit, after it was found to be discriminatory.

Kirsha Kaechele’s artwork at the museum she curates, which is owned by her husband David Walsh, may have had a point but violated the law, the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision said on Tuesday.

“This case involves conflict between an artwork which deliberately and overtly discriminates for artistic purpose and legislation which has the objective of prohibiting discrimination,” tribunal deputy president Richard Grueber said.

The action was brought by NSW man Jason Lau. He paid $35 to visit MONA in April 2023 but was not allowed behind the exhibit’s curtain because he is a man.

“Mr Lau was not happy with being refused entry,” agreed facts in his complaint of discrimination said.

It also notes the refusal to admit him was “part of the art itself” as it was a “participatory installation”.

Lau missed out on seeing “a tethered, rearing, restrained-by-golden-chains-and-then-ultimately-defeated phallus”, among other works that include two Picasso paintings and a gold jewelled crown Kaechele wore at her wedding.

The women-only, curtained off lounge has 28 days to allow “persons who do not identify as ladies” access.

Kaechele took to Instagram on Wednesday to say she was “saddened” by the ruling.

“But, by grace of due process, I have been granted a 28-day period. This allows me space to absorb the situation, seek counsel and compose myself,” she wrote.

“I am so grateful for your ongoing understanding and support through one of the most difficult periods of my life.

“Such periods can be painful, as many of us know.”

The lounge idea came during the COVID-19 pandemic, partially in response to public criticism that there were too few places to sit. It has a counterpart in the Ladies Lounge Designed by Men, which does not restrict entrants.

“It consists of a 6.5-metre by 7-metre private lounge enclosed by a curtain and invigilated by a museum attendant,” Mr Grueber said.

“Inside the Ladies Lounge are artworks that may only be viewed within the Ladies Lounge.

“It is itself an artwork, but it contains other significant artwork. The attendant permits entry to the Ladies Lounge only by ladies.”

Kaechele described the lounge she designed as a response to women being historically forbidden from certain spaces, citing elite men-only clubs as a contemporary example.

“However, the act does not permit discrimination for good-faith artistic purpose per se,” Grueber said, noting aspects of the case “may seem paradoxical”.

The lounge might well legally be able to operate as a women-only club, and its legitimate artistic purpose could have saved it running afoul of the law if it had offended, humiliated, or incited hatred or severe ridicule of Lau, rather than discriminating against him based on gender.

Inconsistencies in the stated intention of the artwork prevented MONA establishing a relevant equal opportunity exemption for the Ladies Lounge.

“It may have a valid moral or ethical or pedagogical purpose, but it cannot reasonably be intended to promote equal opportunity,” Grueber said.

He ordered MONA cease the discrimination, whether by allowing men into the lounge or removing the exhibit, within four weeks.

-with AAP

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