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Geoffrey Dyer won the 2003 Archibald Prize with a portrait of author Richard Flanagan. Predominantly a landscape artist, Dyer paints a portrait each year for the Archibald and likes to choose fellow Tasmanians. Eccentric gambling millionaire David Walsh – who, like Dyer, grew up in a working-class suburb of Hobart – is an avid art collector. In January, he threw the doors open to his $110-million Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart with a party never to be forgotten.
The largely subterranean gallery, which Walsh has described as ‘an adult Disneyland’, is the biggest private art gallery in the nation and has generated plenty of controversy on account of the many graphic works of art featured.
‘It’s wonderful!’ says Dyer of MONA, and Walsh himself seemed an obvious subject: ‘he has given Hobart a cultural edge, which it has never had before. I went to the opening night party – which was an experience in itself – and one of the installations by Jannis Kounellis had these hanging carcasses of beef left to decay. I looked at these things and they evoked images from Rembrandt, Soutine and Francis Bacon. I thought, “gee I’d love to paint David in front of those”.
‘I decided to use two suspended carcasses. Dressed in his black linen jacket and white shirt, David looks very tonal against the pale background, a bit like an Egyptian sarcophagus – he does collect Egyptian antiquity. I wanted the beef to convey a sense of carnality and death. As a subject he is a bit elusive but what comes across is “don’t mess with me”.’