Museum behind ladies-only art exhibit sued by man who was denied entry – National

An American artist who created a ladies-only lounge at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania, Australia is at the centre of a complaint brought by a man who was denied entry to the exhibit about gender discrimination.

The art exhibit by Kirsha Kaechele, called ‘Ladies Lounge,’ is an ongoing installation at the museum, and invites only women beyond its luxurious green silk curtains. Inside the small lounge, ladies are served champagne by male butlers (the only men allowed in the space) and can view a number of artworks, including several pieces by legendary painter Pablo Picasso.

The Ladies Lounge was created in reference to historic gentleman’s clubs that barred women from entering. But in this case, anyone who does not identify as a woman will be forbidden access by the lounge’s guard at the door.

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New South Wales resident Jason Lau was told he could not enter the Ladies Lounge at the MONA, which resides in Tasmania’s capital city Hobart, when he visited the museum in April 2023. Lau filed a formal anti-discrimination complaint within the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and said he was unfairly denied access because of his gender.

Kaechele told The Guardian she was “absolutely delighted” by the legal complaint.

Some of the delight stemmed from Kaechele’s ability to now bring her performance art outside of the MONA and to an Australian courtroom. During Tuesday’s tribunal, Kaechele brought with her 25 women dressed in navy suits and business attire. Throughout the proceedings, the 25 women silently read feminist literature and executed synchronized choreographed movements like crossing their legs or applying lipstick in unison.

When the day’s session came to an end, Kaechele and the group of women left building to the tune of Simply Irresistible by Robert Palmer.

Kaechele told The Guardian she tends “to engage life as a medium” in her art. She said the opportunity to move her art from the museum to the tribunal was “a dream come true.”

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In his complaint, Lau argued it is discriminatory to keep artwork, like that of the Picasso painting displayed exclusively in the Ladies Lounge, away from he and other men who pay to enter the museum.

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At the hearing, Lau said anyone who paid the museum’s AUS$35 (C$31) “would expect a fair provision of goods and services,” according to a New York Times report.

He’s asked for an apology from the museum and for men to either be allowed into the lounge or permitted to pay a discounted ticket price for the museum.

Kaechele and lawyers for the MONA rebutted by saying the exclusion of men is the point of the Ladies Lounge exhibit.

“The men are experiencing Ladies Lounge, their experience of rejection is the artwork,” Kaechele told the Guardian. “OK, they experience the artwork differently than women, but men are certainly experiencing the artwork as it’s intended.”

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MONA’s lawyer, Catherine Scott, said the case will be a challenging one for the tribunal, as it involves both a physical space and the more subjective nature of performance art.

“MONA’s case is that art can be a really powerful medium in promoting equal opportunity by not just experience, but by conversation, and specifically redressing the past exclusion of women,” Scott said.

“It seems that Mr. Lau and his complaint are genuine – he wants everyone to be allowed entry,” the lawyer continued. “But if MONA agreed to that it would fundamentally undermine the work.”

Kaechele’s husband, David Walsh, founded and owns the MONA.

The Ladies Lounge first opened in 2020. According to the museum, woman can indulge in high tea and “other ladylike pleasures” while visiting the lounge.

“Here in the lounge, you are a participant in the art itself, part of a living installation,” the MONA wrote in a 2022 social media post. “No boys allowed.”

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Kaechele told the Guardian her Ladies Lounge exhibit has garnered more complaints than just Lau’s, though he’s the first to successfully take his grievances to the tribunal. She recalled earlier explaining to one upset male visitor who threatened legal action that, despite paying the same museum fee as women, he was indeed experiencing the artwork.

“I said, ‘You do experience the artwork, because the rejection is the artwork,’” she explained. “And he understood that, and he appreciated it, and he dropped the case.”

The tribunal is expected to make a decision on the complaint in the coming weeks.

Exclusive men’s social clubs have existed all over the world, including Canada, and particularly thrived in the 19th century. These exclusionary clubs often only accepted white members and barred women from entering the space, apart from when in service roles. Inside the lounges, liquor was often served while personal and business connections were established among men of similar social standing.

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