Court orders Australian museum to allow men access to ‘ladies-only’ exhibition [Updated]

Courtesy MONA, Hobart

Last month, after being turned away from the installation Ladies Lounge, Jason Lau filed a lawsuit against Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), accusing the museum of violating the state’s anti-discrimination act. Conceived by artist and curator Kirsha Kaechele, the work consists of a ‘ladies-only’ lounge, in which women are getting pampered by male butlers while being surrounded by masterpieces by the likes of Sidney Nolan and Picasso. For the artist, the work is ‘a response to the lived experience of women forbidden from entering certain spaces throughout history’, referring more specifically to their exclusion from the country’s pubs until 1965.

During the tribunal hearing in March, Kaechele and MONA’s lawyer argued that Lau had experienced the work as intended by the artist, referring to Tasmanian law which allows selective entry when ‘designed to promote equal opportunity for a group of people who are disadvantaged’. ‘The men are experiencing Ladies Lounge, their experience of rejection is the artwork,’ Kaechele told The Guardian at the time.

However, deputy president of the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Richard Grueber said the evidence put forward by MONA that the artwork promoted equal opportunity was ‘inconsistent’, adding ‘it is not apparent how preventing men from experiencing the art within the space of the Ladies Lounge, which is Mr Lau’s principle complaint, promotes opportunity for female artists to have work displayed’.

7 May: Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has launched an appeal to challenge an order from the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (TASCAT), following an anti-discrimination hearing, which demanded the museum allow ‘persons who do not identify as ladies’ entry into its Ladies Lounge installation.

In light of this appeal, Kaechele has said in a statement: ‘I’ve decided to take this to the Supreme Court. I think it’s worth exercising the argument, not only for the Ladies Lounge, but for the good of art, and the law. We need to challenge the law to consider a broader reading of its definitions as they apply to art and the impact it has on the world, as well as the right for conceptual art to make some people (men) uncomfortable. Ladies love the Lounge—a space away from men—and given what we have been through for the last several millennia, we need it! We deserve both equal rights and reparations, in the form of unequal rights, or chivalry—for at least 300 years.’

For now, in compliance with TASCAT’s ruling, the Ladies Lounge remains closed.

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