Australia Today

MONA Loses Legal Battle, Ordered to Allow Men Into Ladies Lounge Exhibit

The museum argued the refusal of men was the point of the artwork.
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU
Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art, in 2020. Photo by Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty Images

Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has been ordered to allow men into its Ladies Lounge art exhibit, after losing a legal battle at the Tasmanian civil and administrative tribunal (Tcat).

Earlier this year, NSW man Jason Lau took MONA to court for discrimination after he was denied entry to the museum’s Ladies Lounge exhibit last year.

The artist behind the exhibition, Kirsha Kaechele, told Guardian Australia in March she was “absolutely delighted” Lau was suing for gender discrimination, and argued that men’s rejection was the point of the artwork.


The Ladies Lounge, opened in 2020, is in a curtained-off corner of the museum that features lush drapery and velvet couches.

Attendees are served champagne from butlers and are invited to peruse some of the museum’s most important works, including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Sidney Nolan.

Kaechele, whose husband is MONA founder David Walsh, argued the work was a “response to the lived experience of women forbidden from entering certain spaces throughout history”, and promoted equal opportunity.

MONA’s legal team had relied on the court’s interpretation of a section of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which allows for discrimination in a situation designed to promote equal opportunity for a group of people who are disadvantaged or have a special need, a clause similar to those that allow most of Australia’s remaining women-only and men-only clubs to operate.

The Tcat judgement, delivered on Tuesday, found the museum was in contravention of the Act, and gave MONA 28 days to allow “persons who do not identify as ladies” into the exhibit.

In his judgement, deputy president of Tcat Richard Grueber said MONA’s equal opportunity defence was “inconsistent”.

He said, “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.”

Gruber noted the museum had stated if it were forced to allow men into the Ladies Lounge, they would remove the exhibit, as the refusal of men was the point of the artwork.


“The Ladies Lounge has a pointedly participatory component that is intentionally discriminatory, for a good faith artistic purpose that many might not only appreciate but sympathise with or endorse,” he wrote.

“If the Ladies Lounge offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed Mr Lau, or incited hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of Mr Lau, rather than discriminating against him, [MONA] might well have a good defence based on good faith artistic purpose. However, the Act does not permit discrimination for good faith artistic purpose per se.”

In his decision, Grueber commented Kaechele’s appearance at the hearing, where she was accompanied by 25 women in navy business attire and pearls.

In what Kaechele later described as an extension of the artwork, the cohort had performed synchronised movements during proceedings , including leaning forward, crossing their legs, and peering over their spectacles.

Grueber said while it didn’t disrupt the hearing, “it was inappropriate, discourteous and disrespectful, and at worst contumelious and contemptuous.”

Arielle Richards is the multimedia reporter at VICE Australia, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.