top of page

TASCAT's order to permit men entry to Mona's 'Ladies Lounge' is the exhibit's piece de resistance

Updated: Jul 8

By Lola Archibald



Graphics by Anna Liu

In April last year, Jason Lau was refused entry to Kirsha Kaechele’s Ladies Lounge, an art installation inside Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (‘Mona’). Lau’s exclusion was, by all accounts, the very point of the exhibit. Separated from the rest of the museum by a green silk curtain, and manned by a concierge who refuses entry to all who do not identify as women*, the Ladies Lounge is inspired by history’s persistent exclusion of women from ‘interiors.’1 Though the interior of the Lounge is undeniably a piece of art in itself - furnished with two Picassos and an ‘opulent black and white marbled floor’2 - the most meaningful part of Kaechele’s piece is its participatory element: behind the curtain, women engage in the subversive act of indulgence and exclusion in an autonomous space, while men are left on the outside, wondering what it must be like inside. 


Despite the artistic merit of his exclusion, Mr Lau was so frustrated at being refused entry to the Lounge that he filed a discrimination complaint with Equal Opportunities Tasmania. His complaint was ultimately referred to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, where Deputy President Richard Grueber decided that Mr Lau experienced ‘direct discrimination,’ consequently ordering that Mona ‘cease refusing entry to the exhibit known as the Ladies Lounge… by persons who do not identify as ladies.’3 While this determination is potentially surprising, (upon hearing the outcome, a friend messaged me: ‘What!!! Do men want to compensate women for excluding us for all of western human history then??’) the legislative context left little room for other conclusions. This was acknowledged by DP Grueber in his verdict, where he noted that even though the Ladies Lounge ‘may have a valid moral or ethical or pedagogical purpose,’4 in the face of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, Mona’s conduct was impermissible.


For feminists and art-lovers alike, the outcome of Lau v Moorilla Estate is potentially disappointing. However, I would suggest that the closing of the Lounge in this way is an extension of the art itself. After all, is it not the perfect conclusion that a piece which sought to suspend patriarchal reality should be closed because a man complained? 


The principal issue in Lau v Moorilla Estate was whether a ‘general exception’ applied to Mona’s conduct, rendering it permissible despite being discriminatory. Mona did not contest that refusing men entry to the Ladies Lounge amounted to ‘direct discrimination’ under section 14 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) (‘the Act). In fact, according to Ms Kaechele, the very ‘raison d’etre’ of the Ladies Lounge was discrimination based on gender.5 She emphasised the ‘real disadvantage’ and ‘unfavourable treatment’ that Mr Lau had suffered in his exclusion from the Lounge, describing it as the most ‘significant’ artwork in the Museum.6 Accordingly, Mona submitted that, despite being discriminatory, the Ladies Lounge was permissible under section 26 - the ‘Equal opportunities’ exception. 


Section 26 of the Act stipulates that ‘a person may discriminate against another person in any area if it is for the purpose of carrying out a scheme for the benefit of a group which is disadvantaged or has a special need because of a prescribed attribute.’7 This requires the discriminating party to show that their scheme could reasonably be capable of promoting the relevant equal opportunity, which is clearly linked to the relevant disadvantage.8 In submissions, Mona identified two disadvantages faced by women which the Ladies Lounge could, in their eyes, reasonably be considered as rectifying through creation of an opportunity. 


Firstly, Mona cited a widespread disparity in gender representation in art museums. Although he did not reference any statistical evidence, Mona’s curatorial director Jarrod Rawlins submitted that art by female artists is less exhibited than art by men; therefore, it was contended that the relevant ‘equal opportunity’ promoted by the Lounge was displaying women’s art.9 While the Ladies Lounge is an artwork by a woman, the contention that it creates an opportunity for women to have their work displayed is tenuous. DP Grueber noted that the Lounge ‘will not assist any female artist to be displayed at Mona or elsewhere, and will not preference the display of art by female artists over that of male artists.’10 Moreover, the exclusion of men from the Lounge does not facilitate the creation of this opportunity for women.11 Accordingly, Mona’s first argument failed. 


While perhaps unconventional, Mona’s second submission was that the Lounge promoted ‘equal opportunity to access to spaces by women.’12 Unlike their first submission, this ‘opportunity’ contemplates women generally as the ‘disadvantaged group,’ and not women artists specifically. This submission was championed primarily by Ms Kaechele herself, and was informed by the historic exclusion of women from spaces. In the hearing, Ms Kaechele explained that ‘[women] are so deeply embedded in the dominion of man that we do not see the myriad of ways in which we adhere to and multiply his reign. And for this reason we need the Ladies Lounge… an essential space for perspective and reset from this strange and disjointed world of male domination.13 She contended that, in the context of women’s historic exclusion by men, ‘section 26 [applies to the Ladies Lounge] in spades.’14 Unhappily, this line of argument did not take favour with DP Grueber, who found that ‘Ms Kaechele’s intention was clearly to address… wrongs… by advantaging women generally as opposed to addressing or redressing current substantive inequality of opportunity.’15 Therefore, Mona failed to identify a specific and contemporary disadvantage faced by women which the Lounge could reasonably address, and the section 26 exception could not be applied in this case. 


While DP Grueber’s order requires only that Mona cease to exclude men from the Ladies Lounge, and not that it close entirely, he acknowledges that ‘the Ladies Lounge would cease to have the artistic character that defines it if men are permitted entry.’16 Accordingly, without a successful appeal, it is likely that Mona will close the exhibit. While disappointing, this litigious finale - including both the actual decision, and the Tribunal hearing itself - have become an extension of Kaechele’s artwork. Accompanied by an entourage of women dressed in navy pantsuits, Kaechele told media outside the Tribunal that she was ‘absolutely delighted’ that Mr Lau was suing her.17 Inside the hearing, the group sat at the back, pointedly reading feminist literature and ‘shifting their posture in common and in unison in a coordinated manner’ before marching out to the Robert Palmer song Simply Irresistible. This conduct was criticised by DP Grueber as ‘inappropriate, discourteous, and disrespectful, and at worst contumelious and contemptuous.’18 Instead, I would praise them for refusing to take seriously both Mr Lau’s complaint, and the paradoxical content of the Anti-Discrimination Act, which would’ve excused Mona’s conduct on the basis of ‘good faith artistic purpose’19  if they had ‘intimidated, insulted… ridiculed… or incited hatred, serious contempt, or severe ridicule’20 against Mr Lau instead of merely discriminating against him. 


Kaechele’s Ladies Lounge was in all respects fantastical. The piece contrived for women a sense of control and power which generally does not exist for them in reality. It is fitting then, that the Lounge would be brought to a close by a male complainant, in a hearing heard by a man (even if a sympathetic one). This ending delivers the Ladies Lounge’s ultimate artistic impact, because it pulls the piece out of its own unreality to emphasise that the ‘Ladies Lounge,’ and everything it represents, was a fantasy all along.




 


Endnotes

1.  Lau v Moorilla Estate Pty Ltd [2024] TASCAT 58, [17] (‘Mona case’). 

2.  Ibid [14]. 

3.  Ibid [88]. 

4.  Ibid [76]. 

5.  Ibid [31]. 

6.  Ibid [15]. 

7.  Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) s 26. 

8.  Mona case (n 1) [58]-[59]. 

9.  Ibid [49], [52]. 

10.  Ibid [69]. 

11.  Ibid. 

12.  Ibid [72]. 

13.  Ibid [64]. 

14.  Ibid [63]. 

15.  Ibid [74]. 

16.  Ibid [84]. 

17.  Kelly Burke, ‘Artist behind Mona’s ladies-only lounge ‘absolutely delighted’ man is suing her for gender discrimination’, The Guardian (online, 20 March 2024) <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2024/mar/20/artist-behind-monas-ladies-only-lounge-absolutely-delighted-man-is-suing-for-gender-discrimination>.

18.  Mona case (n 1) [78]. 

19.  Ibid. 

20.  Ibid [8].

60 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page