Court Orders Women-Only Exhibition to Admit Men

The Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in the city of Hobart must admit all paying visitors to Kirsha Kaechele’s installation “Ladies Lounge” (2020–ongoing), which previously only admitted women.

The April 9 judgment came to a head after a male visitor filed a complaint against the museum last month alleging discriminatory practices since he paid the full admission fee and was denied access to the art displayed inside “Ladies Lounge” because he doesn’t “identify as a lady,” per the suit.

“‘We are deeply disappointed by this decision,” said a MONA spokesperson in an email to Hyperallergic. “We will take some time to absorb the result and consider our options. We request that the artist’s privacy is respected at this time.”

Kaechele’s participatory art exhibition, luxuriously furnished and accessorized with inky green curtains, the museum’s most prized artworks, and male butlers serving champagne, was once open to “any and all ladies” and purposefully excluded male patrons as a response to Australia’s history of limiting women’s access to certain public spaces until recent decades.

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Kirsha Kaechele and her entourage exiting the courtroom after the “Ladies Lounge” hearing at the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on March 19 (photo by Charlotte Vignau/MONA)

The male visitor who took issue with this practice, Jason Lau of New South Wales, alleged that the museum and exhibition were breaching Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998 by denying him access to the gallery when he went to the museum on April 1, 2023. Lau alleged that he was not permitted to see various treasures from the museum’s collection that were hosted in “Ladies Lounge,” including original Picassos and international antiquities.

After the tribunal hearing on March 19, Kaechele told the Guardian she was “absolutely delighted” about the case. She argued that “men are experiencing ‘Ladies Lounge,’ their experience of rejection is the artwork” during the hearing as her power suit-clad entourage of over 20 supporters sat silently on the benches, folding and refolding their legs in unison and “pointedly reading feminist texts.” Kaechele and her entourage marched out of the courtroom to singer Robert Palmer’s 1988 pop anthem “Simply Irresistible.”

Now, MONA has 28 days to “cease refusing entry … by persons who do not identify as ladies.”

“Ms. Kaechele’s intention was clearly to address past wrongs of access by advantaging women generally as opposed to addressing or redressing current substantive inequality of opportunity,” Tribunal Deputy President Richard Grueber wrote in his judgment. Grueber also underscored that while neither he nor Lau immediately registered the behavior of the artist’s entourage as distracting, he considered it to be “at the very least inappropriate, discourteous and disrespectful, and at worst contumelious and contemptuous.”

It remains unclear if the museum intends to close the exhibition after the judgment. Prior to the hearing, Kaechele told Australian television outlet the Project that “‘Ladies Lounge’ would have to close, because the requirement would be that it opens to men, and that’s not happening” when asked what would happen if the ruling sided with Lau.

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