The Moo Brew series of works by John Kelly (b.1965) were originally commissioned as paintings for MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania, to be adapted for its Moo Brew craft beer labels, which has since become an iconic, award-winning brand.
The present set of seven etchings are based on the original paintings that now belong to the permanent collection of MONA. The publication of this limited edition of etchings marks the 10-year anniversary of Moo Brew.
And the story goes: When David Walsh, MONA’s eccentric owner and founder, reached out to John Kelly, the artist was having a war with the Australia Council over their attempt to introduce the branding of art in Australia. The Council had just spent about two hundred grand on a style guide on how to use their logo and how to emphasize “friendly and down-to-earth” characters in branding the country’s art. Outraged by what he saw as the Council’s attempts to commoditize and brand fine art, Kelly took the sun and kangaroo from the Australia Council’s logo, defying the organization’s orders not to tamper with the logo motif and mashed them up with Sidney Nolan's Boy and the Moon, which is a famous abstract work well before its time, to create moody yet humorous images with strong graphic qualities. In an ultimate act of commercialization, Kelly sold them to MONA for its beer labels. Besides, what could possibly be more “friendly and down to earth” than beers?
The Moo Brew images have a pop-culture feel to them; they reference Nolan (who is being collected in depth and featured prominently at MONA) and embody the cheeky, unruly, a bit of an up-yours spirit shared by Kelly's artistic practice and the Tasmanian institution. Conceived during MONA’s formative years, the Moo Brew art in many ways helped set the tone for the institution’s brand voice in the years that followed.
In the words of Leigh Carmichael, MONA's Creative Director, "[Kelly's] work was objecting to the concept of branding the arts, because conformity and homogeneity are at odds with the diverse and rebellious heritage of good artistic practice... So when John Kelly ‘sold out’ to David Walsh, he knew exactly what he was doing, and the project went full circle.” (As told to The Mercury in an interview dated October 28, 2016)
Examples of John Kelly's paintings, sculptures, and prints are held in various public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Text by: Seol Park, Curator & Art Advisor