Women-only exhibit in Australian museum set to install toilet to keep men out

The Ladies Lounge in the Museum of Old and New Art (Instagram/Museum of Old and New Art)
The Ladies Lounge in the Museum of Old and New Art (Instagram/Museum of Old and New Art)

A museum in Australia, fighting to keep an exhibition open only to women after a court ordered that men should be allowed entry under anti-discrimination laws, is installing a toilet in the gallery to keep them out.

An exhibit by American artist Kirsha Kaechele, titled “Ladies Lounge” at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Tasmania, was previously open only to those who identify as women.

It was closed after a man, New South Wales resident Jason Lau, sued the museum for denying him entry in April 2023.

The Tasmanian civil and administrative tribunal found the museum to be in violation of the state’s anti-discriminatory law and ordered Mona to allow “persons who do not identify as ladies” to enter the exhibition.

Mona appealed to reverse the ruling, arguing that the decision took “too narrow a view on women’s historical and ongoing societal disadvantage” and that the Ladies Lounge can “promote equal opportunity”.

Ms Kaechele said she will challenge the court’s 19 March ruling by ensuring that the space is “compliant” with regulations, and turn the space into a women’s toilet and a church – allowing it to operate as a women-only space under legal exemptions.

“I think it’s worth exercising the argument, not only for the Ladies Lounge, but for the good of art, and the law,” Ms Kaechele was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

“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.”

Inside the lounge, women are served champagne by male butlers while they have a private view of the displayed artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Sidney Nolan.

The space was inaugurated in 2020 – based on the concept of misogynistic old-fashioned Australian pubs – where women were largely excluded till the 1960s.

“There is a fabulous toilet coming to the Ladies Lounge, and so in that sense the Ladies Lounge will operate as a ladies’ room,” said Ms Kaechele.

“It’s a toilet that is celebrated the world round. It is the greatest toilet, and men won’t be allowed to see it.”

The toilet is on its way and will be installed in the next 45 days, The Telegraph reported.

Some of the more notable artwork will be moved into the existing women’s toilet to ensure “uninterrupted viewing”.

However, men who want to enter will be allowed to do so on Sundays – to learn how to iron and fold laundry.

“Women can bring in all their clean laundry and the men can go through a series of graceful movements (designed by a Rinpoche and refined by tai chi masters) to fold them,” she said, in an interview published by the museum on Tuesday.

Ms Kaechele, who has previously said she was “absolutely delighted” that the museum was taken to court, because the men’s experience of “rejection is the artwork” has now said that Lau’s lawsuit is a “blessing in disguise”.

“Thanks to the ruling, we have no choice but to open ourselves to a whole range of enriching experiences – spiritual, educational – to discover fascinating new possibilities, and to become better,” she said.