Man Sues Museum After Being Denied Entry Into a Women-Only Art Installation

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Mar 20, 2024

The Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) in Hobart, the capital of the Australian state of Tasmania, faces a lawsuit after denying entry to Jason Lau at the Ladies Lounge art installation.

In April 2023, Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner denied Lau entry, prompting him to file a complaint alleging discrimination based on his gender.

What Is the Ladies Lounge?

American artist and curator Kirsha Kaechele created The Ladies Lounge, which opened in December 2020. According to the MONA website, the exhibition is accessible to “any and all ladies.”

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A woman wearing a green satin glove reaching out for a menu

Source: MONA/Facebook

This meant that men, except for the butlers who cater to the women within the exhibition, were not allowed to enter.

The Inspiration for the Ladies Lounge

The Ladies Lounge drew inspiration from the male-only spaces in Australia from the past and present. Before 1965, public bars in Australia were predominantly male domains, with women gaining the right to enter such spaces freely only in that year.

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A tray holding glasses of champagne

Source: Rene Asmussen/Pexels

These public bars aimed specifically at women were known as “ladies lounges.” These spaces were often smaller areas that sold more expensive drinks to their female customers.

Jason Lau Takes the Ladies Lounge to Court

According to the New York Times, Lau said at the hearing that he purchased a ticket to the MONA under the expectation that he would have access to the entire museum.

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A wide shot of the courtroom

Source: Library of Congress/Picryl

“… I was quite surprised when I was told that I would not be able to see one exhibition, the Ladies Lounge,” Lau said. “Anyone who buys a ticket would expect a fair provision of goods and services.”

Jason Lau Wants an Apology and Access to the Ladies Lounge

Lau demanded Kaechele issue a formal apology for excluding men from the Ladies Lounge and insisted on allowing men to enter the Lounge or on receiving a discounted ticket price to compensate for their inability to experience the entire museum compared to women.

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A group of women dressed in matching suits and red lipstick

Source: Kirsha Kaechele/Instagram

Kaechele has made it clear how she feels about the matter. “I’m not sorry,” she said, “and you can’t come in.”

Kaechele Says Discrimination Is Part of the Art Installment

Kaechele said in an interview (via the New York Times) that she agreed that Lau had experienced discrimination, but that was the point of the installation. The artist and her lawyers state that denying men access is still allowing them to experience the exhibition.

A wide shot of the MONA on the waterfront

Source: MONA/Facebook

“Given the conceptual power of the artwork, and the value of the artwork inside the artwork, his detriment is real,” Kaechele said. “He’s at a loss.”

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A Way Around the Complaint

Kaechele’s lawyer, Catherine Scott, argued for a legal loophole, stating that discrimination can be justified if it aims to “promote equal opportunity for a disadvantaged group defined by a specific characteristic.”

A person holding a glass of champagne over a pink tablecloth

Scott said in an interview (via the New York Times), “This case asks the tribunal to appreciate that art may, in fact, promote equal opportunity in a different way, in a way that’s more at a conceptual level.”

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Other Men Have Complained About the Exhibit

This isn’t the first time that Kaechele’s work has been a point of contention for men. In August 2023, another male visitor filed a complaint of gender discrimination over the work.

A man in a white button up rubbing his head in fustration

Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

“I said, ‘Well, you did get to experience the artwork because the exclusion of men is the artwork,’” Ms. Kaechele said. “So he appreciated that, he understood, and he dropped the case.”

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Women Still Face Discrimination in Australia

The Ladies Lounge is more than a reflection of the past discrimination against women in Australia. The gender pay gap in the country is a staggering 20 percent. Women are also missing from leadership and management positions in almost every industry, according to the Australian government.

A woman wearing a green satin glove holding up a menu

Source: MONA/Facebook

Unfortunately, there are still places in Australia that do not allow women to become members.

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Gentlemen Club Still Exist 

Australia has a large number of elite gentlemen’s clubs, like the Melbourne Club. These clubs are exclusive to men.

Man in a Peaked Cap Drinking Whisky and Smoking a Cigar

Source: Dylann Hendricks/Pexels

These clubs seem to exist to connect men and reinforce power structures that have been in place for centuries. Kaechele reflects on the absurdity of these power structures in her art, which is pointedly feminist in how it takes access and power from men.

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The Ladies Lounge Isn’t as Serious as Gentlemen’s Clubs

The lounge isn’t as elitist as the gentlemen’s clubs in Australia. “In our lounge, we’re just drinking champagne and sitting on the sofa. I don’t think it’s much of a parallel.”

A woman holding a glass of champagne in a pink colored room

Source: Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

Through her absurdist and satirical work, Kaechele aims to jolt men into recognizing the ongoing marginalization of women in Australian life. Kaechele said, “It’s meant to illuminate the past and be lighthearted, and we can only do that because we’re women and we’re lacking power.”

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The Point of Noisy Art 

Closing the Ladies Lounge at MONA, due to the discrimination case, could bring some unintended benefits to Kaechele’s work.

Shallow Focus Photography of Paintbrush

Source: Daian Gan/Pexels

“Noisy art is good art, noisy feminism is good feminism,” art historian Anne Marsh said. “It gets it on the agenda.”

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