I’m standing under a red digital sign that says The Nick Whyte 2 Gallery at the Museum of Old and New Art, trying to pay $15 to change its name to mine. That’s an actual feature of Mona’s new exhibition Namedropping – you can pay to name one of its gallery spaces after yourself, or whatever you like. Your text is then displayed above the space for all to see. At least until someone else pays incrementally more to do the same.

I’m having no luck paying on my phone – each time I get to the section where I type in my credit card, it says the link is expired. This is despite having the exhibition to myself, before the show officially opens at the Mona Gala. I’m sweating. Now is absolutely the only time I’ll ever be able to see my name on a gallery. Especially before it’s rammed with rich people. I try three more times to pay $15. No dice. Namedropping will not be dropping my name.

Namedropping – on now at Mona until April 21, 2025 – is about status. None of which I have, evidently. It’s about why we care about it, how it functions, how it’s evolved and how human evolution has been shaped by it. Developed over four years by a team of Mona’s curators and featuring around 250 pieces, Mona is the perfect place for such an exhibition, being a private museum constructed as tribute to its owner.

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Mona owner David Walsh says as much in the program: “I suspect (actually, I’m pretty sure) that I built [this] museum to enhance my status with people like you. People like you matter to people like me, because we are alike: we share some interests, and some beliefs. After you have visited Mona, or read this, you will hopefully have slightly shifted your interests and beliefs so that they align with mine more faithfully.”

I can say I was one of the first to see Namedropping – is that why I liked it? Or because I’m blithely aligned with Walsh’s interests and beliefs? More likely it’s because, like most humans, society has trained me to be moved by proximity to celebrity and power.

David Walsh has it. As does a bunch of stuff here: David Bowie’s handwritten lyrics to Starman; Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel; Picassos everywhere (including the toilet); and the various signatures of history’s authors like the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Mark Twain, J Robert Oppenheimer, Miles Davis and more. If you subscribe to the exhibition’s idea that “special objects and their history give us a sense of having acquired something of themselves, which we then take with us when we leave their orbit”, you’ll walk out of Namedropping dripping with (metaphorical) riches.

I subscribe. In the first of about a dozen rooms that make up Namedropping, there’s a small display case of ancient books, signatures and letters from Walsh’s personal collection. It includes Charles Darwin’s handwritten list of garden plants, correspondence to Dr Leonard D Hamilton, a British scientist involved in the determination of the structure of DNA, and a note from Isaac Newton. I find it weirdly moving. Who hasn’t saved a piece of confetti from a Prince show? A puppy’s tooth? Your first positive Covid test? It’s just instead of that trash, Walsh has covered the broad strokes of human achievement in a single cupboard.

They're parked metres away from another: a pristine black 1977 Holden Torana. Its authentic aura is lovingly described by Mona writer Michael Blake in the Gonzo section of the Mona app: “approaches degrees of real I feel out of my depth with”. Whether a hotted-up Torana is realer to you than the nearby first-edition book of Shakespeare’s collected plays (published in 1623 – only 235 of the original 750 copies still exist) depends on where you cash your status chips.

My riches were found in the art that operated as a portal to heavier themes. Vietnamese artist Danh Vo’s 16:32, 26.05 is just a chandelier on the floor. He didn’t create it; on January 27, 1973, it hung above the table inside the Hotel Majestic in Paris and witnessed the ceasefire agreement between the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong. The signature signalled the end of the Vietnam War (and South Vietnam). It altered history, which altered Vo’s life, which imbued this thing with a weight heftier than a well-made French chandelier.

Simon Denny’s Power Vest 6 is a puffer vest made from silk scarves. It’s cute. That thought begins to curdle when you learn the scarves belonged to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. As well as being the “most dominant and divisive force in British politics in the second half of the 20th century”, Thatcher favoured governmental authority and privatisation over local community, and a decade after her death she remains a pariah to the working class. Denny purchased the scarves at auction and reworked them into a Patagonia-style puffer vest, a nod to global power’s modern shift to the tech bros of Silicon Valley. It makes for a benign yet spooky thing, a simple vest tingling with the transference of power.

In another room there’s a scavenged doll of Oliver Twist chopped in half. According to UK artist Cornelia Parker, she chopped it with the same guillotine said to have sliced off Marie Antoinette’s head. According to the program: “The blade imbues the doll with the essence of history: the violence of social upheaval, and the hair-raising fact that real living, breathing human beings were once extinguished with such terror and efficiency.”

There’s conjecture about whether the guillotine was the precise blade that did the job on the last queen of France. “If the blade’s provenance were not to hold up, Parker’s sculpture would be drained of its status as a special object, its dread and potency. It would lose its essence, its direct contact with a special body and its special history. It would be rendered dull and ordinary.” Also, you couldn’t drop all those names. Which means it wouldn’t be here.

These kind of trapdoors to bigger themes only work if you’re unfamiliar with the backstory, which you could argue reveals a lack of depth to Namedropping. I’d seen Melbourne artist Darren Sylvester’s retro quilted Filet-O-Fish lounge before, and knew that Katy Perry had once sat on it. Seeing it here as an introductory centrepiece offered no further reveal. It’s fine to see the ornate case that accompanies the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, aka the most expensive album ever sold, but it wasn’t until hearing it that its layers began to unpack – for better and worse.

That evening, the ferry from Hobart to Mona for the gala looked like a scene from The Great Gatsby: adults-only in tuxedos and ballgowns, lurid coats over skimpy undergarments, kilts and multi-breasted armour chest plates. Stepping off the boat at the gallery, we were greeted by a gimp figure singing opera and a gang of dirt bike riders zooming up and down the steps to Mona in a smoky haze. Party time.

The decadent Mona Gala has been the traditional harbinger of Dark Mofo, which both did and didn’t happen this year. Following last year’s excellent cap on a decade of Dark Mofo, which saw an estimated $5.5 million at the box office and more than 100,000 tickets sold, the festival was cancelled in 2024 for a “period of renewal”.

Its footprint has lingered, despite the Mofo name being absent on the red flags flapping around town. Red lights lit shop windows, the Winter Feast was busy and flaming, and a handful of quality gigs and parties stoked a sense of occasion. While the city’s hotels, bars, markets and local artists were ruing the absence of mainlander cash, a Hobart friend put it neatly: “It feels good this year. Like it did when it started.”

Once inside the 600-strong gala, that sense of being burped out of the Magic Faraway Tree into random chapters of fantasy held strong.

I slurp chunks of jelly from a neon green cocktail and watch Rihanna stride towards me. Which is exciting. Until it’s clear it’s not Rihanna, but a Tiktok-famous lookalike. Like the questionable guillotine, her inauthenticity has rendered my interaction with her dull and ordinary. Though Rihanna herself has affirmed the resemblance. So my proximity to her proximity to Rihanna must be worth something?

“Stuff happening in the rainbow serpent room” came a text. “The naked people left but I saw someone in armour upstairs. The soccer tricks still going on.” Fearing the worst (a stroke), I entered the Sidney Nolan gallery to indeed see two kids on a small stage doing soccer tricks. They were replaced by a boxing match, before an energetic performance of Irish dancing. Dozens of people in pink balaclavas then emerged to roll along the floor and strip half-naked in some enthusiastic cardio situation. Behind me, a coffee cart pumped out Espresso Martinis.

According to my phone photos, this was 10:37pm. I got home at 3am. I don’t know what happened either. Some friends bumped into David Walsh and his wife Kirsha Kaechele admiring a tree in a Salamanca Place car park at 9am. I only mention it because Namedropping.

Namedropping runs until April 21, 2025. Marcus Teague travelled as a guest of Mona.