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HOBART, Australia — For most of its existence, Tasmania was known as a faraway island at the bottom of Australia, a grim 19th-century redoubt where British colonial officers imprisoned convicts in the harshest of the empire’s jails and killed much of the aboriginal population.

So perhaps it was not entirely surprising when a wealthy local gambler and mathematician opened a lavish art museum here three years ago and announced with a flourish that it would be devoted to the themes of sex and death.

Yet, even with the tourism the museum has generated for the struggling Tasmanian economy, Mr.

Walsh, 53, is a figure local residents cannot quite embrace.

In the first catalog for MONA, he explained his motivation for the museum: “I invent a gambling system.

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The venture, housed in an underground labyrinth of sandstone and located on a spit of land upriver from this sleepy harborside city, conjured more darkness.

But then its owner and creator, David Walsh, slightly amended his original premise, opting instead for an idiosyncratic, 0 million museum that blends top international contemporary art with well-stocked bars and lounge areas.

The University of Tasmania, where he studied as an undergraduate, was close to a casino, where Mr. That will get the chicks.”Beneath the bravura, he says he has long been interested in why humankind has always made art.“He stripped down the old museum of white spaces and interpretation and created immersive material so that you don’t feel guilty if you are not learning something.”For many, the first glimmer of the museum — colloquially referred to by its friendly-sounding acronym, MONA — is a high-powered catamaran that glides from the city’s port down the Derwent River to the museum entrance.On the way, three bars serve Champagne, wine and beer (one is called the Posh Pit) accompanied by delectable pies and pastries prepared by onboard chefs.They can squirm at the “Cloaca Professional” by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who devised six machines suspended from the ceiling that every day duplicate human defecation, and its smells.“The museum is born of risk, just like David’s early life of gambling,” said Leigh Carmichael, a close collaborator of Mr.Walsh’s and the creative director of the museum’s winter festival.

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