With 19 galleries, 110,000 square feet of exhibition space, and a new $6 million Sol LeWitt exhibition, the biggest contemporary art museum in the country seems just a little bit daunting. Herewith, our guide to what not to miss in 2008 at North Adams’s Mass MoCA.
“We’re all about giving artists carte blanche,” says curator Denise Markonish of MoCA’s fresh, often provocative exhibitions. So far, the formula is working, perhaps in part because there’ve been no permanent collections. That will change this November, when the eagerly anticipated Sol LeWitt retrospective, housed in its own 27,000-square-foot warehouse, opens. The collection of massive wall drawings, on display through 2033, joins an already impressive lineup of modern art. “The museum’s topography changes from white cubes to textured spaces, from huge areas to intimate ones,” says curator Susan Cross. “Some people come just to see the buildings.” 87 Marshall St., North Adams, MA, 413-662-2111, massmoca.org.
Jenny Holzer, Projections
Building 5 /
The site of much controversy—thanks to the partially erected Christoph Büchel installation Training Ground for Democracy, which was dissembled after the artist abandoned the project (and before it was viewed by the public)—Building 5 has been off limits to museumgoers for some time. It reopened last year with the decidedly calmer Projections, in which light beams of words, including poetry by 1996 Nobel Laureate Wistawa Szymborska, sweep continuously around the interior. Beanbag chairs are scattered across the football-field length expanse, allowing visitors to sit back and let the phrases slip over them.
Sol Lewitt, A Wall-Drawing Retrospective
Throughout the summer, the curious can watch 20 of Sol LeWitt’s assistants cover nearly an acre of wall space with more than 100 of the late artist’s wall drawings. The three-story building has already been structurally renovated specifically for the project. A founding father of the Minimal and Conceptual movements, LeWitt died last April shortly after completing the plans for this installation. “He designed it all before he passed away,” says Markonish. “This was his vision.”
Dré Wapenaar, Bad Pavilion
Cambridge architects Bruner/Cott tore down Building 9 to make way for Courtyard C, an outdoor space used for dance parties, concerts by musicians like Yo La Tengo, and films on a 50-foot-wide movie screen that hangs down one side of Building 7. Last summer, Dutch artist Dré Wapenaar canvassed the courtyard with permanent, overlapping, brightly hued canopies.
Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape
Building 4 /
A bank of windows lend a wide-angle view of the Porches Inn (a hotel set in restored row houses), and the south face of Travel Light (an outdoor bird mosaic). Inside, Badlands is a collection of recent artwork focused on the
Before MoCA took over, the former factory buildings stood rotting for eight years. Building 4’s decomposing wood floors guided Bruner/Cott to gut the space and create a bare-bones, 35-foot-tall gallery that acts as a stark backdrop for temporary exhibits. The cathedral-like room is punctuated by a second-floor Juliet balcony and the ceiling’s rib-like trussing.
Anslem Kiefer, Sculpture and Paintings
Building 4 /
The German artist’s 82-foot, 42-ton concrete sculpture, Etroits sont les Vaisseaux, arrived after the Connecticut Historic District Commission ordered it removed from a local art collector’s front lawn. The on-loan, jagged behemoth was craned into the gallery piece by piece.
Jarvis Rockwell, Wall Drawing
Jarvis Rockwell, North Adams resident and son of Norman, is best known for art made from hundreds of plastic action figures and toys. His drawing of a geometric landscape inhabited by floating faces is installed outside Kidspace, an art gallery where school groups and wee walk-ins participate in workshops.
Natalie Jeremijenko, Tree Logic
In 1999, New York–based artist/experimenter Natalie Jeremijenko potted six maple trees in stainless steel planters and hung them upside down from a trussing system suspended between eight telephone poles. The tree’s branches began to grow toward the sun, raising the question: What is truly natural?
Lickety Split Café
Building 11 / Lobby
The star of Tom and Cathy Ralys’s casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot is undoubtedly its homemade Herrell’s ice cream. New flavor debuts mean free samples for all; the bestselling Purple Cow—black raspberry with white and dark chocolate chunks—was created to honor the Williams College mascot.
Fransje Killaars, Installation Figures, Colors First
Building 11 /
Even with our spectacular fall foliage, “there’s not a lot of year-round color in New England,” says Cross, so she commissioned Dutch textile artist Fransje Killaars’s massive installation of Japanese fabrics, Indian blankets, and a grouping of figures draped in what look like day-glo burkas. Visit in the evening, when well-placed lights make the gallery explode with vibrant shades.
Miss Rockaway Armada
The Miss Rockaway Armada is a motley crew of artists and performers who spent last summer floating down the Mississippi on DIY rafts; this year, some members are sailing the Hudson River. For three weeks in March and April, the group will be in residence at MoCA, organizing an ongoing interactive installation that encourages visitors to record their stories.
The structure beneath the famous sans-serif “MASS MoCA” sign was purchased last summer by Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute, and the Berkshire art world is abuzz about its future. One idea involves using the space to display the Clark’s considerable decorative arts collection. MoCA director Joe Thompson will only say the partnership promises “a new way of seeing old art.” Speculation has plenty of time to reach a frenzy—Building 12 isn’t scheduled to open until 2011.