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Visiting Mass MoCA

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous

Yesterday, Eldest Son and I drove west from the Happy Valley to visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or Mass MoCA. For those who have not been, Mass MoCA is a converted industrial site that was once a fabric printing mill [1] and then an electronics manufacturer. After it had sat idle for some time, some brilliant folks at Williams suggested converting it to a museum for contemporary art. It was a fantastic idea.

I had gone because I wanted to see the Sol LeWitt wall murals [2]. But I appreciated the wide range of pieces that were there. I also appreciated the scope and scale of many pieces. It appears that Mass MoCA often gives artists access to full-size rooms (and by full-size, I mean full-size manufacturing rooms). It must be an amazing privilege as an artist to have full control over spaces that size.

As I visited, I considered whether I wanted to sample everything or to follow my colleague Jeremy Chen’s suggestion to pick a few pieces and devote significant amounts of time to them. Since it was my first visit, I decided I was best off trying to get a sense of the scope of the place. Sampling was worthwhile; I appreciated the scope of works that we were able to see, including LeWitt’s walls, Cauleen Smith’s videos and video-related installations, Trenton Doyle Hancock’s somewhat indescribable Mound series, ERRE’s moving piece on the wall entitled Them and Us, some Laurie Anderson videos [3], Jenny Holzer’s overwhelming work with words, Gunner Schoenbeck’s instruments, Annie Lennox’s Now I Let You Go…, and James Turrell’s light works [4]. We spent six hours there. I’m pretty sure that I could have spent a week or more [5].

When I return, there are many individual pieces I need to spend more time with. Certainly, the early LeWitt walls command more of my time, particularly Wall Drawing 305, The location of one hundred random specific points (The locations are determined by the drafters) and Wall Drawing 260A, On blue walls, all two-part combinations of white arcs from corners and sides, and white straight, not straight, and broken lines within a 36-inch (90 cm) grid. I did not spend nearly enough time with Adriana Corral and Vincent Valdez’ Requiem; Eldest told me that it was valuable to read the accompanying narrative that explains the meaning of dates. I need more time with Annie Lennox’s Now I Let You Go…, in part because I need to get better at letting physical things go [6]. I’d really like to see one of the Laurie Anderson limited-visitor pieces, although I’m not sure that I’d appreciate the VR piece. And I really need to spend more time immersed in the Jenny Holzer room. I’d also like to bring Middle Son to the Gunner Schoenbeck instrument room.

As I said, I could spend at least another week there. I wonder when I’ll find the time.

[1] Our tour guide claimed that the residents knew what color was being printed by the color of the river; I’m not sure if that’s really true.

[2] More on those in a future musing.

[3] We were not able to get reservations for either of the limited-entry Lennox exhibits.

[4] We were able to get into both of Turrell’s limited-entry exhibits. I’m not sure that my pupils dilated enough in his dark-room piece. But I enjoyed the darkness.

[5] Although not at one time.

[6] Item 92 is My Father’s Chanter Reeds and Tin Box. About these, Lennox writes,

You need to use special cane reeds to play the chanter. They’re very challenging to master. They need to be moistened by saliva until they can produce a sufficient sound. It takes time, patience, and a lot of breath. My father’s breath passed through these reeds. He kept them in this small cigar tin.

I don’t think I could have gotten rid of something like that, particularly with that backstory.

Version 1.0 of 2019-10-12.