Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MASS MoCA

Today I took a road trip south and checked out the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, Mass.  It was a stellar trip and a great day for a drive out of town.


The museum is located in a defunct factory complex that used to be the home of Sprague Electric.  The gallery is housed in several buildings connected by elevated ramps and currently has seven exhibitions within the building.  Though it is well renovated, warm and authentic, something about it reminds me of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.


I believe MASS MoCA did all they could to keep the original walls and ceilings of the factory, which I felt wildly contrasted or influenced several parts of their exhibition space.  Actually there were instances where the walls were more intriguing than the works, but I am aware that is purely personal preference.  Some photos to humor me here...


 
But overall there was a weird sort of claustrophobic air in parts of some of the galleries.  As you can see here, walls are almost stacked upon each other.  
Sol LeWitt exhibition, lower level

This particular exhibit I'd say is the focal point of MASS MoCA: an exhibit of work by Sol LeWitt that takes up 27,000 square feet of space and will be on display for 25 years.

I have to say though I am not a huge fan of the end product of his work, LeWitt's intent was not the finished product but rather the idea and implementation behind it.  He was predominantly a conceptual artist.  According to MASS MoCA, he "challenged the way the contemporary art world considers art by rejecting the notion of art as a unique and precious object...championing conceptual art and valuing ideas over material form" (project description podcast, MASS MoCA).  Apparently he considered the idea to be the artwork and the implementation of that idea purely mechanical execution.  A vast amount of pieces attributed to Sol LeWitt were created, or 'performed,' by other artists, draftsmen and students. 


Wall Drawing 289  Sol LeWitt
More from the project description podcast; "...Instructions for the drawings are conceived by LeWitt while other artists physically execute the work, much like the way musicians perform the work of a composer."

This relates strongly to the Memery: Imitation, Memory, and Internet Culture exhibition that was on the top floor.  Shown in this separate gallery are works based on internet memes by several international artists.  The one I was quite taken with was the video essay Versions by Oliver Laric (2010).  This video visually compares pieces of sculpture, film, etc. that are different versions of each other (altered copies) while playing audio that is a discussion/dissection of the phenomenon of replication.  Near the end of the film the subject of music and performance crops up that I think dovetails interestingly with MASS MoCA's LeWitt podcast.  "A sculpture cannot merely be copied but always only staged or performed.  It begins to function like a piece of music whose score is not identical to the piece,  the score being not audible, but silent.  For the music to resound it has to be performed." (Laric, 2010)

In this context, the composer is an artist of ideas, such as LeWitt.  Though in music, I could argue that generally speaking, the quality of the performance trumps the score when considering what the audience values most.

There were two other exhibits worth mentioning that were enjoyable to visit.  One was Sub Mirage Lignum, works of Nari Ward.  Shown are two incredibly large sculptures, one which must have been built on site called Nu Colossus that looks like the innards of a digesting whale made of woven wood.  Pretty neat stuff.  If you click on that link you'll see a slide show of that work, as well as the piece Mango Tourists.  Here may have been another environment where I was feeling implications to the Holocaust museum due to the vintage factory walls.  It is amazing what impact the environment can have on an art piece.

The last exhibit was called The Workers.  My favorite piece was a video (there were a lot of videos on exhibit throughout the museum, somewhere around 8 pieces?) by Jaime Pitarch called Dust to Dust (2005).  This video opens with a person sweeping in an abandoned industrial space and exiting the scene, and ended 25 minutes later when all the dust had settled.  Cool stuff.  Maybe more on this later.

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