Photo Essay: Saturday Afternoon at MASS MoCA


We’re lucky to live close to several cultural treasures, including The Clark Art Institute just down the road from us in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and if you hang a left just before you get there, a few miles on you’ll arrive at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art—MASS MoCA—in North Adams. Yesterday was one of the museum’s ‘Community’ days, where there’s all sorts of interesting stuff going on, musical performances, lectures, et al., and admission’s free. It was a grey day and we hadn’t been in quite a long while, so The Chef suggested we make an afternoon of it. I shot over a hundred images, some on my iPhone because of tricky lighting within certain exhibits. I also found myself distracted by the architecture, in the best possible way. Since our last visit the museum has expanded dramatically, opening more of the old industrial buildings on its sprawling riverside campus, once home to Sprague Electric.

The first exhibit we visited was called We Already Have What We Need, by California-born artist Cauleen Smith. The accompanying text suggests she sets an optimistic tone, but I frankly found the artwork—most of it video installations—disturbing. That’s a good sign. “The title of her exhibition,” goes the text, “assures us that we have the tools to create the better world we yearn for.”

Argentinian Ad Minoliti’s Fantasías Modulares is a small exhibit with some of the most vibrant colors and bizarre, trippy imagery. “Trained as a painter, Minoliti draws on the rich legacy of geometric abstraction in her native country…where geometry was used as a tool for picturing utopian alternatives.” The Chef and I observed that this exhibit beckons kids to touch and interact with the fantastical, three-dimensional elements. Too bad, because, museum. No touch-y.

Neither The Chef nor I cared much for the Suffering From Realness exhibit, which “endeavors to shake us out of our frenzied state of hyperreality,” created by corporations and politicians. It was still thought provoking.

I love the evidence of historical building phases everywhere at MASS MoCA.

Probably my favorite exhibit is Ledelle Moe’s When, a collection of massive forms in concrete and steel. From the text: “Moe’s hollow, imperfect figures—fallen, recumbent, disembodied, marked, and scarred with the traces of their making and aging—subvert the usual characteristics of traditional monuments and memorials. [They] prompt questions about whom we choose to honor and remember and how.”

These five young women had angelic voices and serenaded museum goers from above in this acoustically alive hall; at this moment they were singing “Oh Shenandoah” acapella, in harmony.

I found Them and Us by Mexican artist Marcos Ramires, known as ERRE, far and away the most disturbing exhibit we saw all afternoon. It made me sad for where we find ourselves right now collectively as a nation, and also made me reflect about the importance of tolerance if we wish to be considered civilized.

Mexico is shown in bas relief in this bed of nails.

I was anxious to see ‘Now I Let You Go…’ by Annie Lennox, a dark and difficult-to-shoot collection of artifacts from her life, scattered about on massive piles of soil sprinkled with glitter, evocative of a landfill. In an artist’s statement she says, “We cling, consciously or unconsciously, to “things” that are endowed with significance—keeping memories alive, while the uncomfortable awareness of the inevitable moment of departure is held at bay.” If you know anything at all about her activism, you’ll find signs of it everywhere, too.

A long corridor holds several massive and interactive sculptures by Sarah Oppenheimer; they made me think of my kiddo when he was about eight or nine, and learning about simple machines. Each one of these sculptures moves so smoothly, even a child can manipulate them.

Several of Louise Bourgeois’ exquisite sculptures are currently on exhibit in a part of the museum we’d never seen.

Sometimes art is purely fun. Artist Jarvis Rockwell’s collection of toys and action figures floats high up in a stairwell corridor awash with filtered light, marching parade-like across glass panels. I tried to shoot from different angles, starting from down below.

The Bright and Hollow Sky is an exhibit of portraits of musicians (and a few other artists) from a private collection, many of these artists gone now. I couldn’t help thinking mainly of the self-destructive lifestyle that seems requisite for so many pop culture icons.

And elsewhere around the museum….

I leave you to reflect on this giant relic of a head, on another grey day in January, the perfect kind of day to contemplate such things.


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