A visit to MASS MoCA: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

MASS MoCA is a treasure of post-industrial western Massachusetts. The brick factory buildings in North Adams were once a print works, then an electrical component manufacturer (1942-1985), and since 1986 they've become a complex of galleries devoted to contemporary art, some at large scale. MASS MoCA also has performing arts—Blondie will be playing this summer, for example.

How can I describe my recent visit to MASS MoCA? Let's imagine I had an undiagnosed nutrient deficiency. I harbored a deep inner lack that I was not aware needed filling. I dragged myself through my days, not knowing or caring as my life essence silently ebbed.

And let's say that the museum was a copious buffet of rich, nourishing, delicious food. In this metaphor, I came away from MASS MoCA with my face smeared in triple chocolate cake, my hands sticky with marmalade, my clothes stained by grilled meats rubbed with exotic spices, and my belly full of crisp greens & lemony dressing, stinky soft cheeses, a single yet exquisite daikon radish slice, crisp falafel with 5-alarm hot sauce, small-batch lactofermented pickles, all sluiced down with Lipton iced tea made from powder—the beverage of my childhood. I came away feeling deeply fulfilled, bodily intrigued, and even a little jealous that I had been missing this multi-sensory feast so close to home.

Each exhibit gets its own brochure

It had been a long time since I'd visited a proper museum. I experienced several realizations.

One of these realizations is that art depends on each person's unique interaction with the work. The quirks and interests and experiences that make up your self merge with the artist's expression to become the "art." It is important to be there and to experience it in person.... which is why it's hard to write a blog post about it. It reminds me of the perfume reviews that I sometimes watch on Youtube. You can hear about the notes of the scent and how much the reviewer likes it, but without the scent IN YOUR NOSE it's just an empty nod to the reality.

Cosmic Latte, Spencer Finch

Another realization I had is that contemporary art is SO COOL. It made me think, it made me uncomfortable, it made me happy, it made me feel alive.

It gave me new obsessions, like the artists Liz Glynn and Sam McKinniss, who I am now stalking on social and print media. Liz Glynn has some talks about her work on youtube, and is coming to MASS MoCA in person in August—I want to go! Sam McKinniss writes reviews in ArtForum—this one on Grant Wood is so good.

Sam McKinniss portrait of Lana del Rey, part of "The Lure of the Dark" exhibition

A view of Liz Glynn's 30,000 square foot installation called "The Archaeology of Another Possible Future." I LOVED THIS. We visited it twice.

Detail—this is an "analog cave" about smell. Each ceramic vessel contains a scent.

Detail of Liz Glynn installation, positioned near shipping containers envisioning global economy in transition

There was an interactive music exhibit. The late Gunnar Schonbeck was a remarkable music professor at Bennington College who essentially believed that any object can be an instrument, and anyone can pick up and play. The exhibit dedicated to his work contained instruments he and his students made from wood, boxes, metal and plastic pipes and tubes, barrels, racks, air-pumps, and lots more. It was hands-on so created a wonderful musical racket depending on how many people were in the room at a time.

No photos allowed in the James Turrell exhibition "Into the Light." He explores the nature of light and the limited yet flexible abilities of the human eye. Light-room installations played with perspective, dark, and the light spectrum in a confusing, illuminating way.Go to MASS MoCA if you can!! I still can't believe it's so close to my home (about an hour's drive).

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