MASS MoCA: Bigger is better (1999)

Dubbed "A Cultural Factory for the 21st Century", the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary of Art (MASS MoCA) officially opened on May 30 as the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This news report first appeared in World Sculpture News, 5(3), pp. 21-2 in 1999.

MASS MoCA: Bigger is better

Occupying a 13-acre site composed of historic buildings in the town of North Adams, the Museum currently boasts 220,000 square feet of renovated space for galleries, theaters, rehearsal studios, art fabrication spaces, and commercial tenancies in six of the site’s 27 buildings. The price tag: US$31.4 million, including US$22 million from the Massachusetts State Government.

MASS MoCA intends to focus on three areas. These include “the work of artists charting new territory, works that blur the lines between visual and performing arts, and works that have been seldom—or never—been exhibited because of physical demands such as scale, materials, and fabrication methods.” For sculpture and installation, some spaces are intended for artworks that are too large to be viewed in more traditional interiors. Works currently on view include those loaned by the Guggenheim Museum, the Dia Center for the Arts in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and artist Robert Rauschenberg.

Carved out of factory architecture, gallery dimensions are immense. The biggest one is the largest in the United States— as long as an American football field— and currently houses Robert Rauschenberg’s The ¼ Miles or 2 Furlong Piece (1981-present). Described as a work in progress, the installation consists of 195 parts and is a “self-contained retrospective.” At almost 1,000 feet long, it is lengthy, yet it is intended to become one quarter of a mile on completion. Nearby, James Rosenquist’s The Swimmer in the Econo-mist (1997-1998) refers to post-divided Germany and “to the interdependent nature of the global economy.” It occupies a 130-foot-long space with a 40-foot ceiling and it can be viewed from three museum levels. Other monumental-scale pieces include Mario Merz’s Acceleration=Dream, Fibonacci Numbers in Neon and Motorcycle Phantom (1972), and Joseph Beuys’s Lighting with Stag in its Glare (1958-1985).

As part of the MASS MoCA’s launch, a billboard art retrospective occupies highways in and around North Adams. Art in the show includes billboards by the Guerrilla Girls, Joseph Kosuth, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Gran Fury, Keith Haring, and Les Levine, as well as new ones by Sue Coe, Gary Simmons, and Leon Golub. MASS MoCA has also commissioned site-specific sound installations by Walter Fähndrich and a collaboration by Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger. A permanent sound piece by Christina Kubisch plays from the complex’s 80-foot clock tower, and sound emits according to the intensity of light.