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Events 02/03/2020

02/03/2020 (Monday)

Janice Kerbel - Slip

Building #6

At once poetic and darkly comedic, Janice Kerbel’s Slip uses graphic musical notation to imagine the trajectory of a body in mortal peril as it slips on a banana peel. Moving from very small to very large print along an upward curve before suddenly crashing downward, Slip unfolds across more than 100 running feet of wallspace in MASS MoCA’s newly renovated B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building. The work calls on the history of graphic notation, physical comedy, and concrete poetry to create a visual representation of a brief moment across both space and time. Situated just outside of the new galleries devoted to the musical instruments of Gunnar Schonbeck and works by experimental musician and artist Laurie Anderson, Slip conflates visual art and musical performance — cornerstones of MASS MoCA’s program — at a grand architectural scale.


Spencer Finch Cosmic Latte

Spencer Finch, the subject of a major mid-career survey at MASS MoCA in 2007 titled What Time is it on the Sun?, returns to the museum in May 2017 with a long-term installation commissioned and designed in conjunction with MASS MoCA’s Phase III expansion. Bringing the starry night inside the museum, Finch’s light-based work, Cosmic Latte features over 150 specially fabricated LED fixtures that will be suspended from the ceiling over an expanse of the 80-foot long gallery. The constellation of LEDs will be arranged in the gently arching shape of the Milky Way as it is observed in the Northern Hemisphere in March. The work’s title, Cosmic Latte, refers to the name for the average color of the universe, which in 2009 was determined to be more beige than what has been traditionally thought of as blue. Two American astrophysicists studied the color of the light emitted by 200,000 galaxies and created a cosmic spectrum, which they then blended according to the light spectrum visible to human eyes. Finch represents that specific warm, yellowish-white shade of light with LED lights (designed to look like incandescent bulbs), which are then arranged in the shape of the molecular models of the pigments needed to create this “cosmic latte” color: titanium white, Mars yellow, chrome yellow, and a touch of cadmium red.

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective

After nearly six months of intensive drafting and painting by a team of some sixty-five artists and art students, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective is fully installed. The historic exhibition opens to the public at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), in North Adams, Massachusetts, on November 16, 2008, and will remain on view for twenty-five years. Conceived by the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, in collaboration with the artist before his death in April 2007, the project has been undertaken by the Gallery, MASS MoCA, and the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective comprises 105 of LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawings, spanning the artist’s career from 1969 to 2007. These occupy nearly an acre of specially built interior walls that have been installed—per LeWitt’s own specifications—over three stories of a historic mill building situated at the heart of MASS MoCA’s campus. The 27,000-square-foot structure, known as Building #7, has been fully restored for the exhibition by Bruner/Cott & Associates architects, which has closely integrated the building into the museum’s main circulation plan through a series of elevated walkways, a dramatic new vertical lightwell, and new stairways.

The works in the exhibition are on loan from numerous private and public collections worldwide, including the Yale University Art Gallery, to which LeWitt designated the gift of a major representation of his wall drawings, as well as his wall-drawing archive.

Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, states, “Watching this grand installation of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings progress over the past six months has been nothing short of thrilling. In addition to providing an enduring exhibition of great beauty, this retrospective will enable visitors to behold for the first time the full trajectory of a major aspect of Sol’s artistic career. Until today, the only way to view multiple LeWitt wall drawings has been to travel far and wide, pursuing them individually in situ or in temporary museum exhibitions. Now, visitors will be able to return to MASS MoCA again and again to experience this visual feast of Sol’s wall drawings in a single location, doing so at their leisure over the next twenty-five years.”

LeWitt—who stressed the idea behind his work over its execution—is widely regarded as one of the leading exponents of Minimalism and Conceptual art, and is known primarily for his deceptively simple geometric structures and architecturally scaled wall drawings. His experiments with the latter commenced in 1968 and were considered radical, in part because this new form of drawing was purposely temporal and often executed not just by LeWitt but also by other artists and students whom he invited to assist him in the installation of his artworks.

Each wall drawing begins as a set of instructions or simple diagram to be followed in executing the work. As the exhibition makes clear, these straightforward instructions yield an astonishing—and stunningly beautiful—variety of work that is at once simple and highly complex, rigorous and sensual. The drawings in the exhibition range from layers of straight lines meticulously drawn in black graphite pencil lead, to rows of delicately rendered wavy lines in colored pencil; from bold black-and-white geometric forms, to bright planes in acrylic paint arranged like the panels of a folding screen; from sensuous drawings created by dozens of layers of transparent washes, to a tangle of vibratory orange lines on a green wall, and much more. Forms may appear to be flat, to recede in space, or to project into the viewer’s space, while others meld to the structure of the wall itself.

MASS MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson comments, “With this exhibition, Sol LeWitt has left an amazing gift for us all. Great art draws upon previous artists, but also contradicts and contravenes. And the most essential art argues for new ways of seeing, even as it is almost immediately absorbed into the work that surrounds and supersedes it. As I believe will be evident in this landmark exhibition, LeWitt’s wall drawings rise to those highest of standards. We look forward to having this amazing collection of works on long-term view as a sort of proton at the center of our museum around which our program of changing exhibitions and performances will orbit with even more energy.”

Project History

The impetus for Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective was a 2004 conversation between Reynolds and LeWitt. This evolved and resulted in a commitment by the artist to give a substantial number of his wall drawings and his entire wall-drawing archive to the Yale University Art Gallery, which already owned an extensive array of LeWitt’s art in multiple mediums. Realizing that the Gallery did not have enough space to install and maintain a large number of the artist’s wall drawings at any one time, Reynolds suggested to LeWitt that MASS MoCA, with its historic mill complex, growing audience, and history of realizing ambitious new works of art, might be able to accommodate an extended retrospective of the works.

Reynolds and LeWitt then met with Thompson, who introduced the artist to Building #7. The structure, situated at the center of MASS MoCA’s multi-building complex and featuring large banks of windows that open onto two flanking courtyards, appealed to LeWitt as an ideal site for a multi-floor installation of his work. In addition to the new interior walls, which he designed in consultation with Bruner/Cott & Associates, his specifications for the space included a plan that would leave nearly all of the existing exterior masonry walls and large windows intact, providing direct side lighting and offering beautiful views to surrounding courtyards and the Berkshire Hills beyond. Bruner/Cott integrated the galleries with MASS MoCA’s existing plan by re-activating existing elevated connector-bridges and adding new ones, and by creating a new three-story lightwell. The design thus links the building to MASS MoCA’s signature Building #5 and provides vertical circulation and handicapped access.

Retrospective Installation and Education Opportunities

“Detailed,” “painstaking,” and “strangely liberating” are terms that have been used to describe the experience of creating Sol LeWitt’s monumental wall drawings. The drawings at MASS MoCA were executed over a six-month period by a team comprising twenty-two of the senior and experienced assistants who worked with the artist over many years; thirty-three student interns from Yale University, Williams College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and fourteen other colleges and universities; and thirteen local artists and recent graduates and post-graduates from many of the nation’s leading studio-art programs. MASS MoCA’s North Adams location, just five miles from Williams College, offers a unique educational opportunity for Williams’s undergraduates and those enrolled in its graduate art-history program at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute to participate in this special exhibition. Like Yale, Williams is among the primary training grounds for professionals in the field of art history, and the LeWitt collaboration, to be accompanied by a variety of educational programs, will offer students many opportunities to study the work of this important artist.

In conjunction with the project, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is creating a series of programs and shorter-term companion “teaching exhibitions” in a space at the entrance of Building #7 and at the WCMA. The first of these, The ABCDs of Sol LeWitt, opens at WCMA on November 14, 2008. It includes important works from LeWitt’s private collection that help elucidate the underlying grammar of the artist’s work and ideas.

WCMA Director Lisa Corrin says, “Our goal is to have Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective serve as an extension of the Williams campus—a classroom of sorts for our students and those from other colleges and universities. LeWitt’s art offers challenging teaching opportunities for faculty from across academic disciplines. The WCMA staff will help professors craft curricula related to the exhibition. All three of the museums partnering in the retrospective play a major role in the training and support of many of the artworld’s future leaders, and this adventurous collaboration will offer a new generation of students unprecedented firsthand exposure to the work of a major artist of our time.”

Exhibition Publication

On the occasion of Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, MASS MoCA and Yale University Press are producing Sol LeWitt: 100 Views, a hardcover book with 100 new essays. Contributors are drawn from a wide array of expertise and fields of specialization. Authors include critics and scholars Lynne Cooke, Chrissie Iles, Lucy Lippard, Saul Ostrow, Ingrid Sischy, and Robert Storr, and visual and performing artists John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Lucinda Childs, Chuck Close, Steve Reich, Matthew Ritchie, and Dorothea Rockburne, among many others. The publication, which includes 150 color plates, may be ordered through Hardware: The MASS MoCA Store.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings: A Catalogue Raisonné

In 2010, the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale University Press will co-publish Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings: A Catalogue Raisonné. The basic design for this three-volume scholarly resource, a project of the Gallery, was created by the artist during his lifetime. The book will contain descriptive texts, diagrams, installation photographs, and more for all of the 1,261 wall drawings that LeWitt realized from 1968 to 2007. A DVD illustrating both the proper uses of materials and drawing techniques to be employed in realizing LeWitt’s basic “families” of wall drawings will also be included, providing a helpful guide to their proper future installation, as well as to the drawings’ long-term care and conservation.

Conserving the Legacy of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings

To additionally preserve the artistic legacy of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings in perpetuity, the Yale University Art Gallery has endowed a position for a drawing conservator through the generosity of Yale alumnus Theodore P. Shen, b.a. 1966, and his wife, Mary Jo Shen. In time, this conservator will oversee the LeWitt wall-drawing archive and other works on paper at Yale and will train new assistants to install the artist’s wall-drawing collection at Yale as well as those owned by individuals and public institutions worldwide.

Sol Lewitt Structures

A new adjunct to MASS MoCA’s long-running Sol LeWitt exhibition A Wall Drawing Retrospective , a concise selection of the artists’ three-dimensional sculptures is on view in B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building. The works illustrate the generative potential for LeWitt’s serial approach.

Franz West: Les Pommes d’Adam

Hall Art Foundation at MASS MoCA

Franz West’s Les Pommes d’Adam – a monumental outdoor sculptural ensemble on extended loan from the Hall Art Foundation – opens on the MASS MoCA campus, in its first presentation in the United States and its second-ever showing. The sculpture was previously exhibited in 2007, when it was installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris next to Napoléon Bonaparte’s Vendôme Column. Les Pommes d’Adam will be exhibited adjacent to the Hall Art Foundation’s 10,000 square-foot building dedicated to the work of Anselm Kiefer, whose spring reopening –

When Franz West’s Les Pommes d’Adam was first displayed in Paris’ Place Vendôme in 2007, the exhibition curators noted that the sculpture took its name and inspiration from the Adam’s apple, pointing to the distinctive anatomical profile of a man’s throat. The public, however, interpreted the gathering of bubblegum-pink sculptures in a slightly more provocative way, locating the reference lower on the male torso.

West would have reveled in the confusion, having once said, “It doesn’t matter what art looks like, but how it is used.” The use of art, and its interpretation by individuals, was always of interest to West. Among his earliest works are the Paßstücke, or Adaptives, a series of small, portable plaster objects, a selection of which was exhibited at MASS MoCA in 2002. Adaptives were made to be picked up and manipulated by the viewer, their meaning changing with use. Some might be utilized as bookends or flower vases, while others may be displayed on sculptural plinths.

Les Pommes d’Adam, like much of West’s work, is infused with humor and a particular delight in visual and linguistic puns. It pokes, provokes, and makes us reconsider our physical and psychological relationship to art. The sculpture’s evocation of the human body recalls the work of the Actionists, a group of artists prominent in Vienna while he was a student at the Academy of Applied Arts. Like the American Fluxus group, the Actionists sought to create art outside the usual gallery and market structure, often as free-form events or happenings that yielded abstract works of art and ritualistic, body-oriented performances.

Les Pommes d’Adam is rough-hewn and made of basic materials: metal, epoxy, paint, and concrete. The 4 pink biomorphic totems, each standing at approximately 25 feet, are at once crude in shape, yet highly finished. In its Paris showing, Les Pommes d’Adam was installed in close proximity to the Vendôme Column, on top of which stands a statue of Napoléon Bonaparte in Roman garb. West’s presentation of Les Pommes d’Adam at the Place Vendôme engaged and perhaps parodied the Napoleonic Column, prompting viewers to reinvestigate it and its role in the history of Paris and France. The idiomatic expression, “Napoleon complex,” for example, takes on new meaning in light of the apocryphal tale of the etymology of the term “Adam’s apple.” According to the biblical passage, the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was an apple tree. When Eve gave Adam a piece of the tree’s forbidden fruit and he ate it, a fragment became lodged in his throat. The Adam’s apple thus serves as a permanent reminder of the folly of desiring that which one should not have, or know. Likewise, with its monumental, if not pretentious, scale, Les Pommes d’Adam may offer a playful warning about the perils of unbridled ambition.

Mary Lum Assembly (Lorem Ipsum)

Artist Mary Lum, who lives in North Adams, works in a range of media, including wall drawing, painting, collage, photography, and artist books. Language plays an important role in her practice, with the artist drawing on texts from a diversity of sources, including literature, psychoanalysis, and the news. Lum has been included in three previous exhibitions at MASS MoCA in the past fifteen years; for the opening of Building 6 she was commissioned to create a large-scale wall work for the bike tunnel that transverses the ground floor of Building 6, piercing one of MASS MoCA’s biggest buildings to connect Adams-North Adams-Williamstown bike trails. Lum’s monumental painting, covering four walls, is inspired by Lorem ipsum, the meaningless text that graphic designers and typesetters use as mock filler content as placeholders for actual texts, and which was originally drawn from Cicero’s writings on ethics. The intricate work vibrates between writing, image, and pattern, and speaks to the fragmented way in which we acquire information and see language in today’s world. Mirrored interludes provide a vibrant backdrop to passing cyclists.


Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson is one of today’s premier multimedia artists, known for her achievements as a visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, vocalist, and instrumentalist, and her innate ability to meld her dynamic practices into new and vibrant forms. Her seemingly boundless oeuvre includes the creation of books, albums, and performances that incorporate film, slides, recorded audio, live music, and spoken word. Anderson has long been recognized as a groundbreaking leader in the use of technology in the arts and has developed new musical instruments, including the tape bow violin, in which the bow has been replaced with magnetic audiotape and the bridge with a reader. She was one of MASS MoCA’s first artists-in-residence and has returned to the museum many times to develop and discuss works-in-progress. In MASS MoCA’s Building 6, Anderson will create a multi-functional environment that will serve as a working studio, audio archive, and exhibition venue, highlighting both her creative process and some of her most unforgettable works.

Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s concise, often enigmatic, writings infiltrate public life and consciousness through everyday objects such as LED panels and stone benches, as well as her paintings and sculpture. She is best known for her light projections, begun when she illuminated the banks of the Arno River with her writings in 1996. In these projections, which have now appeared in over 40 cities in 20 countries, stark block lettering is thrown onto landscapes and architecture, creating ephemeral graffiti that links her early street-based practice to her long-standing engagement with media, and tactics common to news and advertising. Following her monumental installation in MASS MoCA’s Building 5 in 2007, which marked her first indoor projection in the U.S., Holzer returns with a campus-wide program, timed to the opening of Building 6 in May 2017. The program will include a large-scale outdoor projection on the side of Building 6, a series of her celebrated carved stone benches located throughout MASS MoCA’s sprawling campus, an exhibition of her early posters, and additional rotating exhibitions of her work in Building 6, spanning the breadth of her career.

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois described her artistic practice as an attempt to work through whatever tumult plagued her — psychologically, personally, artistically — to find perfect harmony. Her work often references human anatomy and sexuality, in some instances overtly and in others more subtlely through organic and ambiguous forms. Her oeuvre encompassed drawings, paintings, textiles, embroidered works, sculpture, and installations ranging in scale from a few inches to fully immersive environments. Bourgeois began working with marble in the early 1960s while living in Avenza, Italy, and the medium proved particularly compelling for the artist — its resilience and difficulty pushing her creative boundaries. For Building 6, MASS MoCA, in partnership with the Louise Bourgeois Trust, will present a group of the artist’s marble sculptures, some of which have never been seen previously. The works fluctuate between the whimsical and the grotesque, the threatening and the nurturing, highlighting Bourgeois’ investigations of dualities and the pursuit of identity, individual and communal. The installation also speaks to the artist’s interest in monumental scale, with one sculpture weighing in at more than 10 tons. The design of the gallery that will house these works in Building 6 was constructed specifically to hold the weight of such works.

James Turrell

In James Turrell’s hands, light is more than simply a source of illumination: it is a discrete, physical object. His sculptures and architectural interventions elevate our experience and perception of light and space. Squares of sky seem to float, suspended, in ceilings or walls; architecture disintegrates; and brilliant geometric shapes levitate in midair. Turrell began using light as a sculptural medium in 1966, painting the windows of his studio in Santa Monica to seal off the natural light and experimenting with projections. His practice has been shaped by the ongoing manipulation of architecture, framing and altering the way viewers engage with the environment. A pioneer in the Southern California Light and Space movement, MASS MoCA will present a multi-decade retrospective of Turrell’s work in Building 6 — with galleries designed and constructed specially to best accentuate his installations. This exhibition will feature a major work from each decade of the artist’s career.

Barbara Prey

Renowned watercolor artist Barbara Ernst Prey paints a monumental watercolor for MASS MoCA’s expansion. Prey’s work will be 8 feet tall by 15 feet wide and depicts the interior of Building 6 just prior to the start of construction.

Best known for her plein air paintings, Prey’s commission sets a new benchmark for the size and scale of watercolor works on paper, among the most unforgiving combination of any painterly media. Her piece will tackle the vast horizontal spread of Building 6’s second floor, which comprises a full acre of floor area, with some 400 columns, hundreds of windows, and layers and layers of paint. “This commission is a painter’s dream, an engaging subject combined with a breathtaking scale for this media,” says Prey. “I have long admired MASS MoCA’s commitment to breaking boundaries in commissioning and presenting new works, and am thrilled to have been asked to create a piece that celebrates the organization’s ongoing growth and success. The architecture, the light, the colors, and the different textures of the space in Building 6 are all compelling subjects, and this piece has pushed my boundaries as an artist, opening up new perspectives on watercolor painting.”

Prey’s paintings are included in some of the most important public and private collections around the world, including The White House (one of two living female artists), the National Endowment for the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kennedy Space Center, the Farnsworth Art Museum, Williams College Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art Dartmouth College, the Taiwan Museum of Art, the New-York Historical Society, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Bush Presidential Library and Center.

She has also been commissioned by NASA to document space history. Prey graduated from Williams College where she studied with Lane Faison as part of the Williams College Art History program and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University where she was able to continue her art history studies. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a Henry Luce Foundation grant that enabled her to travel, study, and exhibit extensively in Europe and Asia. She is an art blogger for The Huffington Post, a frequent lecturer, and an arts advocate, as well as an adjunct faculty member at Williams College. In 2008, she was appointed by the President of the United States to the National Council on the Arts, which is the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Members are chosen for their established record of distinguished service and achievement in the arts.

Sarah Crowner Wall (Hot Blue Terra Cotta)

Building #6

Sarah Crowner’s gorgeous 10 × 20 foot tile mural Wall (Hot Blue Terra Cotta) — fabricated for her recent MASS MoCA exhibition — now guides visitors in and out of the museum’s new gallery spaces. Known for her bold and graphic work in a variety of mediums spanning the fine and applied arts, Crowner finds the forms and patterns of abstraction in the everyday. Her monumental structure transforms painting into architecture (and vice versa), with the imperfections and eccentricities of the hand-glazed tiles functioning like a painter’s gestures.


Joe Wardwell Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States

Building #6

Boston-based artist Joe Wardwell’s Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States, a new wall drawing for MASS MoCA, takes inspiration from J.G. Ballard’s 1981 novel Hello America. The book begins after an energy crisis in the late 20th century that leaves America all but abandoned. A century later a group of European explorers finds a radically changed country, a desert landscape parched by the damming of the Bering Strait. The expedition starts in Manhattan and ends in Las Vegas where a tyrannical leader has named himself both Charles Manson and President of the United States. The moment that inspired Wardwell, and seemed like an all-too-eerie nod to our current political climate, comes when “President Manson” grabs the primary protagonist, who is filled with longing for a far-too-distant “American dream” and declares “together, Wayne, we will make America great again!”


The Metabolic Studio/Optics Division Hoosic: The Beyond Place

Building #6

In October 2016, artists Lauren Bon, Richard Nielsen, and Tristan Duke of the Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio spent a week at MASS MoCA using their Liminal Camera — a moveable, monumental camera built from a repurposed shipping container — to create a series of portraits of B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building. The team examined the adjacency of this repurposed industrial building to the industrialized Hoosic River. To make the prints on display, the Optics Division collected Hoosic water and poured it over the paper during printing, imbuing the image with ripples of river water.

Joe Manning: Looking at North Adams

Author and historian Joe Manning speaks to life in and around this city — referencing the trains, hills, rivers, and buildings that shape life in North Adams. Manning’s short texts, describing and illuminating the views through mill building windows throughout the museum, are excerpted from his publications about North Adams history and drawn from oral histories of city residents. Manning’s “city labels” speak to life in North Adams, including the retail scene on Main Street and what it was like to grow up in North Adams in the mid-1900s.

Jarvis Rockwell Us

Artist Jarvis Rockwell’s massive 2002 installation Maya introduced MASS MoCA visitors to Rockwell, whose detailed wall-drawing continues to delight museum-goers and concert audiences just outside of the museum’s Club B-10. Rockwell returns to MASS MoCA with a new large-scale installation,  In Us, figures from Rockwell’s massive collection of toys and figurines interact and organize themselves on glass panels, soaring over visitors’ heads in the historic light well of the newly renovated B6: Robert W. Wilson Building.

Rockwell began assembling his ever-expanding collection of toys and figurines in 1979. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, his toys run the gamut from classic action figures to Japanese monsters, bobble-head dolls of politicians and artists, Yodas, Betty Boops, Troll dolls, Pez dispensers, Tin Tins, toy soldiers, and endless amounts of plastic furniture (“for the occasional elderly toy to sit on”). In his thoughtful arrangements, groups of figures gather as though in conversation with one another, approaching and drifting apart in a bewildering array of organic interactions. In his 1985 exhibition Toys at the New Museum, NY, eight identical figures wearing suits and panama hats anxiously adjusted their ties in unison, a coiffed doll with bright blue eyeshadow enthusiastically greeted an approaching Viking, and James Brown relaxed, feet up, on a blue ottoman.

As the exhibition’s title suggests, for Rockwell these figures stand in as avatars for ourselves — “alternatives to us whom we can interact with” — which act out the fantasies, beliefs, and values that shape our understanding of the world. In his own words, “We build what we are, what we think, and what we live.” Rockwell uses the term Maya, adopted from Hindu Sanskrit, to understand the way we attach illusions to the visible world. On a notecard that he carries in his wallet, Rockwell defines the term in relation to his practice as:

“The power of a god or demon to transform a concept into an element of the sensible world; the transitory manifold appearance of the sensible world, which obscures the undifferentiated spiritual reality from which it originates; the illusory appearance of the sensible world.”

The stepped structure of Us also points to Rockwell’s fascination with the spiritual realm. Spanning the length of the light well, ten glass planks hang from the ceiling in an ascending, curving line. The upward motion of the floating glass shelves conjures a feeling of ascension, and perhaps even reincarnation. As Rockwell sees it, “[The toys] are going on to glory.” Imbued with a physical and spiritual depth, Rockwell’s figures evoke a multiplicity of narratives that are at once whimsical and distressing, capturing the complexities and outlandishness of our own existence.

Rockwell approaches each installation of toys organically, responding to both the site and the needs of the various toys. Though most of the figures “socialize” in groups, the artist explains, “There’s always the lonely person that doesn’t talk well with other people, and he’ll be walking by himself.” By listening seriously to the stories that toys have to tell, Rockwell is able to create worlds that feel at once monumental and microscopic in scope, playing out both the quotidian and epic dramas of our lives.

Nicholas Whitman

Photographer Nicholas Whitman began photographing North Adams’ abandoned Sprague Electric Company factory in 1988 “because it would surely be razed.” Documenting the then-deteriorating 19th-century mill buildings, Whitman captured scenes ranging from vast postindustrial landscapes to minute traces of the plant’s former workers. Whitman’s meticulously composed photographs, windows onto the historic nature of MASS MoCA’s celebrated renovated factory campus, are now on view in the museum.

Preserving the “seemingly random collection of mill buildings” was a deeply personal mission. Whitman’s father came to work at Sprague as an engineer in 1959. Growing up, Whitman remembers that the site’s security was so tight, he was unable to visit his father at work until he was hired for a summer job etching aluminum foil in 1974. The company’s etching operations moved to the South not long after, marking the early phases of cost-cutting and outsourcing that ultimately led Sprague to close its operations on Marshall Street in 1985.

By the time Whitman began to photograph the site’s century-old buildings in 1988, they had begun to decline: floors buckled, paint peeled, and pigeons and spiders had made the quiet buildings their home. Whitman says, “I worked with a 4″× 5″ field camera and carried everything in order to be self-contained and mobile. The buildings are mostly interconnected, so once you were inside you could go anywhere. Many areas were quite dark, which made photography difficult because I only worked with the available light. The light is part of the place, and the place was what I was documenting.”

More personal hints of the factory’s industrial past — thousands of workers over more than a hundred years — remained. “Most compelling was evidence of the individuals who had spent so much of their lives within these walls,” Whitman notes. “It manifested itself in different and sometimes unexpected ways. There were discarded identification badges and personal effects, like coffee cups and well-worn chairs. There were scrawls on walls, numbers near the phone, and handwritten conversions from minutes to tenths of an hour on the wall near the punch clocks. The humanity of these industrial spaces is revealed in such details.”

About the artist
Nicholas Whitman is a photographer based in Berkshire County. He studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and is the former Curator of Photography at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. He has been commissioned to create photographs by institutions including the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Bennington Museum, Berkshire Museum, The Colonial Theatre, Chesterwood, Olana, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art, and Williams College, where he taught a landscape photography course each winter for two decades. Whitman’s photography is the subject of books including “The Colonial Theatre: A Pittsfield Resurrection” (2008); “After SPRAGUE ELECTRIC / Before MASS MoCA” (2013); “Sea, Shore, Sky & Ice” (2013); and “Wheels of Progress: The New Bedford Waterfront, circa 1980” (2015). His photographs can also be found in “MASS MoCA: From Mill to Museum,” a revised edition of which is forthcoming.

Tom Slaughter Icon Alphabet

Covering an interior wall visible to visitors approaching MASS MoCA’s postindustrial museum lobby (as well as to those in its galleries), Tom Slaughter’s joyful imagery unfurls across a 140 ft. stretch in the first-ever exhibition designed by his daughters Hannah and Nell Jocelyn and son-in-law Jim Mezei. The expansive Icon Alphabet celebrates Slaughter’s lifetime creating bright, playful imagery drawn from his paintings, prints, wallpaper, and billboards. This is the first exhibition focusing on Slaughter’s bold personal visual vocabulary since his death in 2014.

Tom Slaughter’s drawings, paintings, and cut-paper illustrations present objects and scenes from the artist’s life in New York and coastal Long Island. For Slaughter, the very familiarity of these images made them ideal subjects: “Icons…. these are my alphabet. I draw them over and over until they are part of my language. Sunglasses, bikes, hats, boats, buildings…they are all just part of an excuse to make images.” Icon Alphabet will combine Slaughter’s work as an artist and illustrator across media — “I paint, draw, cut paper, use a computer, and even an iPhone — it’s all the same hand.”

Slaughter’s images are quintessentially modern, their subjects rendered with deft vividness and graphic punch. The simplicity of Slaughter’s forms and the artist’s use of primary colors suggest ties to Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, or Alexander Calder’s mobiles. He once quipped: “I use primary colors, mostly because I never did take a painting class. The colors worked well enough for Calder and Lichtenstein.” Calder saw his abstract mobiles as “sketches” for “a system of the Universe, or part thereof,” and believed that “Secondary colors and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity.” This clarity likewise characterizes a modernist approach to architecture and design, which rejected excessive ornamentation in favor of a unified, streamlined whole. Slaughter’s own work pares down each “icon” to its most essential characteristics, making the visual language of modernist design accessible to young people and adults alike through his prints, posters, children’s book illustrations, and even wallpaper designs.

The artist’s exhibition at MASS MoCA runs concurrently with an installation of Tom Slaughter’s works at The Artist Book Foundation (also located on the downtown North Adams, Massachusetts museum campus). The Artist Book Foundation will publish the first-ever monograph of the artist’s work in spring 2019.

About the artist
Acclaimed for his playful prints, paintings, and designs, Tom Slaughter (1955 – 2014) illustrated 11 children’s books including Boat Works and Do You Know Which Ones will Grow? which was named a 2011 Notable American Library Association book of the year. He worked as a printmaker in collaboration with Durham Press for 25 years. His editions are included in the collections of MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work has been the subject of over 30 solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Vancouver, Germany, and Japan.

Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor is known for creating sculptures with extraordinary surfaces that pull viewers in, encouraging close looking. Varying widely in scale and incorporating materials from stone and earth to silicone and PVC, his work combines formal precision with innovative engineering and a precise use of optics and reflectivity.

In Untitled (2012), part of a larger group of mirrored works by the artist, Kapoor uses highly polished stainless steel on an enormous scale, distorting and transforming reflections of the work’s surroundings. Kapoor has characterized his mirrored surfaces as dynamic objects, observing that “they seem to be active, to be in various states of becoming.”

The reflective, concave surface of Untitled seems to absorb us into its space. From some vantage points, the work confronts us with a displaced, splintered vision of ourselves, while other focal points eliminate the viewer’s reflection entirely. The round, concave shape also creates peculiar sonic effects, amplifying and altering the observer’s perception of the sounds in the gallery space, similar to the way that a curved mirror inside a telescope focuses rays of light.

Kapoor’s interest in the relationship between light and the viewer’s perception is shared by James Turrell, whose long-term installations are also on view in the museum’s Robert W. Wilson Building 6. While Turrell tightly controls the light in his installations, however — as well as the mode by which it enters – the mirrored surface of Kapoor’s Untitled engages the building’s existing architecture and abundance of natural light. Intervening in our perception of the space, Untitled turns it unfamiliar and strange.

Marko Remec Would That I Wish For (Tall Totem)

Artist Marko Remec often creates visual puns that conflate conventional art forms with current events, often involving tricks of the eye, forced perspective, and other formal sleights of hand. In the series of work that includes Would That I Wish For, the artist adheres ready-made objects such as mops, brooms, safety mirrors, and rear-view mirrors to utility poles to create tall, totemic-like shapes that can be at once delightfully whimsical, and deeply questioning of today’s morays and social practices. In Would That I Wish For, the convex mirrors’ usual use for safety, surveillance and security is abandoned, the structure becoming a dizzying, world-absorbing spectacle that also reference the complex social functions of indigenous totem poles of the Pacific Northwest in commemorating important individuals and groups, and in communicating important events.

In using “Totem” as part of his works’ titles, Remec is deferential to the original use of the word (which comes from an Ojibwe term meaning clan) in describing tall carved wooden objects made by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, and is aware of those works’ primary function as communicative devices for telling stories, or imparting other important tribal or familial information.

Remec’s work does not mimic or copy any tribal style. Rather, as recorders and reflectors of the present moment, the works “speak to the abject fear and paranoia that are a common component of today’s urban and suburban condition,” Remec has said, addressing surveillance, narcissism and indifference, and the complex relationship between the built and natural worlds.

Julianne Swartz In Harmonicity, The Tonal Walkway

Julianne Swartz’s work is rooted in emotion, vulnerability, and the provocation to recognize and connect to one another as feeling human beings. Over the years Swartz has returned again and again to using the human voice, recording singers both professional and amateur to create moving works that embrace visitors with sound and emotion.

For In Harmonicity, The Tonal Walkway, Julianne Swartz started with a chart she found in a 19th-century music pedagogy system called the “Tonic Sol-Fa” School, developed by John Curwen. The chart assigned “mental effects” to the seven tones of the diatonic scale. Swartz was interested in this idea of certain tones activating specific emotional or mental states. She then took this “Curwen Method” and applied it to a new sound work for MASS MoCA, on long-term exhibition in the walkway between the lobby and the Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Retrospective. “Inharmonicity” is a word used to describe a departure from the ideal harmonic series (being out of tune), but it has also been attributed to bringing a “quality of warmth” to the sound of a stringed instrument.

To build this work, Swartz started by recording 24 people individually — eight professional singers, including Roomful of Teeth, and 16 amateur singers. The singers ranged in age from 7 to 75. During the recording process, she asked participants to listen to specific tones and read the “mental effect” associated with that tone, as assigned by Curwen. Then she asked them to listen to the tone again and come up with their own mental or emotional association. Lastly, she instructed them to sing individual notes of both the diatonic and chromatic scales, using any syllabic/consonant-vowel combination that they wished. The single-note sounds took on specifics of the individual singers’ choices and voices.

Swartz then took these recording and made a composition of the single note sounds using a chord structure of thirds and fifths. The soundtrack is made entirely of singing, spoken word, and sustained microtones of voice. The microtones are made by isolating a tiny kernel (such as a quarter second) of voice or breath, and repeating it until it becomes a sustained tone. These sustained tones, especially the low frequencies, vibrate the space and can sound like mechanical or industrial sounds. Swartz created a composition of voice utilizing the 150+ foot length of the space to “throw” sound back and forth along the stretch of the bridge and make aural illusions with distant and proximate spatial harmonies. The sounds constantly move through the space, and listeners’ perception of it changes as they walk or stand still, creating effects of harmony and disharmony, concord and dissonance — the emotional states created by listening to voices join together.

Featuring the voices of Estelí Gomez, Cameron Beauchamp, Eric Dudley, Martha Cluver, Thann Scoggin, Elisa Sutherland, Eliza Bagg, Stella Prince, José Chardiet, Nicolas S. Eugst Mathews, Isabel Vázquez, Lulu Hart, Maria Sonevytsky, Edwina Unrath, David Moss, Sue LaRocca, Jennifer Odlum, Molly Odlum, Frida Balloghi-Smith, Marshall McConville, Jenny Monick, Junah Sibony, and Elodie Sibony. Special thanks to Brad Wells, director, Roomful of Teeth, and Ben Senterfit, director, Community Music Space, Red Hook, New York.

Zarouhie Abdalian Chanson du ricochet

A voice, reverberating from the brick walls of small outbuildings that define a grassy courtyard, reads a list of tools as though reciting an incantation. Through the transformative process of rhythm and articulation, Zarouhie Abdalian’s sound installation Chanson du ricochet (2016) allows us to hear each term anew—whether familiar (trowel, reamer, ruler, mop) or highly specialized (jeweler’s rouge, blocking pin, snap link, hammerstone.)

Abdalian is interested in memory and boundaries and the way that they are articulated through both the built environment and our perceptions of it. She created an earlier iteration of Chanson du riochet for Prospect.3, New Orleans, for which she used shaped mirrors to highlight original building materials, accompanied by a recording of a voice reading a list of tools.

At MASS MoCA, she created a new iteration of the work for the 2016 exhibition The Space Between, responding to the history of the museum’s site as a factory for the production of printed textiles and electrical equipment. Abdalian placed transducers on the interior surface of windows in an oft-overlooked portion of the museum’s campus, transforming the museum’s industrial buildings into speakers that give voice to the labor too often erased from view. Names of tools ricochet along the road taken by trucks carrying materials for new works being made at the museum, inviting visitors to consider the processes by which art—and by extension, other goods—are made.

Conjuring links between the site’s historical and current uses, Chanson du ricochet summons the buildings’ industrial origins, and points towards its continuing re-inhabitation as a site of artistic production, suspending us between past, present, and future.


Blane De St. Croixhow To Move A Landscape

Over the past decade, De St. Croix has worked with the tradition of landscape art, shifting from the traditional purview of painting in favor of immersive sculptural installations that address topical issues relating to society, politics, and science. His method involves extended periods of research and exploration of places such as the Arctic Circle and the Gobi Desert, including time spent as a research fellow at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. His newest body of work is focused on field research around the earth’s dissolving permafrost, which subsequently creates vast craters in the earth as the result of exploding underground methane in Siberia and Alaska.

As part of the exhibition, De St. Croix will create a series of new works commissioned for MASS MoCA’s triple-height gallery, including a three-story high sculpture made to look like a sheet of dissolving ice, a series referencing alchemy, open pit mines and hurricanes, a towering snow-covered arctic landscape, and an installation referencing the dissolving permafrost that will allow visitors to experience large sculptural craters from dramatic vantage points, both above and beneath the work.

How to Move a Landscape will include a media room to screen De St. Croix’s interviews of scientists on climate issues, and a gallery for related research documentation and science data. The exhibition will include a selection of De St. Croix’s previous work, including works that deal with issues ranging from polar ice to the contested border between the United States and Mexico. Throughout How to Move a Landscape, he reminds us of the precarious nature of the world around us, while using scientific data to document, and question, planetary change.


Kissing Through A Curtain

“How would you like to be kissed through a curtain?”
“Better than not kissing at all.”
An exchange on the act of translation, as recounted by poet Kwame Dawes.

Translation offers uncertain intimacy. We wonder: what is lost in translation? What kernel of the original cannot be carried to the new language and context? And what is gained? New meanings accrete in translation, as each new language, context, and the passage of time itself adds new associations.

The ten contemporary artists in this exhibition address boundaries, and attempts to communicate across them: not just between different languages, but also between nations, cultures, media, bodies, and individual minds. Their work invites us to consider moments of mediated contact, and uncertain communication, as potential sites for the generation of new knowledge.

We installed this exhibition before MASS MoCA temporarily closed its doors to the public due to COVID-19: before interactions took place through masks and digital screens; before countries’ borders were locked down still further; before the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, and numerous other acts of anti-Black violence, sparked a new wave of protests around the United States and the world.

In some ways, the exhibition is already the type of work that MASS MoCA, as a contemporary art museum, does not usually show: a piece of history. And yet, many of the questions asked here feel even more urgent today than they did months ago. Borders—and the ways that they differentiate one group from another—are hotly contested. Is the act of translation a way of reaching across borders and forging new connections, or is it another form of appropriation and colonization? How do we mourn in the mediated and highly partisan “togetherness” of social media? If communication from one context to another is always imperfect, why do we attempt it at all?
Including works by Nasser Alzayani, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Kim Faler, Justin Favela, Osman Khan, Christine Sun Kim, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Jimena Sarno, Clarissa Tossin, and Jessica Vaughn.


Wendy Red Star/Apsaalooke: Children of The Large-Beaked Bird

Be sure to make an advanced reservation to see the art of Wendy Red Star, on view in Kidspace, MASS MoCA’s child-centric gallery (that adults love!). There is no charge to visit Kidspace, and you may also visit it for free (so long as you don’t plan to visit the other MASS MoCA galleries).

Multi-media artist Wendy Red Star, a member of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe, offers accounts of American history that rectify the frequently flawed narratives about Native people. An avid researcher, Red Star re-examines cultural artifacts and primary source historic imagery, and uses them as the foundation for her beautifully annotated photographs and installations. The Children of the Large-Beaked Bird exhibition provides an opportunity for adults and children to look at history and representation with fresh eyes. As Red Star notes: “It is critical to preserve and pass along culture, heritage, and shared values while also providing future generations with a sense of identity, solidarity, and empowerment.” 

At the center of Children of the Large-Beaked Bird (the English translation of “Apsáalooke”) are Red Star’s annotated portraits of the historic 1880 Crow Peace Delegation that brought leaders to meet with U.S. officials for land rights negotiations. Using red pen to add text and definition to the archival images, she draws attention to the ways in which the original portraits deliberately remove the leaders from their contexts. New work created specifically for MASS MoCA turns these images into large photographic blow-ups and lifesize cutout figures, with the goal to bring the portrait sitters to life, and reclaim Red Star’s ancestors.

The exhibition will also feature plush stuffed toy animals based on drawings and notes by Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Chief Medicine Crow, together self-portraits of the artist, as she places herself in artificial, colorful dioramas while wearing traditional Apsáalooke clothing.

The Apsáalooke language — spoken today by just 3-4,000 tribal members primarily living in Montana — is at risk of vanishing. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. government attempted to systematically eradicate the Crow language, requiring Crow children to learn and speak only English at the boarding schools they were required to attend. Since the Crow language is an oral tradition, removal of these children from their culture also contributed to the demise of the language. At the ArtBar, visitors can listen to the artist’s father speak Crow words for animals and then interpret them as part of a community drawing project. Red Star’s drawing activity builds awareness of her Native language and demonstrates the importance of clear and accurate communication across cultures (and perhaps its impossibility). 

About the Artist

Artist Wendy Red Star works across disciplines to explore the intersections of Native American ideologies and colonization, both historically and in contemporary society. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Red Star’s work is informed both by her heritage and her engagement with many forms of creative expression, including photography, sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance. An avid researcher of archives and historical narratives, Red Star seeks to incorporate and recast her research, offering new and unexpected perspectives in work that is at once inquisitive, witty and unsettling. Intergenerational collaborative work is integral to her practice, along with creating a wider forum for the expression of Native women’s voices in contemporary art.

Martin Puryear: Big Bling

Martin Puryear’s monumental sculpture Big Bling has landed for at least the next five years at MASS MoCA. Sited at the museum’s extreme southern perimeter in the heart of the downtown North Adams, Massachusetts business district, the sculpture creates a dramatic new connection between MASS MoCA’s 16-acre, 28-building factory campus and the city’s Main Street business district.

The spectacular forty-foot-tall work — the largest temporary installation Puryear has created — is built of wood, Puryear’s signature material, and chain-link fence. Through abstract means, the artist has crafted an ongoing dialogue with history, art history, identity, and politics. Here, “bling,” a slang term for flashy jewelry and accessories, is rooted in the urban youth, hip-hop, and rap culture of the 1990s. Originally commissioned for New York City’s Madison Square Park, the title of the artwork and its initial placement in the heart of Manhattan demonstrate Puryear’s recognition that Big Bling was a reflection of the character and the inhabitants of dense urban environments. Restored and transposed to MASS MoCA’s campus, the significant scale of the piece in relation the lower-scale and density of a New England factory town changes viewers’ perspective while amplifying the work’s monumental impact.

In the studio, Puryear’s sculpture applies methods gleaned from traditional crafts, carpentry, boat building, and other trades with spare, exacting stylistic dignity and formal clarity. Unlike his sculptures made from bronze, iron, stone, or carefully assembled from solid wood, Big Bling is constructed industrially from curved laminated wooden beams and exterior grade plywood, materials suitable for outdoor building. Instead of the wire mesh and tar that he has sometimes used for the surface of his sculptures, here Puryear has chosen a quintessentially urban material, stout chain-link fencing, to wrap the plywood construction. Metal fences function as makeshift boundaries around empty lots, construction sites, and playgrounds, concurrently protecting property and excluding people. Puryear has posed a similar dilemma in Big Bling: the multi-tiered work suggests an edifice that might be ascended level by level, but whose entry is blocked by a barrier fence.

A sleek golden shackle is stationed near the pinnacle of the colossal sculpture. It is anchored near the top of the structure — a shimmering beacon, a harness that both adorns and restrains the sculptural form. Big Bling is part animal form, part abstract sculpture, and part intellectual meditation.

About the Artist
Puryear earned his BA from Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. in 1963 and his MFA from Yale University in 1971. After serving in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone (1964–1966), he attended the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts (1966–1968). The Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a retrospective of his work in 2007. Puryear has received, among others, the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (1980), a Louis Comfort Tiffany and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1989). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1992) and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Yale University (1994). Puryear represented the United States in the 2019 Venice Biennale. The artist lives and works in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

Ad Minoliti: Fantasias Modulares

Grinning triangles, lounging cows, and winking circles populate the vibrant, queer landscapes of Ad Minoliti’s imagined worlds. Trained as a painter, Minoliti draws on the rich legacy of geometric abstraction in her native country, Argentina, where geometry was used as a tool for picturing utopian alternatives. By combining abstraction with playful figuration, Minoliti upends familiar fairy tales, turning them on their head. She is particularly interested in disrupting pictorial cultural norms that uphold traditional views of sexuality and gender.

The artist sees many of these cultural norms established in the formative stories of childhood. In contrast to these indoctrinations, Minoliti uses her work to picture alternate realities free of biases by utilizing diverse, colorful, and playful hybrid forms. Her characters are non-binary, challenging the usual categories of male and female, and also blurring boundaries between human, animal, and machine. Her work frequently unsettles anthropocentric views of the world and allows hierarchies between humans and non-humans to dissolve. Working in both two and three dimensions, and between the vocabularies of painting, sculpture, architecture, and design, the artist also collapses traditional categories in art history to harness a more capacious and fluid language. This activation of other beings, entities, and otherwise inanimate objects generates a multitude of possibilities — joyful, colorful, and inviting of a more inclusive world.

Ledelle Moe: When

Ledelle Moe’s weathered, monolithic heads and figures variously bring to mind the relics of an ancient civilization or statues toppled in the wake of political upheaval. On close examination, what appears to be timeworn stone reveals itself as concrete, and the massive forms show themselves to be constructed from many smaller sections. One might confuse the colossal objects —  joined together with steel seams — with giant dolls shattered and carefully glued back together. Indeed, despite their immense size, they seem fragile. Hollow, with their interiors at times visible, these imperfect figures — fallen, recumbent, disembodied, marked and scarred with the traces of their making and aging — contradict the usual characteristics of traditional monuments and memorials. At the same time, they prompt questions about the individuals we choose to honor and remember.

Moe’s most ambitious new sculpture for MASS MoCA, an 18-foot-tall kneeling female figure is born from the artist’s interest in the persistence of monumental form throughout human history — the impulse to keep the past alive in the present. The specific posture of the towering sculpture — the centerpiece of the exhibition — is reminiscent of iconic images seen in cultures around the globe. Yet Moe’s figure has an unusual addition; the slightly androgynous statue is surrounded by a network of metal rods protruding from the body which support a constellation of ambiguous forms. The scaffold-like grid structure buttresses the individual subject within a collective organism. Hovering, swarming around her, the forms can be read as both emerging from and emanating outward — suggestions of strength and vulnerability, of acting and being acted upon. While her kneeling position conjures that of prayer or genuflection, Moe sees the pose as “an act of waiting… a moment before or after action.” With this ambiguous gesture, the monolithic sculpture looks both to the past and to the future. Such oppositions are at the heart of Moe’s works which grapple with the contradictions between our monuments and memorials and our lived realities — which encompass both the individual and the collective, a sense of place and displacement, permanence and impermanence.

Moe has spent nearly two decades thinking about monuments and the role they play, past and present, both on a personal level and in the public imagination. She began her ongoing series Memorial (Collapse) in 2005 as a tribute to anonymous victims of violent conflict around the world. She found stories in newspapers and on the internet and gave solid form to the fleeting lives as a way to process an enormous sense of grief. The giant heads — all male — laying on their sides, appear peaceful, as if asleep, like many of the subjects in Moe’s source images. The artist found their placid expressions a marked contrast to the brutality and trauma of their deaths. The artist gives these anonymous individuals literal and metaphoric weight, while referencing a long history of nameless victims of violence and war.

In other works, Moe references Classical funerary sculptures and Victorian-era cemetery monuments. The horizontal forms of Erosion (2009) — stiff, female figures clothed in flowing, pleated gowns — appear to have been knocked over from a once-upright position. They have the air of ruins, their title a reference to the decay of both built structures and memory over time.

In contrast to the violence suggested by these toppled figures, the massive, horizontal figures of Moe’s Relief series (2010) recline peacefully. Hovering several feet above the ground, they seem to levitate. Naked, with their arms at their sides, these sculptures bring to mind bodies carefully prepared for burial or giant effigies removed from their sarcophagi. The artist made these works after the deaths of her mother and grandmother. The horizontal thrust of the female forms diverges dramatically from the verticality and towering height of traditional monuments, such as the ubiquitous equestrian statues that populate nearly every town square. Moe symbolically upends this image of male power more directly with a large, horse-like figure from the same series. On its back, the awkward animal, straining with legs splayed, suggests a fallen mount, its rider missing. The vulnerable creatures reminds us of the uglier realities behind the heroism and victories usually immortalized in stone or bronze. The artist sees it as the metaphoric toppling of patriarchical power. The questions that have preoccupied Moe for nearly two decades are especially topical given global conversations about the monuments that populate our everyday landscapes and do not reflect — and even hinder — societal change. While protests in Moe’s hometown of Cape Town in 2015 provoked the removal of a monument to Cecil Rhodes and sparked an international movement, this year Confederate statues have been removed from public sites all over the U.S. While the elimination of these symbols of institutionalized racism are a welcome change, other more painful erasures, such as the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001, are also suggested by Moe’s works.

Congregation (2006-2015) also plays with the tropes of historical precedents. The sprawling wall work is made up of hundreds of small heads, each the size of the artists’ fist. Rather than crafting a single monumental form, Moe implies size and scale through the accretion of multiple elements. The accumulation of faces — those of people she knows from around the world and those in her imagination — acts as an homage to the collective versus the individual. Reminiscent of flocks or swarms, the amorphous mass of heads also resembles a map without borders, bringing to mind the migration of both animals and people and the humanity which connects us all. Throughout her work, Moe blurs the line between human, animal, and landscape. Adding to the collection of heads over time, she mixes soil from the location where she is working into the concrete used for these — and other sculptures — making links between distant peoples and places, while acknowledging the significance of particular sites and their histories. Moe understands her use of soil from places both familiar and unfamiliar to her as “rooted in some longing to better understand how political and personal histories are inherent in the ever-present awareness of place. Or how ground, land, soil, and earth reference a sense of belonging.” Perhaps too, it is a reminder that we are all of — and will return — to the earth.

Gamaliel Rodrigues: La Travesia / Le Voyage

Gamaliel Rodríguez’s large-scale works on paper imagine landscapes inspired by the two-fold character of his native Puerto Rico, which the artist recently described as a mix of “beauty and chaos.” Merging industrial and natural environments, Rodríguez depicts abandoned structures surrounded by verdant greenery — which he often renders as an aerial view. Devoid of a human presence, the overgrown buildings have a dystopic yet familiar feel, prompting mis-recognitions by viewers reminded of locations in their own hometowns. Though the artist’s subjects are fictitious, they are inspired by the accumulation of manufacturing projects in Puerto Rico established and ultimately abandoned by US companies lured by tax breaks and cheap labor in the mid-20th century.

Rodríguez is currently working on a new 60-foot work on paper for MASS MoCA’s Hunter Hallway. Inspired by his experience of North Adams and its post-industrial landscape during his time in the museum’s studio residency program, Rodríguez’s drawing conflates the repurposed architecture of MASS MoCA’s large, former-factory complex with architecture of Puerto Rico and other locations from around the globe.

Using felt, acrylic, colored pencil, and ballpoint pen, Rodríguez skillfully renders his hyper-realistic landscapes in rich blues and purples that are simultaneously seductive and unsettling. Mari Rodríguez Binnie, art historian and art professor at Williams College, connected the blue ballpoint pen so prevalent in the artist’s work to its role as the quintessential bureaucractic tool. It is indeed an overwhelmed bureaucracy (and mountains of certificates and forms) often blamed for blocking local entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico, which is overly dependent on outside investment. The pen became ubiquitous in the same period during and after WWII that witnessed “Operation Bootstrap,” the government’s efforts to diversify its sugar-based economy and bring modern industry to the island.

Ben Ripley: Amity / Enmity

This past spring, artist Ben Ripley worked with MASS MoCA’s Director of Education, Laura Thompson, to organize an exhibition of his work with her Advanced Museum Studies class at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). When MCLA’s Gallery 51 shut down due to COVID-19, MASS MoCA stepped in to host Ripley’s show. On view beginning July 31  throughout the summer in B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building, Ripley’s timely work gives visitors the opportunity to explore the definition of race by museums and cultural institutions.

Ben Ripley’s photographs focus on the 1930s Hall of the Races of Mankind exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, which featured 27 life-size busts, 27 busts, and 50 heads depicting various racial types. The Field Museum commissioned sculptor Malvina Hoffmann to make the series of bronzes, with a goal to make anthropology more engaging and illustrate the “brotherhood of man.” The original exhibition claimed to show scientific divisions between races and illustrated the racial theories of Arthur Keith, who became known as an influential figure in the modern white nationalism movement in America. Ripley reconnects the original exhibition to the modern day by superimposing his own face and body on photographs and 3D scans of the original bronze sculptures, in a display that deflates notions of ethnic typing and museum authority.

Ripley speaks of his work: “This historical example of the forceful authority of museums and the seductive power of beauty leading to visual arguments whose consequences we are only now starting to understand suggest an urgent examination of the responsibility of the visual arts on a larger scale. Are our museums leading to a fruitful exchange of diverse ideas? Is our visual art reductive and divisive or humanizing and complex? What are the future consequences of a pursuit of ideological purity? How can art be used to heal and persuade rather than create an exclusive echo chamber? Who do artists and museums serve?”

About the Artist
Ben Ripley engages critical moments in history by reimagining technologies used for the transmission of culture such as language, photography, and sound recording to suggest alternate, more humane societies. He works from a continuing exploration of the deep history and mechanics of photography. He teaches at Buxton School in neighboring Williamstown, MA, where the photography program combines creative expression and inquiry with science, ethics, and mathematics.


Be sure to make an advanced reservation to visit James Turrell: Into the Light. We will allow only 20 persons at a time within the entire exhibition, and each group will have 45 minutes to experience the 9 installations. Please note, kids must be 6 and older to enter James Turrell’s Perfectly Clear and Hind Sight. For Perfectly Clear, kids 6-12 need to hold the hand of an adult while inside the installation.

In James Turrell’s hands, light is more than simply a source of illumination: it is a discrete, physical object. His sculptures and architectural interventions elevate our experience and perception of light and space. Squares of sky seem to float, suspended, in ceilings or walls; architecture disintegrates; and brilliant geometric shapes levitate in midair. Turrell began using light as a sculptural medium in 1966, painting the windows of his studio in Santa Monica to seal off the natural light and experimenting with projections. His practice has been shaped by the ongoing manipulation of architecture, framing and altering the way viewers engage with the environment. A pioneer in the Southern California Light and Space movement, MASS MoCA presents a multi-decade retrospective of Turrell’s work in B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building — with galleries designed and constructed specially to best accentuate his installations. This exhibition features a major work from each decade of the artist’s career.

Sarah Oppenheimer: S-334473

Sarah Oppenheimer creates precise instruments for manipulating our built environment–altering our frame of spatial reference, displacing our experience of inside and out, and inverting our sense of what is near and far, here and there.

S-334473 performs as a dynamic spatial switch: two instruments work in tandem to reorient the exchange of sight and circulation within Building 6. A visitor’s touch sets the work in motion, pivoting volumes of glass and metal along a 45-degree axis through a defined arc. When vertically oriented, each instrument nestles between the buildings’ historic columns. Once rotated, the volumes slip out of alignment and become horizontal reflecting screens. The arcing movement from vertical column to horizontal lintel creates unexpected thresholds and pathways. While manipulating the instruments’ contours and orientation, visitors walk beneath and around their outermost edges. Sightlines are redirected through the building’s interior spaces, towards the north-facing windows and onto the Hoosic River and mountains beyond.

The rotational axis of the instruments extends through the ceiling onto the floor above, where the mechanical infrastructure that sets the work in motion is revealed to visitors. The arc of each switch is visible, creating an index of the instrument’s position below.

Oppenheimer’s S-334473 mobilizes the museum’s architecture in order to transform and extend the visitor’s understanding of the exhibition spaces it reveals, and disrupts. In the process, artwork and viewer become joined in an intricate choreography of the inhabited environment.

About the Artist
Sarah Oppenheimer (b. 1972 in Austin, TX) received a BA from Brown University in 1995 and an MFA from Yale University in 1999. Recent solo projects include S-281913 (Pérez Art Museum Miami 2016), S-334473 (Wexner Center for the Arts 2017), S-399390 (Mudam, Luxembourg 2016), 33-D (Kunsthaus Baselland 2014) and W-120301, an architecturally embedded permanent commission at the Baltimore Museum of Art (2012). Her work has been exhibited at such venues as the Andy Warhol Museum (2012); the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (2009); Art Unlimited, Art Basel (2009); Skulpturens Hus (Stockholm); the Saint Louis Art Museum; the Mattress Factory; the Drawing Center; and the Sculpture Center. She is the recipient of a Rome Prize Fellowship (2011–12), a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship (2009), and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2007). Ms. Oppenheimer is currently a senior critic at the Yale University School of Art.


The Bright and Hollow Sky

Music is so intimate – touching our lives through lyrics, melodies, and live performance – that we sometimes feel we know our favorite performers personally. The Bright and Hollow Sky, a title borrowed from Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” is the first in a multi-year series of rotating exhibitions drawn from a single private collection of rock and roll photography. This exhibition looks beneath the stage persona of some of the genre’s greatest practitioners, presenting photographs that reveal the humanity behind the larger-than-life figures in the spotlight.

A group of photographs expanding the idea of rock and roll begins the exhibition: French singer Édith Piaf; journalist Lester Bangs; artists Nan Goldin, Alighiero Boetti, and Giovanni Anselmo; cartoonist Robert Crumb; writer William S. Burroughs; and gender-defying performer Divine. Connecting these personalities to musicians such as James Brown, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain is the renegade, often contrarian, ethos that defines rock and roll.

The next series of groupings presents achingly personal images of: 1960s and ‘70s psychedelic musicians in England and the U.S.; R&B and soul singers across multiple generations; tender portraits of couples (both friends and lovers); singer/songwriters; The Velvet Underground and their circle; and the icons of 1980s and ‘90s punk, new wave, and grunge.

The artists represented here have lived lives full of both joy and pain, yet one needn’t romanticize the profession to note that it can take a toll. Some musicians pictured here successfully combatted the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction, while others succumbed; some have been sexually abusive, others abused; while another group fell victim to tragic accidents and suicide. These images are further connected by the unflinching eye of great photographers who capture the complicated inner lives of their subjects; a loving embrace, bandmates goofing off, moments of introspection, and off-stage elation.

In the end, the portraits pull back the curtain, allowing us to see these icons in the light of the everyday.

Erre: Them and Us / Ellos Y Nosotros

The U.S.-Mexico border has been the subject of increased attention and heated debate since Donald Trump declared the building of a permanent wall along the 2,000-mile boundary between the two countries as one of his top priorities as president. Artist ERRE, who lives and works between Tijuana and San Diego, has made the border a central part of his work for over two decades, examining its oft-forgotten history and shifting contours (California, Texas, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma used to be part of Mexico), as well as its current social, economic, and political implications. The primary checkpoint between Tijuana and San Diego, the San Ysidro Port of Entry, is the one of the most heavily trafficked land border in the world, where over 30 million people pass each year. The endless flow of goods and people is evidence of the intricate and interdependent relationship of the two cities and of the United States and Mexico more broadly.

For those of us who live far from its realities, ERRE brings to MASS MoCA a palpable image of the border wall with the installation of Of Fence (2017), a sculptural recreation of the weathered metal barricade that the artist knows well. This formidable architectural obstruction is – and has been for a long time – a powerful physical and psychological fact in Tijuana, where houses, restaurants, and beaches butt up against the imposing barrier. At MASS MoCA, the rusty-red metal fence will stretch across 120 feet of the museum, marking the entry to a gallery where a selection of new and existing works by the artist will be on view. ERRE pairs this sculptural wall with a wall of text featuring a stanza from Langston Hughes’ 1936 poem “Let America Be America Again.”

“O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.”

The poem by the influential Harlem Renaissance writer frames the American dream as one that is deferred for most, yet imagines a future when “equality is the air we breathe.” These words bring to mind those of the oft-quoted sonnet immortalized on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty, which entreats “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” At the same time, the title of Hughes’ poem is eerily reminiscent of Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which is related to tougher policies regarding trade and emigration for our neighbors to the south. The entryway leading into ERRE’s main exhibition space will be lined with bar-like vertical strips of vinyl text, a work titled Umbral / Threshold (2017) which spells out the questions that ICE asks travelers crossing the border.

Language and word play are central to ERRE’s sculptural and conceptual practice, evident in Of Fence, which spells out a variation of the word “offense.” The double meaning is clear, with the wall acting as a deterrent to the offense (a word associated with criminal activity) of crossing the border illegally, while the crude barricade itself can be seen as an offense to the landscape and the families and communities it separates.

ERRE’s work often emphasizes the bonds between the two countries he calls his own. Perhaps his best known work, created in 1997 for InSite, an international art festival that takes place in both Tijuana and San Diego, is a 33-foot-tall wooden horse with two heads. Referencing the Trojan horse of Greek mythology, the monumental, hollow structure on wheels was placed at the marker that defines the geographical border line. With its two heads sharing a single body, but facing in opposite directions, the horse symbolizes the need to live in concert with each other. Yet, by invoking the Greeks’ entry into Troy, the towering structure also makes references to war. One might think of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 which resulted in the U.S. annexing half of Mexico’s territory. The story of subterfuge might also bring to mind recent reports of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. inside the trailer beds of commercial trucks, like the Greek soldiers hidden inside the legendary horse.

Titled Toy-an Horse, the work makes yet another play on words while referencing childhood, both the artist’s own (when he first learned the story of the Trojan Horse) and that of his children who were three and five when the artist created the work. Looking like a toy enlarged to giant proportions, the work seems to frame the border as part of a childish game, while simultaneously suggesting that we must teach our children history or it is doomed to repeat itself. Given the recent separations of children from their parents at the border, the toy-like appearance of the structure takes on added meaning. At MASS MoCA, ERRE will display the 8 x 10 foot colossal heads of Toy-an Horse, which have been removed from their shared body and charred, as if the remains of some conflagration. Arranging them on the floor in a position that mimics the yin-yang symbol, the artist continues to emphasize the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico despite the recent damage to our ties.

With a selection of new and existing work that emphasizes how language, movement, and architecture shape our experience and our identities, ERRE brings to MASS MoCA new perspectives on the border and the U.S. and Mexico individually. While the artist is a well-known figure on the West Coast, this presentation marks his first solo exhibition on the East Coast.


La frontera entre EE. UU. y México ha sido noticia de primera plana y el tema de un acalorado debate desde que Donald Trump declaró por primera vez como prioridad principal construir un muro a lo largo de la colindancia de casi 2,000 millas. Desde entonces, las medidas más duras contra la inmigración, junto con un aumento dramático en el número de centroamericanos y sudamericanos que buscan asilo en los Estados Unidos, han creado lo que muchos ven como una crisis humanitaria, y lo que otros perciben como un problema de seguridad económica y nacional. El artista conocido como ERRE (como en la letra “r”) ha estado abordando la frontera en su trabajo durante más de tres décadas, examinando su historia, a menudo olvidada, cambiando los contornos y sus implicaciones sociales, económicas y políticas. La casa de ERRE no está lejos de la garita de San Ysidro, el pasaje principal entre las dos ciudades en que vive y trabaja Tijuana y San Diego y que él llama su hogar, una de las fronteras más concurridas del mundo. El flujo interminable de personas y bienes, en ambas direcciones, destaca los vínculos inextricables entre las dos ciudades, así como los de México y los Estados Unidos de manera más amplia.

Para aquellos de nosotros que vivimos lejos de la frontera sur del país y para quienes la idea del muro puede parecer una abstracción política, ERRE aporta a MASS MoCA una imagen palpable de la barrera existente que forma parte de la vida cotidiana en la región fronteriza y la cual es parte de las constantes negociaciones de identidad, que dividen a las personas entre este país y aquel, documentadas e indocumentadas, es decir, “NOSOTROS” y “ELLOS.” Of Fence (2017) es una recreación escultórica de la estructura que ya es un poderoso hecho físico y psicológico en Tijuana, donde las casas, restaurantes y playas se topan contra la desgastada barricada. En MASS MoCA, el obstáculo del oxidado metal rojo de 36.5 metros de largo se combina con un muro de texto más pequeño: una estrofa del poema de Langston Hughes en 1936 “Let America Be America Again” [Que América vuelva a ser América].

Oh, deja que mi tierra sea una tierra donde
la Libertad
Está coronada sin falsa guirnalda patriótica,
Pero la oportunidad es real, y la vida es libre
La igualdad está en el aire que respiramos

Las palabras de anhelo del influyente escritor del Harlem Renaissance son tan aptas para estos tiempos como lo eran hace 80 años, cuando Hughes imaginaba la igualdad para todas las personas y anhelaba un sueño americano que fuera aplazado para muchos. El título de Hughes nos hace recordar el eslogan de Trump “Make America Great Again,” aunque las políticas actuales asociadas con él están muy lejos de la visión de Hughes de un futuro cuando “la igualdad está en el aire que respiramos.” La estrofa de Hughes nos recuerda el citado soneto de Emma Lazarus, levantado en una placa en la Estatua de la Libertad desde 1903, que dice:

Dadme a vuestros rendidos, a vuestros pobres, Vuestras masas hacinadas anhelando respirar en libertad…

Sin embargo, ERRE inmediatamente nos recuerda las palabras burocráticas que a menudo reciben a las personas en la frontera. En las puertas que conducen a la galería interior, las preguntas que los agentes fronterizos habitualmente hacen están cortadas en tiras de vinilo negro y dispuestas verticalmente como las barras de una jaula: “¿Dónde nació?” “¿Dónde vive?” “¿Cuál es su ocupación?” Estas consultas parecen sencillas, pero hacen poco para comunicar quiénes somos o reconocer capas complejas de identidad y nacionalidad, que funcionan como su propio tipo de barrera. De hecho, para muchas de las millones de personas que viven a lo largo de la frontera, o que viven en México y trabajan en los Estados Unidos (o viceversa), o para aquellos cuyos padres, hermanas o primos viven de un lado, mientras ellos viven por el otro, y para aquellos cuyos antepasados vivieron en lo que antes era patria mexicana pero ahora es parte de los Estados Unidos, las opciones ofrecidas en la frontera, como muchas nociones binarias de identidad, son insuficientes.

El compromiso inquebrantable de ERRE durante 30 años para exponer estas heridas y los abusos de poder se combinan con su impulso para establecer relaciones. Detrás de la galería interior, las obras más antiguas y más recientes expresan estos sentimientos. Sing-Sing (1999) es una jaula de hierro con forma de corazón. Dentro cuelga una cama, como una percha en una jaula. Llevando el nombre de la famosa prisión en las afueras de Nueva York, el trabajo reconoce que los apegos, el amor que sentimos por nuestros países, nuestras familias, pueden tanto protegernos como encarcelarlos. Burned Bridges(for Pablo and Efrén) (2019) fusiona dos tipos de construcción, uno simple y de apariencia precaria realizado con madera vieja y desgastada, el otro más moderno con una ingeniería más sofisticada y hecho en pino blanco de primer uso, pero al cual le hace falta el piso. Las dos mitades simbolizan algunas diferencias culturales entre México y los Estados Unidos y a la vez desafían expectativas y jerarquías ya aceptadas como válidas. Al ser quemada en el área donde los dos lados se unen, la pieza manifiesta el daño presente en la relación entre los dos países, mientras sugiere que los errores de uno repercuten invariablemente en el otro.

About the Artist
Marcos Ramírez, known as ERRE (a nod to the rolled ‘r’ of Spanish), was born in Tijuana in 1961. He studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, graduating with a law degree, and later worked in the construction industry for many years to support his visual art practice. He has been the subject of a number of solo exhibitions at institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA (2016), Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, CA (2014), MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, San Jose, CA (2012), Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (2010), and Centro Cultural Tijuana, Mexico (1996); he has also participated in group exhibitions at the Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA (2017-18); Today Art Museum, Beijing (2016-17); SITE Santa Fe Biennial (2014); the California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2008); Moscow Biennale (2007); The São Paulo/Valencia Bienal Valencia, Spain ( 2007); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2005); Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba (2000); the Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (2000); and the InSite 1997 and 2000 editions in the San Diego / Tijuana border region.

Joseph Beuys: Lightning With Stag In Its Glare

The work of mid 20th-century European sculptor Joseph Beuys is grounded in a tradition of narrative sources often absent in American art of the same period. The historic symbolism of Northern Europe, Christianity, and an invocation of the spiritual power of animals and nature course throughout Beuys’ diverse activities, from performances and lectures to sculptures and drawings. For Beuys, all these works share a common sociopolitical purpose: “the victory of socialist warmth and self-determination over materialist greed and alienation.”

Beuys’ dramatic Lightning with Stag in its Glare (Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirschem), 1958–85, is the only environment that the artist cast in bronze. An offspring of Beuys’ seminal Workshop exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin in 1982, the work is encrusted with layers of meaning. At its core, it enacts a dramatic moment in nature: A bolt of lightning (the large, suspended sculpture) strikes the ground, illuminating a stag (cast in reflective aluminum). Other animals are present, but are not so well illuminated. There is a goat (a metal cart with a pick resting on it) and worm-like primordial animals (the dark bronze fecal forms scattered on the floor). The final element present, the Boothia Felix, is a metal tripod with a cubic mass on top, and a small compass resting on top of that. This element is named for a strip of land in northern Canada that was the first established location of the North Magnetic Pole.

Beuys invokes the creative energy of nature with the forceful bolt of lightning in this work. In many other works, he incorporated conductive metals to symbolically draw energy from the universe, or blocks of lard to represent the stored caloric energy of fat. The Stag, illuminated by the lightning, has a special role in Beuys’ work and in Northern European mythologies. He repeatedly referred to it as a conductor of the soul, a Christ figure, whose shedding and regrowth of antlers symbolized resurrection and the possibility of redemption. According to Beuys, the Stag is a guardian for the Primordial Animals, which writhe on the floor without intelligence or direction. These simple creatures, like the dramatic Lightning, were cast from a pile of loam in the center of the Workshop exhibition and have small broken metal tools for heads. The humble Goat recalls an imaginary laborer, constantly and silently working in the background, a simple wheelbarrow.


Don Gummer: Primary Separation

Primary Separation was first designed by the artist Donald Gummer in 1969 in a small model, and was realized here at full scale in 2006.

The sculpture consists of a massive granite boulder, 12 feet long by 6 feet tall, sawed in half. The stone halves—separated by an 11-inch gap—are suspended 10 feet above ground, within a system of stainless steel supports and cables. Gummer’s original inspiration for Separation was a stone that reminded him of Brancusi’s sculpture, Fish. In using the stone, Gummer had Duchamp’s ready-mades in mind, but substituting for Duchamp’s man-made objects an object found in nature.

“We are delighted to be able to create a permanent home for this signal work from Gummer’s early career,” said Joseph C. Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA. “Don first showed me the work in the form of a small maquette. We were just beginning work on the Northern Berkshire District Court, and, though Don was probably not thinking of issues of justice when he conceived the work (though perhaps he was, given the societal unrest of 1969), Primary Separation seemed to me a strikingly apt metaphor for the scales of justice, a massive weight sustained in balanced repose. The stone could be rising, or falling; separating, or re-joining. The thin margin between the two parts of the whole is charged with a powerful force, and it’s not clear whether the force is repellent or attractive. We chose the placement of Primary Separation quite carefully, aligning it with MASS MoCA’s entry corridor, the Clocktower, and Tree Logic. We hope that the siting will help to visually mark the Courthouse on Marshall Street, while also linking that complex with the rest of the MASS MoCA campus.”