MASS MoCATaking advantage of being up in the Berkshires this past weekend, Gothamist decided to check out MASS MoCA. We had to break it to one of friends that in fact, MASS MoCA was not a chocolate factory but a rather new contemporary art museum in Western Massachusetts. While MASS MoCA is not as close as Dia:Beacon, (the New York counterpart to new contemporary art in reclaimed industrial spaces), Gothamist thinks a trip to the MASS MoCA is in order if spending the weekend in New England.

Formerly a textile mill, the museum has been open since 1999 and has revitalized the town of North Adams, which had been depressed since the mill closed in 1985. Many gallery spaces are huge, and the museum currently occupies 220,000 square feet with another 350,000 square feet in remaining buildings for future plans. The project's intentions were probably similar to what the Guggenheim Bilbao did: If you build it, they will come.

By far, the best exhibit was the Gregory Crewdson work on the first floor. Crewdson, a Brooklyn-born, New York based photographer, constructs elaborate staged, film-like scenes, and MASS MoCA's vast spaces worked extremely well; this particular gallery had a triple height ceiling, giving visitors space to admire the huge photographs.

Another artist in the same "Fantastic" exhibit as Crewdson was Miguel Calderon of Mexico, whose paintings were featured in The Royal Tenenbaums. His two pieces were spooky: One was a DVD of people who responded to his "Wanted - People Posessed by the Devil" ad and the other bodies floating in sleeping bags, with hair tumbling down, in front of a freezer of ice cream.

Robert Wilson also had a show there, with his vision of the Way of the Cross, in a raw space ("raw" meaning un-air-conditioned). From a distance, it was incredible, to see these fourteen various stations, but the work itself was tedious.


The third main exhibit, "Yankee Remix," had artists use pieces from Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and a favorite was Huang Yong Ping's Dragon Boat, based on an Asian incense burner found in SPNEA's artifacts, which people eagerly entered to feel like one of Noah's animals or some other sea farer.

Alain Bublex's renderings of a utopian society, inspired by Peter Cook's ideas about cities from the 60s filled a small room. Bublex took huge C-print photographs of oil tankers, random streets and villages, and then overlaid drawings of helicoptors bringing mobile "cells" for building a modular city to these surrounds - like more sophisticated Color-Forms. A concept familiar to science fiction movies, it was unnerving to see these cells inserted into current situations. (Gothamist took advantage of the Diasec mounting of the photographs and took this cool photograph with Jen and Jake's reflections.)

The children's area, Kidspace, has an impressive exhibit by Susan Leopold, Mix-Up Worlds, that delves into understanding everyday spaces ("boring" like "bathrooms and New York City schools" the friendly staffer explained), through dioramas, pin-hole cameras, and mirrors. Gothamist was invited to make models in the activities area in the back, but we declined, preferring to participate in that other favorite activity of children, babies, really: Looking in the mirror, but this time in Leopold's Waterway piece.


Australian "technoartist" Natalie Jeremijenko conceived of the MASS MoCA's signature piece: Inverted Trees in the entry courtyard. Cool idea but the leaves were a pale, almost sickly, green. Indeed, branches were bending upward, desperate to reach the sun. Jake said, "If they put a dog up this way, animal rights people would be screaming."

Jake at MASS MoCA

In fact, the coolest thing about MASS MoCA wasn't really the art, though there were some interesting works there. The best thing is the building complex, turning this industrial mill into an art museum, the sturdy brick buildings sitting by the river in the middle of rural New England. The huge vaulting spaces are perfect for observing and experiencing art, and while it seems like the art will take a few years to catch up, the MASS MoCA is a great work in progress.

MASS MoCA received the National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historical Preservation.