A Trip to Mass MOCA

For Labor Day this year I went to visit my parents in Western Massachusetts (hello home!). It seemed like a great opportunity to drive the hour north to North Adams and visit Mass MOCA for an afternoon. After much convincing, my dad, and my little brother, and I were off. 

The Original Mill Building

The Original Mill Building

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA) is nestled in the Berkshires, in Western Massachusetts. Like my last post, the museum building itself is pretty interesting. Originally a 19th century mill, the Mass MOCA space was last occupied in 1985. Just one year after the mill closed, the museum was conceptualized but it wasn’t until 1995 that the doors officially opened. Today, the museum sits on 16 acres of property and has 28 buildings on its campus. 

Fresh Grass Music Festival | Image by Douglas Mason

Fresh Grass Music Festival | Image by Douglas Mason

Mass MOCA was founded on the idea of not having a permanent collection; which means they own none of the art there. Instead, they focused on the idea of long term installations (1-3 years on average). Because the museum is housed in an old mill, they have incredibly large spaces for artists to create site-specific works on a massive scale. Over time, the museum has adopted a more faceted interest in visual and performing arts. Fun fact: Mass MOCA hosts summer concerts and a bluegrass music festival every year. 

Currently, one of the long-term exhibitions they have is James Turrell: Into the Light. This is a retrospective exhibition and they have selected one piece from each decade he has been a practicing artist. I know what you’re thinking, “Maddie that can’t be that many pieces” and you’re right. BUT, James Turrell is a wacky, light obsessed artist who is fascinated with the ways our body interprets light and color and how light can trick us simple humans. So, his pieces are actually rooms where there may be four walls… or there might be three walls but it looks like there is seven. The photo below is my favorite piece in the exhibition. It is a nine minute experience where you are placed in a large, all white room, and color and pulsing light swallows you. You have brief moments where you feel as if you’re suspended colored air (because the lights have tricked your eyes and brain).

James Turell

James Turell

Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt

We walked through most of the museum and some of the grounds surrounding the mills but, for us, the highlights were the James Turrell exhibit, the Sol LeWitt Gallery, the barbecue restaurant  (for the brothers, I’m vegetarian), AND brewery (me). Recently, restaurants, cafes, two art galleries, and the brewery have opened on the Mass MOCA complex which makes everything that much more fun!

Contemporary art is hard. It can be incredibly conceptual which can make it hard to connect with it. At Mass MOCA, the space, scale of work, and overall attitude of the museum make viewing contemporary art fun.