Room to Stretch: Repurposed Factory Lets Big Art Breathe at MASS MoCA
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) opened in 1999, converting 19 buildings and over 100,000 square feet of former factory space into one of the world’s largest modern art centers. All but one building pre-dates 1900 and architects Bruner/Cott & Associates purposely left several original details intact, giving this unique space some hard-earned character. MASS MoCA’s unusually large footprint allows plenty of room for visual and performing art as well as the ability to provide a home for semi-permanent exhibits like Sol LeWitt’s site specific Wall Drawing Retrospective, which was installed in 2008 and is scheduled to run through 2033.
MASS MoCA is located in the sleepy town of North Adams, Massachusetts close enough for a day trip from either Boston or New York City, although its sheer size has inspired some art tourists to adopt a multi-day plan of attack. MASS MoCA would be worth visiting just to see the space itself. The thoughtful redesign used the former factory’s attributes to its advantage maintaining a feel of simple functionality. With a full café and restaurant, expansive book and gift shop and art popping up inside, outside, even attached to facades, there is more than enough to keep you entertained before even setting foot in the museum proper.
Unlike the crowded confines of museums in major cities, MASS MoCA has a luxury of space that allows unusually large work into the exhibition spaces; spaces so large that an entire football field could be placed inside. Even after giving these large works plenty of room to breathe, there’s still real estate to spare for rotating exhibits, performance spaces, film screenings, concerts and educational initiatives. The site has also become home to the Bang on a Can Summer Institute and Solid Sound Music Festival, curated by Wilco.
Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing Retrospective takes up three long floors and covers 38 years of the artist’s career. LeWitt’s wall pieces are vibrant and precise but keep things simple conceptually, focusing largely on color, line and shape. His emphasis was always on idea and execution, relying much less on what he called, “the master’s hand.” In that spirit, all of the pieces in this ambitious and award-winning project were recreated on-site per LeWitt’s instructions by former assistants and teams of fellow artists, students and volunteers.
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