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38 Lanterns for MASS MoCA’s NYC Gala

All images and text excerpted from coombscriddle.wordpress.com.

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Last winter, local glass artist Debora Coombs was onsite at MASS MoCA for a few weeks, faux-painting and creating gold texture for interior surfaces in Darren Waterston’s Uncertain Beauty exhibition at MASS MoCA. For the museum’s annual gala this fall, Coombs and Waterston showed off their latest collaboration, a sold-out edition of 38 hand-made lanterns.

Here’s a peek inside Coombs’ studio and the lantern-making process.

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Darren Waterston, painting landscapes onto glass

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Coombs and Waterston at the NYC Gala in October

Learn more about Darren Waterston’s MASS MoCA exhibition Uncertain Beauty here and visit Coombs’ website to learn more about the glass process and her work.

Posted December 3, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Darren Waterston: Uncertain Beauty, Design, Exhibitions, Local Artists
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Calling all Massachusetts Artists!

assets-for-artists2 assets-for-artists2 MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists program is in its seventh year of helping Massachusetts artists build financial stability and entrepreneurial success. Founded in 2008, Assets for Artists is a matched-savings and entrepreneurship training program for low-income artists in all disciplines. If you are a Massachusetts artist and you are eligible to apply, don’t miss out. Assets for Artists is accepting applications through November 7, 2014!

Assets for Artists helps artists access capital, grow their artistic ventures, and gain the financial stability that promotes creative freedom. Artists selected to participate in 2014 will benefit from a “matched savings” program that provides $2,000 in grant funding, two free professional development workshops, and one-on-one business and financial counseling, including support in writing a business plan.

The program, born from MASS MoCA’s commitment to community revitalization through the arts, was piloted at home in Berkshire County, enrolling nine local artists during its first year. Today, Assets for Artists — administered by MASS MoCA in collaboration with ArtHome, the Midas Collaborative, and many local partners — has expanded to serve nearly 200 artists across the state of Massachusetts and in New York City, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine. Here are just a few of the Massachusetts artists we enrolled last year:

From now until November 7, Assets for Artists is accepting applications from low-income creative entrepreneurs throughout the state of Massachusetts. To learn more and to download the application, visit the Assets for Artists website.

Posted October 30, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Assets for Artists, BLOG, Local Artists, North Adams
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Inside Moisture Content

By Hannah Pivo

I recently spent three days inside a work of art. Yes, literally inside of it. The piece, an enormous labyrinth of fabric and plastic, is called Moisture Content, and it’s one of four works that make up Lee Boroson’s exhibition Plastic Fantastic, currently on view in Building 5, MASS MoCA’s largest gallery space. For this exhibition, the artist used an array of manufactured materials — plastics, fabrics, glass, and goo — to create immersive environments that replicate natural phenomena, including a waterfall, an underground cavern, a lava field, and fog. Together, they offer a thought-provoking commentary on the relationship between humans and the environment, both natural and built.

Blog-Moisture_Content1 Lee Boroson, Moisture Content, 2014, fabric, acrylic, mylar, Lexan, aluminum, webbing, cord, variable dimensions. Photo by Andreas Engel.

As the Visual Arts Intern at MASS MoCA, I’ve faced my fair share of odd assignments — most of them for this exhibition. I’ve placed strange online orders for items such as flanges and portable dust collectors and goo (who knew goo was available for bulk purchase?). I’ve shown up without an appointment at a large chemical manufacturing plant, hoping to track down the salesman who promised us bottles of flowable silicone sealant. I’ve packed materials in trash bags and labeled them “THIS IS ART — PLEASE DON’T TRASH” because they really did look just like trash. So, when I joined MASS MoCA’s fantastic art fabrication crew for the last two weeks of Boroson’s installation, I was ready for things to get a little strange. What resulted was a particularly close acquaintance with Moisture Content, the artist’s stunning recreation of the experience of moving through fog.

Blog-Moisture_Content2A peek at what lays beyond the white curtains… Richard Criddle (left) and Mason Hurley (right) hard at work and looking splendid in khaki. Photo by Lauren Clark.

Moisture Content was built from the inside out. First, a series of giant concentric wooden rings were mounted to the ceiling. Inner layers of gauzy fabric came next, followed by the artwork’s glimmering core — a cluster of spheres made of thin metal rods and origami-folded plastic circles. Now these globes dangle tantalizingly from the ceiling, but their assembly was a painstaking process. At the center of each one hides a clear plastic ball punctured by carefully drilled holes. Hundreds of plastic circles were cut and folded, then attached to metal rods using itsy-bitsy nuts and washers. The rods were then screwed, one by one, into the drill holes in the plastic spheres. At the end of the day, the tips of my fingers were numb from twisting and turning the rods into place. With these sparkling globes in position, the rest of the layers of fabric could be hung, and Moisture Content really began to take shape.

Blog-Moisture_Content3 Posing in Building 5 with my favorite fellow shop girl, Lauren Clark. Photo by Lauren Clark.

The central fabric portion of Moisture Content is flanked on both sides by a galaxy of suspended orbs. Each sphere is made of dozens of plastic cones of various sizes, all held together with staples. The fabulous Lauren Clark and I hung hundreds of these spheres from nylon shoelaces dangling from the ceiling while jamming to The Pixies and Weezer’s Blue Album. For direction, Lee told us to imagine water molecules moving randomly through space. “Think water, think fog, think Moisture Content,” he said. Work halted when we ran out of shoelaces. I was sent on a mission to get more, and discovered that though you can buy mass quantities of goo on the Internet, you sadly cannot purchase shoelaces in bulk at the drop of a hat. So, I found a nylon cord at the hardware store that’s a near match. If you look closely, you’ll notice that two different cords — one flat and one round — are used in Moisture Content.

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Hanging out with some plastic spheres. Photo by Lauren Clark.

I thought the piece was nearly complete, but when I arrived the next morning, I noticed that something had changed. Lee had pinned together many of the outer layers of fabric, transforming the central column into a maze. Suddenly, it was all too easy to get lost in the “fog.” Lee used safety pins to adjust the length of the curtains and join them together, and each of the pins needed to be replaced with a few stitches of nylon thread. I mentioned that I had experience hand-sewing ribbons onto pointe shoes from my years dancing ballet in high school, so without delay I was put to the task.

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Sewing curtains inside Moisture Content. Photo by Harriet Lauritsen-Smith.

I spent the next three days sewing inside of Moisture Content. I had some helpers along the way, including the exhibition’s curator, Denise Markonish, whom I had the pleasure of teaching how to sew. I also had a lot of time alone. I imagined myself empress of an icy fortress (both Queen Elsa from Frozen and Queen Frostine from Candy Land came to mind). Occasionally, people would wander through, struggling to find Lee or Denise hidden inside. Their confused efforts at navigation were an early indicator of the artist’s success in constructing a foggy sense of disorientation.

Blog-Moisture_Content6 Moisture Content (detail), 2014. Photo by Andreas Engel.

The final step to perfecting Moisture Content? A good old-fashioned steaming. Lingering creases covered the shiny, perforated pieces of fabric that hang near the center of the piece. These twist and turn as you move past, and they were in desperate need of de-wrinkling. I lugged a standing steamer (borrowed from the fine folks in MASS MoCA’s performing arts department), a chair, and a rolling cart around the inner circle of the artwork, because both the steamer and I needed to be elevated to reach the highest parts of the fabric. And with that, Moisture Content was complete, ready for visitors to wander and ponder, just hopefully not for three days.

Blog-Moisture_Content7 Enjoying the opening reception with Harriet Lauritsen-Smith (center) and Lauren Clark (right). Photo by Jane Burns.

Lee Boroson’s Plastic Fantastic is now on view in MASS MoCA’s Building 5 gallery through September 7, 2015.

Posted October 22, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Interns, Lee Boroson: Plastic Fantastic
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Peeping Leaves from a New Perspective: Your Guide to a Fabulous Fall Weekend in the Northern Berkshires

By Julia Leonardos

Bags of apples straight from the orchard line your pantry. Your stoop is overrun with decorative gourds and festive hay bales. You’ve swapped your shorts and t-shirts for cardigans and lacquered leather boots. You spent the last three hours bushwhacking your way out of a corn maze, your house smells like the Yankee Candle store and Starbucks had a baby, and the Monday Night Football theme song echoes constantly throughout your hallways. That’s right, folks, fall is upon us: nature’s final, fiery burst of beauty before crisp air turns frigid and brilliant trees become barren.

Fall is a pretty big deal out here in the northern Berkshires and so is the weekend that lands closest to the date of October 12. Some call it Columbus Day Weekend, but I’ll refer to it as most Berkshire locals do: the peak of leaf-peeping season. Yes, it is this weekend that the leaf peepers pack up their cars and head to the Berkshires from all directions to see the leaves at their most vivid. And we welcome you, leaf peepers, with open arms, warm hearts, and plenty of picture-perfect landscapes for you to Instagram, no filter required.

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After a while, though, staring at trees can get a little boring. We get it — you might get hungry, decide to do some activities, or feel a sudden, overwhelming urge to stare at something else (maybe some art?) for a few hours. That’s where we come in. MASS MoCA and a bevy of other northern Berkshire institutions are here for you if (and when) you decide you want to peep some leaves from a new perspective this weekend. Here’s our guide for the upcoming fall weekend, designed to enhance your leaf peeping with art, events, food, and merriment…

 

Day 1: Friday, October 10
Arrive at the Porches Inn in North Adams, MA, after work, then, head to Public for dinner and drinks. By 8pm, be at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center for The Source, Beth Morrison Projects’ latest music-theater work-in-progress. It’s all about Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning’s decision to leak the most classified material ever released to the public, and the worldwide media hysteria that ensued. The Source premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on October 22, so this is an exclusive chance to be a part of the process and see the show before it premieres.

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Day 2: Saturday, October 11

View the Radical Words, Make it New, and Raw Color exhibitions at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown before they come down. In the evening, head back to MASS MoCA for the opening reception of Lee Boroson’s Plastic Fantastic, in Building 5, our largest gallery space (yes, that’s the gallery where Xu Bing’s Phoenix was) at 5pm. You can make reservations for the reception here. Next up, just a few steps away in Building 10, is guitar hero Gary Lucas, who is playing his original live score to the 1935 Chinese cinematic touchstone The Goddess (for only the second time in North America!) up in Club B-10, starting at 8pm. That leaves you plenty of time to chow down on some burritos/sandwiches/ice cream at Lickety Split in between the opening and the show.
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Day 3: Sunday, October 12
In the morning, dive into the 900-acre Berkshire wood for some up-close and personal leaf-peeping at Ramblewild forest adventure park. You can zipline, swing, climb, and slide from tree to tree on one of their many forest trails. If you’re like me and you want to have both of your feet on solid ground as often as humanly possible, you can also (free of charge) take a meditative walk in the forest as you watch the other members of your party jump from tree to tree above you.

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In the afternoon, head to the MASS MoCA galleries to relax and rejuvenate by taking in all of our exhibitions at your own pace. As you head home, look out your car window and admire the rolling Berkshire mountain range that has inspired so many literary greats, and Instagram a couple photos so your friends know that you did, in fact, take in some foliage during your fall weekend in the northern Berkshires.

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Posted October 9, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Berkshires, BLOG, Exhibitions, Lickety Split, North Adams, Openings, Theater, Uncategorized
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FreshGrass and R.O.P.E.S Team up for FreshGround

By Alliey Pevay

With FreshGrass around the corner, I am busy readying the campground for festival-goers. I have realized that FreshGround camping has become an important part of the North Adams community since its inception. As a resident of this city, it is exciting to see its culture intertwines with the culture of MASS MoCA and the bluegrass festival. A portion of camping pass proceeds is given to the R.O.P.E.S. program, which in turn provides organization and logistics to operate the campground, while a local sports team often provides concessions. In the past, campers from R.O.P.E.S. have helped lay out campsites in addition to helping FreshGround campers move in their gear.

R.O.P.E.S. is a camp run by local law enforcement and emergency personnel. The acronym stands for “Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-Esteem.” Campers divide into six teams, each led by an officer, and are challenged by low and high ropes courses to encourage teamwork and friendly competition, as well as overcome difficult obstacles physically and mentally.

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Each course has a different objective and a new lesson to be learned. One example of this would be the “Leap of Faith.” This obstacle is a high ropes course in which a camper is hooked to a harness and grounded (via a thick climbing rope) by his or her group leader. A call-and-response communication method is used: a camper starts with, “Team can I trust you?” and the team echoes back, “You can trust us.” “Spotters ready?” comes next, with the leader responding, “Spotters ready.” Finally: “Ready to climb?” and the leader responds, “Climb away.” The camper then begins ascending thirty-five feet up the pegs hammered into a tree until he or she reaches a one square foot platform. Once at the platform, the camper is challenged to leap in an attempt to touch or grab a ball hanging about three feet away before flying back down to the ground.

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As a young camper, I sat on that platform and was too scared to jump, as both my leader and teammates yelled up to me that I would be okay and could make the leap. Eventually someone suggested that I climb back down, and I did so with haste. After one year of R.O.P.E.S., campers may return as mentors who assist leaders in getting the kids through the obstacles. As a mentor, I still was afraid of the aforementioned course, but somehow the campers talked me into putting that harness and helmet back on and trying again. As I reached the platform and gazed down at my team, I was struck again with fear. This time, as my leader picked me up off my feet and scooted me closer to the edge, I heard one camper yell that I would be doing push-ups for the rest of the week if I did not jump. So I laughed and took the plunge and on my way down learned that trust really is key to any relationship.

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As a member of the R.O.P.E.S. program, not only did I learn about teamwork, trust, respect, and all the other usual camp “take-aways,” but having law enforcement officials trust me with campers up in a tree while they set up the next event taught me a great deal about responsibility and accountability as a mentor. This experience gave me the opportunity to take the work I did and use it to form connections through my teenage years and into adulthood. As an intern for FreshGrass I now work with Lieutenant Dave Sacco – who I know well as the head of R.O.P.E.S. – as we map out campsites for the FreshGround area.

R.O.P.E.S. is not only meaningful to me, but to many North Adams families. Having a positive, organic experience with law enforcement has the ability to open the eyes of local youth. The proceeds from each FreshGround camping pass help the program continue growing for years to come, and for that I am grateful.

If you want further information check out R.O.P.E.S.’ website, as well as MASS MoCA’s website for tickets to FreshGrass.

Posted September 10, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, FreshGrass, Interns, North Adams, Uncategorized
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Welcome back, Roomful of Teeth

By Michelle Marrocco

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, Roomful of Teeth is a vocal project dedicated to mining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from non-classical traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning project, invites today’s brightest composers to create a repertoire without borders.
[from roomfulofteeth.org]

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Since its inception (with the exception of last year), Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth has come to MASS MoCA every summer to spend a few weeks away from the distractions of everyday life. During its stay here, Teeth (their abbreviation of choice) spends the first week of its residency working with coaches who specialize in two or three specific styles of singing. In the past, these styles have included Tuvan throat-singing, Inuit throat-singing, yodeling, belting, Korean P’ansuri, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, and pop-singing. This year Teeth is focusing on classical Persian singing with Sepidah Raissadat and the vocal techniques of Hindustani music, traditional music popular in northern India, with Warren Senders. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of these coaching sessions.

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As Teeth members filter in to the rehearsal hall, it becomes obvious that this is a family reunion and MASS MoCA is Grandma’s house. As vocalists tend to do, there are the obligatory lip trills and weird noises referred to as warm-ups, there’s chatter around the snack table, and fussing over how big someone’s baby has become (mind you, this baby is adorable and just as much a member of the group as anyone, as she coos along). Eventually all eight members of Roomful of Teeth, along with director Brad Wells, make their way to the circle of chairs in the center of the room. The level of comfort they all feel with each other and with this space is palpable: shoes are off, and smiles are abundant as everyone folds into their seats and prepare to sing.

I slowly realize that all attention is focused on one woman. She’s petite with dark hair, reserved, and soft-spoken, but she commands attention. This is the last day of coaching sessions before the composers arrive on Tuesday, so Sepidah Raissadat answers some last-minute questions and imparts wisdom before launching an improvisation session. While Raissadat strums what looks like a small, four-stringed sitar (which upon further research, I discovered, is actually called a tanbur), Dashon Burton (bass-baritone) begins. As they move around the circle, everyone improvises while Raissadat echoes them on the tanbur and doles out advice for a more authentic Persian sound.

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“I like how we sing and it’s murky and then you play it back clearly,” comments mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken. “That’s because I know the hierarchy of notes, so I know which ones to pass over,” Raissadat replies in reference to the dastgah, the Persian modal system. The difficulty in teaching Persian music to western, classically trained singers lies not only in technique and scale, but also in communication. Just as languages with different alphabets do not easily translate, neither do musical traditions. During her coaching session, Raissadat struggled to explain, in terms of western music, how the pitch one sings differs when ascending as opposed to descending.  Eventually she resorts to teaching this idea the way she learned it: through imitation. Raissadat and Roomful of Teeth end the session by singing a song they learned together the day before. In a style of music characterized by trills, flips, and complicated vocal maneuvers, the texture created by multiple voices is uncommon and striking. As they sang, single voices wove in and out of the whole and created a texture that was charged by moments of perfect synchronization and moments of collective individualism.

After a half-hour break, during which Teeth chatted, wandered, and refueled, the group returned to tackle its final coaching session of this year’s residency.

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Raissadat has moved over a seat and been replaced by Warren Senders, a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair poking out from beneath his hat, who immediately reaches over and turns on his drone machine in lieu of a sitar. Without much preamble, Senders spurs the Teeth into a call-and-response singing session; he sings a phrase or a line, and the Teeth echo him. It’s immediately evident that some members are very comfortable with this style of learning, eyes closed as they succumb to the poignancy of the melodies they echo. As a performer, composer, and teacher of Hindustani music for over 30 years, Senders easily shifts back and forth between Western and Hindustani musical verbiage in a way that makes even the most unusual concept understandable . As he sings, he gestures with his hands to clarify the direction of the melody and interjects with advice. After an especially intimidating run, he clarifies by first breaking up the phrase, with hand gestures acting as guidance. “You’ll come down with maximum twiddliness.” Hindustani singing seems to be more fluid and less precise than the Persian music Teeth was learning earlier, but it is also characterized by embellishment.

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Again Teeth is called on to improvise solo. Using only his body language, Warren directs attention to one person, sings a phrase, and he or she echoes. I’m struck by this process and the response to it. Some members flourish, and some are nervous. (I’m reminded of times I was asked to sing solo in school choirs – it’s a frightening experience!) Senders hears the fear and responds, “just make music.” You can feel the tension dissipate. As the session continues, Senders pulls everyone in – “sometimes it’s secret music” – and tells the story of the music they’re studying. He has that kind of presence. He’s a highly charismatic and revolutionary teacher, and he has a knack for pulling singers out of their comfort zone in a way that still feels safe.

For the second week of its residency, Roomful of Teeth will work with composers Michael Harrison (who has three decades of study and practice of Indian music under his belt), Julia Wolfe (who was here in July as a co-founder of Bang on a Can), and singer/songwriter Sam Amidon (who will be here again for FreshGrass in September), informing their compositions with Roomful of Teeth’s new-found knowledge of Persian and Hindustani vocal technique. Be sure to catch Roomful of Teeth’s performance in MASS MoCA’s Courtyard C on Friday, August 29, at 8pm!

Posted August 27, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Work-in-progress
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