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Hall Art Foundation opens Anselm Kiefer at MASS MoCA

The Hall Art Foundation arrived at MASS MoCA by throwing a lively reception and dinner for Anselm Kiefer. The artists’ work is the focus of a 15-year exhibition organized and loaned by the Foundation, installed within a dramatic, exquisitely re-purposed 1 million gallon concrete water tank.  The next day, MASS MoCA celebrated too, by opening the doors of the entire museum — including the Hall Art Foundation | Anselm Kiefer building — free to the public.  Here are a few pictures from the events.

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Hall Art Foundation at MASS MoCA.

 Andy Hall, Christine Hall, Anselm Kiefer

Andy and Christine Hall embrace Anselm Kiefer.

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Crowds gather for the Hall Art Foundation private viewing on Thursday, September 26.

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Emma Hall (l) and Maryse Brand, Director, Hall Art Foundation (r).

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 Stacy Cochran, Joseph C. Thompson

MASS MoCA Trustee Stacy Cochran (l) and museum director Joe Thompson (r).

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Raymond Learsy, Melva Bucksbaum, and Sir Norman Rosenthal, who presented Anselm Kiefer with a freshly foraged Berkshire bouquet.

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Mark Hall with The Women of the Revolution (Les Femmes de la Revolution) (1992 / 2013).

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MASS MoCA’s Special Events and Membership Director, Jennifer Trainer Thompson.

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Christine Hall, Thom Krens, and Daniel, the night’s youngest patron.

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Bruce Josephson, Andy Hall, and Carol LeWitt.

 Wolfgang Laib, Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer greets Wolfgang Laib.

 Jay Jopling, Andy Hall

Jay Jopling and Andy Hall.

 Daniel Zilkha, Jane Wilde

Williams College students, Daniel Zilkha and Jane Wilde.

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 Marty Margulies, Dinka Bojanova, Andy Hall

Marty Margulies, Dinka Bojanova, and Andy Hall

 	Stacey Jensen

 Christine Hall, Andy Hall, Emma Hall

Christine, Andy, and Emma Hall.

Posted October 8, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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Art is an Asset

Assets for Artists —  founded in 2008 by then MASS MoCA Director of Real Estate and Community Development Blair Benjamin —  is a matched-savings and entrepreneurship-training program for low-income artists in all disciplines. If you are a Massachusetts-based artist, you are eligible to apply; Assets for Artists is accepting applications through October 11, 2013.

The program helps artists access additional capital, grow their artistic ventures, and gain the financial stability that promotes creative freedom. This 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 over 100 artists across the state of Massachusetts and in New York City, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine., including:

From now until October 11, 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 assetsforartists.org/apply.

Posted October 7, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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Teaching art in a contemporary art museum

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MCLA Art Labs at MASS MoCA

Painter and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Professor of Art Gregory Scheckler talks about his students’ experiences at MCLA’s temporary drawing and painting labs in MASS MoCA’s Building 13.


What is it like to teach college art classes at a contemporary art museum? This year, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts teachers and students are finding out.

As a professor, the opportunity to teach at the museum is a welcome change. Teaching needs revision and refreshment, so why not do that at one of the world’s best contemporary art museums? The overall goals of making more and better art, and gaining critical knowledge, good practice, and technical skills, are, of course, the same as before. The museum environment changes the mood, amplifies it. The art practices are growing more serious, as well as more fun.

For example, I teach a visual arts composition course called Form and Composition. In the course, we review various approaches to understanding and composing imagery. When we reach mid-20th century approaches , we have the largest installation of Sol Lewitt wall drawings to inform the conversation, right outside our classroom door .

Nothing, and I mean nothing, brings art techniques and ideas into more clear focus than seeing work in real life.

Housing such immense projects means that MASS MoCA has a certain bold, sexy quality. It’s refreshing to be constantly reminded of our creative freedoms, to be in the thick of artistic ingenuity in all of its contemporary forms, witness to the great diversity that is the imagination of the arts at work.

Just what exactly will inspire us?

It’s hard to tell. I keep feeling drawn to the rusted-out buildings, which house Stephen Vitiello’s sound installation,  All Those Vanished Engines.

Photo Courtesy Gregory Scheckler

Students have their own favorites. MCLA Junior Ciara Genera, who has found that working at MASS MoCA makes her “feel like a real artist,” discovered inspiration from Xu Bing’s mammoth sculptures. As she put it,  “Xu Bing’s Phoenix blew me away!”

Photo credit: Keifer Gammel

Photo Courtesy Keifer Gammel

MCLA Senior Alberto Roman found technical insight in the “immense texture and roughness” of Anselm Kiefer’s paintings.

Anselm Kiefer at MASS MoCA

Some students find the context of the museum to be a creative driver. MCLA senior Shelagh Conley notes that being “at the museum allows me to work without distractions. We are surrounded by artwork. It is all that my mind is focused on.” Similarly, senior Stephanie VanBramer finds that the experience has pushed her and her “artwork to the next level”.

The students are right, of course. On a regular college campus, when you leave a studio or art lab, you move into a world of  classrooms, and quads. At the museum, when we leave the art labs, we move through galleries. Our quad is the upside-down trees of Natalie Jeremijenko’s Tree Logic.

Posted October 7, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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On the Road to FreshGrass

In 2011 MASS MoCA decided to celebrate the onset of fall in the Berkshire hills of northwestern Massachusetts with some bluegrass and roots music. The first year was a small affair – two days, nine bands, and one courtyard stage. It caught on.

Now in its third year, FreshGrass is gearing up for a weekend of killer afternoon and after-dark programming, featuring 25 traditional and cutting-edge bluegrass bands performing on three stages, industry and instrument workshops, and plenty of pop-up performances, on September 20-22.

Legendary local brewery The People’s Pint is busy brewing FreshGrass IPA just for the occasion. The stage in our concert meadow is assembled. Food trucks are lined up, and late night hoedowns, fueled by MASS MoCA’s high-octane moonshine slushies, are in the works.

Tease your ear buds with intimate performances by FreshGrass 2013 artists, produced for the festival by the creative collective, Mason Jar Music.

Posted September 17, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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To Stand in Awe.

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Photo courtesy of Megan and Murray McMillan.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”- Albert Einstein

Over the last two weeks, Providence, Rhode Island-based artists Megan and Murray McMillan have been in residence at MASS MoCA creating elements for a new work that explores the complexity of the idea of wonder. Once finished, the new work will be installed as part of a 2015 MASS MoCA group exhibition, exploring what it feels like to stand in awe of something, and how one goes about attaching meaning to that experience.

Since 2002, the McMillans have been crafting elaborate sculptural sets and then directing performers in the activation of – and interaction with – the sets. The performances are filmed; the footage is then edited and installed, along with elements of the original sets, to create an immersive video and sculptural experience.

About a year ago, MASS MoCA curator Denise Markonish invited the McMillans to come to the museum, explore the campus, and make a proposal for a new piece to be created and installed on site. At the time, Markonish, along with artist Sean Foley (who exhibited at MASS MoCA in 2010), were preparing the group exhibition exploring wonder and awe. The McMillans’ work has often centered on these ideas, making it an ideal match for the exhibition.

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During their visit and tour, the McMillans immediately identified the former Boiler House as a site of interest for their video. They were taken with it not only for its complicated and beautiful former industrial structure, but also for the conceptual idea of shifts in sustainable energy – from coal, which once heated the factory, to greener methods such as solar power and wind turbines — it represents.

Many months after their initial visit, the McMillans and their studio assistants arrived at MASS MoCA with nine wooden boulders. With MASS MoCA’s dynamic Art Fabrication and Installation department, led by Preparator and Supervisor Derek Parker, the boulders were craned into the more than 2-story high coal bin, through the Boiler House roof, and attached to cranks that allowed the boulders to be lifted through the space by a series of performers. The MASS MoCA team also built a tea house that nestled into the space at the top of the coal bin.

A 50-foot camera track installed on the side of the coal bin and out of the roof of the building captured a single vertical shot of a central boulder carrying performer Thea Ulrich. The vertical movement of the camera allows a narrative to unfold, similar to that of Japanese landscape scrolls. As the boulder travels upwards, portraying a travelers journey, Ulrich exits to the Japanese tea house, and then to a platform, overlooking all of MASS MoCA and the rolling mountain landscape that surrounds the museum.

With their residency completed, the McMillans have returned to Providence to edit the footage and develop the final installation for their 2015 exhibition.

The McMillans’ work is just one of the hundreds of new performing and visual artworks created on the MASS MoCA campus through the fabrication and performance residency programs. Friend, follow, and subscribe to receive updates on MASS MoCA projects and all the other fun MASS MoCA happenings.

Posted September 10, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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Instructions for Making a White Box Gallery

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When I joined MASS MoCA I had an idea I’d be involved in projects of great scale; the museum has an interesting penchant for being the genesis for many of the artworks shown in its galleries. It’s a non-collecting institution, focused primarily on providing a platform for emerging artists and performers, constantly reaching to the limits of its abilities and housed in a massive city industrial mill complex. Tack on a few sleepless nights and you have a pretty aggressively dynamic environment.

Some would say that the MASS MoCA concept short-circuits the traditional role of the museum. However, I haven’t had much time to ponder such things since working here. Frankly, having a “little spark” to life keeps things interesting. Wild, forward-thinking projects, undertaken with teams of extremely dedicated and talented individuals on shoestring budgets… feels like a front-row seat in the trenches of our ever-evolving culture war… albeit in the middle of the “woods”. But the museum has grown and matured over the past 14 years. Things are changing as we move into our teens. Retaining its youthful vitality, it’s an institution working with more and more creative people while also developing a little more depth at its core. MASS MoCA is becoming more and more a “think tank” for the arts, and what a contemporary art museum can be if it’s open to collaboration.

So, when someone came up with the idea of taking an 10,000 square foot, concrete water tank, used to filter sediment from the untamed waters of the Hoosic River, and turning it into an exhibition space… I thought… well, that’s a good idea!

But hold on… how about a little back story, you say?

There once was a sculpture that lived in the front yard of an interesting husband and wife who were fearless collectors:

It was a striking contemporary sculpture by an artist recognized by the nation of France as an official National Treasure (as he was German, one would have to assume that the French thought he was a good artist).

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Oddly enough, the sculpture was misunderstood (a recurring theme in history), and neighbors of this interesting pair of collectors thought the sculpture to be an abomination; indeed they disliked the sculpture to such a great extent that they made the couple remove the sculpture from their yard by act of law on the pretext of historical preservation, or building code, or some other made-up reason.

Dismayed by the turn of events, and weary of the fight with neighbors, the couple (Andy and Christine Hall) called Joe Thompson at MASS MoCA to see if the museum might be interested in showing the sculpture; MASS MoCA was indeed very interested! And so in 2007 there was a fabulous exhibition of the Anselm Keifer sculpture Étroits sont les Vaisseaux, 2002, accompanied by several of the artist’s magnificent paintings, also generously lent from the Halls.

It was a great success, drawing interest and patrons from far and wide. It was such a positive experience, in fact, that in the wake of our recent experience with the Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Retrospective (a 25-year temporary exhibition) the thought of creating a more lasting representation of the Anselm Kiefer works of The Hall Collection at MASS MoCA took root. And the search for a space was on…

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After several feasibility studies of potential spaces, interest eventually focused upon the defunct water tank located at the southern extreme of the campus. The Hall Art Foundation’s Alex Haviland, who helps oversee the Halls’ collection, became convinced that this daunting structure could be converted.

The water tank once stood embedded in a five-story building but was left exposed after the exterior structure was raised. As Joe put it, “We saved it, not quite knowing what it might one day be used for, but sensing that the beautifully austere structure would one day find a new purpose.” Our structural engineer believed that the tank was likely cast within the building in the early 1920’s, the concrete and hand-laid stone foundation carted in wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. He dated the concrete casting from the horizontal board marks still evident in the tank. These forms were assembled from lumber, predating the invention of plywood.

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One of the issues was the elaborate structure which keeps the 20-inch thick tank walls from bursting outward when filled with water. This veritable maze of interior walls, columns, and purlins would need to be removed to make way for the exhibition. In order to do this, a massive concrete cutting claw was brought in to chew the concrete in to pieces that could be trucked away.

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The claw could grasp and crush while at the same time have a jackhammer-like ability that would pulverize the water-cured concrete to a powder, exposing the steel rebar which would then be burned away with torches. It was a labor-intensive, and machine-intensive, process.

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Once essentially eviscerated of the interior walls, ramps, purlins, and other non-essential architecture, and the entrances cut, the interior floor was poured. As the previous use was a water tank, the floor had an exceptionally steep pitch from one end to the other for drainage. The entire building was loaded with flow-able fill, and then a concrete floor (dyed to match the walls) was poured in the building. Above you can see the insulating curing blankets used to protect the floor from cold-weather conditions. Another interesting aspect of the project is that the sculpture, Étroits sont les Vaisseaux, 2002, was dropped into the shell of the tank and covered with a protective platform, and then the building’s upper walls and roof were installed around it…solving the ship-in-the bottle problem and making for more efficient craning.

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After the concrete is poured, the steel structure of the pre-engineered building was installed.

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The purlins.

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The insulation and exterior panels.

This space is much more pristine, white, and classical in feeling than MASS MoCA’s typically warm masonry and wood-framed galleries. And while MASS MoCA is rather well-known for its beautifully side-lit galleries, this one will feature an amazing skylight, which is a first for MASS MoCA. It should make for an interesting and refreshing juxtaposition. We rather like the idea of MASS MoCA becoming a museum and performing arts space that also houses a collection of distinct curatorial points of view and long-term art “milestones” within our roster of changing exhibitions: LeWitt, Kiefer, and the Clark. The design of the building was worked out collaboratively between the Hall Art Foundation, which funded most of the work; the artist; his installation designer, Bill Katz; and local architects from the multidisciplinary design consulting firm, Guntlow & Associates, Inc. There will also be quite a bit of exterior landscape work done, opening up our “Speed Way” for future outdoor sculptural installations.

And now for the installation of artwork inside the building … you’ll have to come visit beginning September 27th. Stay tuned.

Blog by Dante Birch, Director of Exhibition Planning

Posted August 30, 2013 by MASS MoCA
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