Behind-the-Scenes with our Curatorial Assistant

Do you ever wonder what it takes to bring MASS MoCA’s intricately detailed, staggeringly larger-than-life exhibitions to life? The answer is a dedicated team of artists, curators, and fabricators, all working together to coordinate, install, and up-keep the final product on display in the galleries. Much of this behind-the-scenes work rests on the sturdy (and dare we say stylish) shoulders of our talented curatorial assistant, Matthew Lax, who graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Film and Video Art. On the final day of his year-long tenure with the curatorial department at MASS MoCA, Matthew sheds some light on the secret visual arts magic he’s been doing behind the curtain all this time:

I have worked in the curatorial department at the museum for about a year, organizing the installation of about seven major art exhibitions, from concept development to execution.

The art needs to be keep in pristine condition. That’s me cleaning Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 47. (I bet you didn’t know we do that!)

My second day on the job was spent knee-deep in dirt and Styrofoam for the de-install of Katharina Grosse’s One Floor Up More Highly in Building 5. The following week, I was neck-deep in the planning for Gisele Amantea’s 97 foot long flocked installation, Democracy (pictured above), as part of the exhibition, Oh, Canada. Needless to say, we move quickly here.

Here I am on a lift, getting the wall ready for Wanda Koop’s Look Up, part of Oh, Canada. Good thing I’m not scared of heights…

I also spent a lot of time in the rafters. Here, I’m helping prepare for the opening of more gallery space in a new building.

Ever tried Eryn Foster’s yeast concoction in Oh, Canada? I’ve been keeping our culture fresh since the exhibition opened!

Here I am changing the bulbs in Carlos Garacoia’s No Way Out, on view in ourInvisible Cities exhibition. I spend a significant portion of my workday in the galleries, maintaining artworks and fixing audio/visual equipment.

I’m especially excited about the opening of our upcoming Building 5 exhibition: Xu Bing’s Phoenix (on view December 22 – check it out!). That’s me wearing a hard hat in the gallery during the installation process.

Here I am with my sweet friend Emily Evans, marketing coordinator, at the  Invisible Cities opening. Lee Bul’s sculptures are suspended in the background.

I had heard of MASS MoCA before I started working here, but had never actually been. I had followed a few exhibitions closely online, but was spellbound when I saw the renovated factory in person. I remember Meg Robertson, company manager, and Art McConnell, director of building and grounds, showing me the sprawling campus on my first day. I remember the magic that seemed to emanate from every corner, undeveloped or not, and that feeling almost become a trademark for my time here.

“Do you believe the stuff you’re saying?” a patron once asked me, after I gave her an admittedly condensed rundown of the history of conceptual art. “I believe in MASS MoCA,” I responded. I believe in our ethos and dedication to fostering new art. I believe in our incredible history, the spectacular gallery spaces, our ever-growing roster of talented and creative artists, our amazing staff, and the patrons who continue to visit, year after year.

You might think I’d tire of looking at “the same old stuff” everyday, but sometimes I just have to stop and stare. The magic of this place is never lost on me.


Posted December 14, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Interns, Invisible Cities, LeWitt, Museum Education, Oh Canada, Staff, Uncategorized
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Artist Spotlight: Getting to Know Miha Štrukelj

Miha Štrukelj, who represented Slovenia at the 53rd Venice Biennale, created a two-story site-specific charcoal wall drawing for the exhibition Invisible Cities. Entitled “Melting Pot,” Strukelj’s piece combines several images of urban landscapes into one work. His ghostly, fleeting impressions leave viewers to fill in the rest, exploring both how the image and the city are constructed and perceived. We sat down to chat with him about his work for the show and his sources of inspiration.

How has it been working at MASS MoCA?

So far so good! I like it a lot actually. When I came to North Adams for the first time, I was really impressed by the museum. I really liked it and I thought “wow,” because I like these old abandoned infrastructures and old factories, and I think this museum works perfectly. I said to myself, “Oh I would really love to work in such a museum” but I thought “I’m so far from that, I’ll never come here.” And then just one year later, I got an email from Susan [curator at MASS MoCA] asking if I would want to do a project and I said, “of course!” You never know. I’ll just keep saying that to myself from now on.

And you got your start in painting and drawing, is that right?

Yeah, I’m actually primarily a painter. I finished my studies specializing in painting. In Slovenia, our academy has more traditional training, so the drawing is very much part of it. After school, when I was very much into painting after the academy, drawing became more and more an important part of my painting. For example I did a painting in a few layers, and the first part of the process was just a grid on the canvas and the outline of the image—pretty much the same process as it is in the site-specific works with the wall drawings. I use the grid as a base and then the outline of the image for basically every work.

How has your style evolved and how did you become interested in urban planning and architecture?

Immediately when I finished academy I started working with self-portraits, and they were made from CT scans. So I took the CT scans and used them as a reference for paintings, and I titled them as self-portraits. And then when I was more involved in this high-tech digital imaging, I combined images from computer games simulating wars, and actual photographs of smart bombs bombarding places like Iraq or Belgrade. But the reason I’m saying this is because it’s always about this grid system, and the outline of the image—it’s always the same process. And then I came to cityscapes, so I was using my own photographs I had taken in different cities, and I would discard the colors and put them in low resolution, and then make a simple black and white print, draw a grid on it, and use them as references for paintings. So this is how I came to the cityscapes. These first steps of paintings became more and more structured—much more information, much more detail. When I was drawing the first layer, when I finished it I always thought “this looks nice,” and I would leave it in its first stage.  That’s how I came to drawing, and then did drawing separately from painting. So it started with pencil and paper, then the next stage was drawing on tracing paper—several layers to get this illusion of perspective and 3-D space, and then in the last stage I came to wall drawings. I was a bit fed up with just installing paintings on the wall, I thought, “I have to do something with the space as well,” and this was one option. So I usually do exhibitions with everything together, because there’s so much connected—paintings, drawings and wall drawings; it works as a whole, as one complete work.

I noticed you included the physical cables from the room in this drawing, and I was wondering, has the architecture of the museum or the room changed your initial ideas for the piece?

It did to some extent, for sure. When Susan showed me this space for the firs time, I immediately noticed the ceiling structure and thought this would be great to work with. I use a lot of masking tape in the wall drawing, and the wooden structures usually work very well with the masking tape and kind of continues into the ceiling. And I was pretty sure I would use string, and attach some strings to the ceiling structure. But I didn’t know that I would actually try to simulate cables coming out from the wall and attach them to the ceiling structure as I did here. This came about during the process, with kind of me improvising. And I really like it, because I think that this structure is even more involved in the artwork. And the shadows [from the cables], they also came into the actual work afterwards—they’re so much present and luckily they work so well. So for now, everything is kind of in the right place.

What new ideas or projects are you excited about going forward?

Well, I always get new ideas with each site-specific work. There’s not another upcoming project as big as this one for now, but I’m sure it will come. I’m a city person; I’m interested in this human position within the cities, within the architecture, which is always there even though it’s changing.  The people are constantly moving; moving in and out.

Kind of like a museum.

Exactly.  This is also why on the wall drawing, it’s strictly architectural and there are some empty areas within it, which are written as dislocated humans. So the idea is to create some possible spaces where humans could be, where they could actually exist—or where they actually were in the original photograph. I didn’t include them so I just leave the empty spaces. And I usually put the humans on some smaller objects and put them outside the wall drawing.

Did you base this cityscape on any particular city, or is it largely from your imagination?

The final cityscape is imaginary, but it’s imaginary because it’s from different cities and different locations throughout the world. So I kind of created my own cityscape. And it varies from New York, to my hometown in Slovenia, to Dublin and Vienna and Manama in Bahrain. But when putting the photographs together on the computer, sometimes it works so well you couldn’t believe it. It’s a lot of fun.


By Cora Sugarman

Posted April 12, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Invisible Cities
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