Tree Logic Right-side Up

By Joseph Thompson
Director, MASS MoCA

Last Sunday our family took a picnic hike up Stone Hill to check out progress on Tadao Ando’s work at the Clark, and on the way up we visited Natalie Jeremijenko’s first-generation Tree Logic.

Joe's Trees

By first generation, I mean five of the first six Blaze Maples that Natalie drafted into service for the upside-down bio-sculpture that marks the entrance to MASS MoCA’s front door.  The “girls” are doing just fine, by the way, fully budded and regal.  (John Carli of our staff declared them to be girls, not me, but he has earned full rights to impart whatever gender he wants, since he’s tended the trees over these past 15 years).  It’s interesting:  with each passing year there is less and less evidence of Gen 1’s initial existence as experimental indices – the resultant vectors of the gravitropic force of an earth from which they were liberated and the phototropic force of a sun to which they yearned.  That’s my daughter, Izzy, enduring a phototropic effect all her own.

As we looped around Stone Hill, and onto the pastures above The Clark, this exciting view opened up.

Joe Clark

As you can just make out looking through the screen of bare trees, a stack of three trapezoidal reflecting pools/skating rinks have recently been lined with a bright white material:  The geometric shapes are commanding in scale, and central to the overall Ando design, which is in many ways more about landscape, and the framing of views, than about buildings.  The Clark was brave and correct to have retained the pools within the project scope, when I’m sure there were many opportunities along the way to lose them in the name of value engineering.

Walking past the construction site, it occurred to me that our friends at the Clark are probably a bit nervous with the number of heavy vehicles still lingering on their site this spring, but it is always amazing how much work gets done in two months … especially landscaping, which comes together fast, and at the last minute.

This great project is transformative in so many ways, important to all the Berkshires, but especially to those of us within its immediate orbit. I suggest a walk on Stone Hill before the greening of the trees to take it in:  The ambition and etched precision of the project become immediately clear from a high southerly vantage point.  And see if you can find the Tree Logic Gen 1 on the way up.  That’s Trainer and Jennifer with Izzy.

Posted May 1, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, North Adams, Staff, Tree Logic
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So you want to… be a curator.

Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals – competition is fierce and you can’t be an intern forever.  In our new blog series, So you want to…, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Don’t worry– all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!

Denise Markonish has curated multiple exhibitions at MASS MoCA, including, most recently, Oh Canada, the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside of Canada. With Susan Cross, she co-edited the book Sol LeWitt: 100 Views (Yale University Press) in conjunction with MASS MoCA’s monumental Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective exhibit. Prior to her work at MASS MoCA, Markonish curated at Artspace (New Haven, CT), the Fuller Museum (Brockton, MA), and the Main Line Art Center (Haverford, PA). Markonish earned her Bachelor’s degree at Brandeis University and her Master’s degree at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

I don’t think it was so much advice as just watching how others negotiated the art world. Early on, when I was around 19 years old, I interned at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University; I remember that the director at the time, Carl Belz, once pulled me aside and brought me into the storage vault. He pulled out one painting after the next and asked me what I thought. It took me a moment to realize that he really did want my opinion. This was extremely powerful—to realize that no matter what my age or experience, my opinion and ideas around art mattered. I think this has stayed with me and influences how I operate today.

I was told early on that it doesn’t matter where you are; you can bring great art everywhere. Starting out in the art field, I think everyone thinks you have to go to NYC to make it. I purposely never went there and have had amazing experiences bringing art to different communities.

What was a formative art experience for you as a young person?

When I was a high school senior at Brockton High School (Brockton, MA), we went on a field trip to the Fuller Art Museum. I remember we met with the curator, and I had no idea that it was actually a job. It was at that moment that I knew what I wanted to do.

I had another key art moment when I was much younger as well, but I don’t think I realized how important it was until decades later… when I was about 12 years old, I went on a family vacation in Toronto and saw two public sculptures: one on the side of the Toronto Sky Dome of photographers leaning out of a box to take pictures of the crowd below and the other in Eaton Centre (a large shopping mall) of Canadian geese flying in the air. Later I would realize that these were both sculptures by Michael Snow, one of the most important living Canadian artists. I figured this out in college after seeing Michael’s film “Wavelength,” probably one of my all time favorites. I am so lucky to have worked with Michael once in Connecticut and then again in MASS MoCA’s Oh, Canada exhibition.

What is the biggest shift you have witnessed in the museum field?

I think the biggest shift I have seen in the museum field as of late is the rise of the biennial exhibition. It seems like in the last decade there are twice as many international biennials than before. I have yet to decide if I think this is a good or a bad thing. In theory, getting art out there and taking stock of it is great, but it seems that a lot of the same artists are on this circuit, which makes it seems a little predicable to me. That was one of the main reasons I chose to do the Oh, Canada show, as these were artists that I didn’t feel were getting the same attention on this biennial circuit.

If you could work in any other field, what would it be? Why?

I don’t think could actually or would actually ever want to do anything else. I love what I do and feel very lucky to be able to do it!

Fill in the blank: The future of the arts depends on artists. (Our director, Joe Thompson said the same thing!)

Do you have questions for next week’s So you want to…? Tweet them @MASS_MoCA!

Posted December 18, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Canada, Exhibitions, Interns, Museum Education, Oh Canada, Staff, Uncategorized
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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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So you want to… produce new theatre.

Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals – competition is fierce and you can’t be an intern forever.  In our new blog series, So you want to…, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Don’t worry– all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!

Christopher Hibma serves as the Producing Director of Sundance Institute Theatre Program, where he coordinates Theatre Labs in Florida, Wyoming, and Utah, as well as at MASS MoCA and on Governors Island in New York Harbor. His work has supported numerous writers and the creative teams of Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, and Grey Gardens. Previously, Hibma worked for Theater Latté Da in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Boychoir, and on the directing staffs of Broadway’s The Lion King and numerous productions at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.