MASS MoCA: A Fusion of Arts

By Danelle Cheney
Previously published on August 15th, 2014, by AEQAI 

In fall of 2009, I sat on my bed in a small apartment surfing the web with the fervor only a student soon-to-be graduate has. I wanted an internship — preferably an affordable one (a tall order in today’s arts economy, to be sure)— at a decidedly Really Cool Place.

Somewhere along the way, I found a link about MASS MoCA’s internship program. It sounded too good to be true, and to be honest… it very nearly is. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is a collection of mind-boggingly huge galleries and venues located in the Berkshire mountains, an area that looks straight out of a fairy tale (and — fittingly perhaps — is the place Herman Melville wrote his famous tale). No, it’s not in Boston (a running joke among staff); it’s as far as you can get from Boston while still in the state of Massachusetts.

A little history: the galleries and performance venues are in renovated factory buildings constructed by Arnold Print Works (from approximately 1860 to 1890) along the Hoosic River in North Adams, Massachusetts. Arnold Print Works was forced to consolidate as a result of the Great Depression and sold the site to Sprague Electric Company in 1942. Sprague played a major role in the manufacture of materials needed for WWII and later government projects such as the Gemini Moon Missions, but closed in 1985 due to overseas competition. The director of the nearby Williams College Museum of Art was looking for a large space to exhibit contemporary art and the mayor of North Adams, John Barrett, suggested the huge former Sprague campus (13 acres, to be exact) — voilá. Joseph Thompson, also working at the Williams College Museum of Art, was named founding director of MASS MoCA, and after a lot of work to acquire funding, conduct feasibility studies, and complete renovations, etc., the rest is history. Thompson still spearheads the museum today, working with plenty of other dedicated folks who have been there since before the doors opened; they celebrated MASS MoCA’s 15th anniversary in May of this year.

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North Adams is small, with neat rows of colorful houses and an overload of cute churches. There’s good food (Jack’s Hot Dogs and The Hub) and plenty of other cultural attractions nearby: Williams College Museum of Art, the Clark Art Institute, Jacob’s Pillow Dance, Natural Bridge State Park, and Mount Greylock (the highest point in the state). It’s a cozy, unassuming place for either a weekend getaway or a longer vacation. Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, is adjacent.

MASS MoCA’s campus feels comfortably human and welcoming. Maybe it’s because when we go to a museum, we’ve come to expect sterile white rooms, gilded gold frames, and plenty of signs saying “Don’t Touch the Art.” Maybe it’s because we don’t usually get to look at fine art before a rock concert. It’s a little intoxicating to see art — visual and performance — among exposed brick walls and pipes and old metal staircases and nice big picture windows with breathtaking views. You still shouldn’t touch, but, well… maybe you won’t get yelled at if you do (like being at Grandma’s house: don’t touch, and here’s a cookie instead).

As an intern, I was lucky enough to get a tour of some buildings still awaiting renovation. They’re full of potential and history, and are a little haunting with old Sprague office supplies and hardware hanging around. The MASS MoCA crew is ever resourceful (naturally) — Nari Ward’s 2012 exhibition Sub Mirage Lignum  repurposed old Sprague capacitors as part of an installation of giant foam sculptures. That exhibition also included a suspended 30-foot wooden boat and 60-foot replica of a basket-woven fish trap that made me feel like I was standing at the mouth of Jonah’s whale.

Ward’s exhibition wasn’t even in the largest gallery space, which is roughly the size of an American football field. Previous installations in that gallery have included nine cars suspended from the ceiling (Inopportune by Cai Guo-Qiang), light projections and large comfy bean bags from which to observe them (Projections by Jenny Holzer), an upside-down house with exterior glass walls (Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle), silver particles fabricated at a scale of 25,000 times their original size (The Nanjing Particles by Simon Starling), psychedelic piles of soil and shards of styrofoam during my internship (One Floor Up More Highly by Katharina Grosse), and, most recently, two awe-inspiring birds constructed from discarded construction materials in China (Phoenix by Xu Bing: watch an installation video here).

MASS MoCA’s must-see exhibitions are an enormous Sol LeWitt Retrospective and a new long-term exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Anselm Kiefer. Both occupy an entire building: three floors are dedicated to LeWitt’s wall drawings, and 10,000 square feet house Kiefer’s rich and layered work.

LeWitt’s wall drawings were executed with great care and precision over six months, and ordered semi-chronologically. The number, scale, and variety of this installation is staggering — this retrospective alone is worth the trip to the Berkshires (TIME named it top exhibition of the year when it first opened). It’s a dizzying maze of color, texture, and pattern that one really doesn’t mind getting lost in. Luckily it’s in place until 2033 at least, because it’s an installation that gets better each time you visit. If you’re not a conceptual art connoisseur or familiar with Sol LeWitt, I recommend taking a tour.

In addition to stunning galleries, MASS MoCA attracts crowds for both music and theatre performances. Recent shows have included Beck and Iron & Wine, and huge crowds (we’re talking 5,000+) appear for the Solid Sound Festival that is curated by Wilco. The museum also hosts the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival, which provides composers and performers a chance to explore contemporary music and share it daily in the galleries (sadly, this just ended the first week of August, but take note for next year). There are films showing both indoors and outdoors in the courtyard, and a beer garden during warm summer months. Oh, and, of course, there’s Kidspace, a set of galleries and exhibitions and activities especially for the small ones.

Currently on view (in addition to the year-round Sol LeWitt Retrospective and seasonal exhibitions including Anselm Kiefer) are Uncertain Beauty by Darren Waterston (a contemporary interpretation of James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room; review by The Boston Globe here), Eclipse by Elizabeth Kolbert and Sayler/Morris (exploring extinction through the story of the once-plentiful passenger pigeon), The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium and Metaphor featuring the work of six artists, and… plenty more.

What made me fall in love with MASS MoCA? Several things: the love and dedication of the staff, from the interns to security to senior management. Their ability to ask “What’s art? We’re not sure, but let’s find out.” The inclusive nature, where experimentation and questions are not only encouraged, but actively sought. The fusion of visual art, installation, performance, music, and festivals defines this most contemporary of art spaces. I’m looking forward to seeing what MASS MoCA does over the next 15 years.

By Danelle Cheney with gracious help from Marissa Kurtzhals

More information can be found at and

Posted September 5, 2014 by MASS MoCA
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A Day in the World of Art Fabrication: Lee Boroson Edition

By Kelly Cave

Here at MASS MoCA we have an excellent team of art fabricators that assist artists in the creation and installation of their work. Depending on the size of the exhibition,  the museum may hire contractors and interns to provide an extra hand to the full-time fabrication staff. Currently, a fantastic rotation of interns is coming through to assist with the work of Lee Boroson. Boroson’s show will be installed in September, but there’s much to do before we’re ready for that. This particular piece of the exhibition is going to be a giant inflatable made up of thousands of circles that will fill part of our huge Building 5 gallery. Here is an inside look at how the sculpture is being constructed!

So far we have a couple thousand circles sewn in five different sizes. Here they are stacked according to size and pattern of holes cut out on the surface.
The Circles
To make a completed circle we first roll out some fabric and double it up. The fabric is a nylon similar to the material from which parachutes or tents are made. We then place templates of circles on the fabric and trace them with a marker. Next, we put a few pins in each circle to ensure that the two pieces of fabric stay together once the circles are cut out.
Once the circles have been cut out they are sent over to my good friend, Sergio the Serger. He is a crazy-fast sewing machine that cuts the fabric while making a sturdy seam along the edge. He uses five threads as opposed to a regular sewing machine that only uses two. If you’re interested, I suggest looking up what the inside of a serger looks like because it is very delicate and quite stunning.
After the circles have been sewn, de-pinned, stacked, and cut with the proper pattern of holes, they are ready to be sealed. We use a special spreadable mixture that’s placed along the outer seam to help fuse the circles together. Sometimes this step can be a little harsh on the sinuses so we like to use respirators as a precaution.
When the sealing has dried it is time for the final step, which is to put the circles together. We use the serger to make different clusters that build off of each other from large to small. In the photo below we have our confused interns sporting one of these clusters in its deflated state. Turns out you can’t blow up this inflatable like a balloon! 
finished product
Those are all the secrets that the Fab team is willing to give away at the moment, but make sure to get on over to MASS MoCA in the fall to find out what the final product will look like! Lee Boroson’s show will be in the Building 5 Gallery, beginning October 2014 and you can read more about it here. See you then!
Interns pictured: Keenan Cassidy (RISD), Georgia Costigan (MCLA), Barbara Gooding (RISD), Garcia Sinclair (RISD), Nafis White (RISD)


Posted June 18, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Uncategorized
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Hardware 15% off for 15 Years

HARDWARE: the MASS MoCA Store and MASS MoCA by Design are having a store-wide, 15% off sale on May 24th in celebration of the museum’s anniversary. Everything in the stores will be 15% for the general public, and an additional 15% off for MASS MoCA members (who already receive a 10% discount on all purchases). Phyllis Criddle is the Retail Manager/Buyer for  both stores and here she shares her picks for what you should look out for next time you’re at the museum.


These adorable little plastic bins are ready to gobble up your garbage!  16” tall and designed in Denmark, they are available at both Hardware and MASS MoCA By Design. $36 each. Choose from black, green, blue, or pink.


These fabric button earrings are designed and made by local artist Emily Morris. No two quite alike, we have plenty of styles and colors to choose from! Only $9 each, available at Hardware.


Direct yourself here! Our new baseball hats feature the exact GPS coordinates of MASS MoCA embroidered on the front, and “MASS MoCA” on the back. Available in both red and black. $30 each.

peacock book

The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock by Bill Peet is a children’s picture book about fitting in… It is for sale at Hardware in honor of Darren Waterston’s work Filthy Lucre, which features several breathtaking golden peacock paintings. $8.95. Paperback.


Madspots are large, round, reusable stickers which can be used to decorate your house and car with fun and distinction! Designed by Meredith Alex from Portland, ME. Choose from a variety of available colors and patterns at Hardware. Each pack contains 12 spots of assorted size stickers. $32.

bunny hat

This unique pink bunny mask was made by Huck Delsignore from Pittsfield, MA. It is crocheted yarn over a wire frame, with an adjustable baseball hat base inside for comfort. A one-of-a-kind, truly spectacular piece of work. $320 and available at Hardware. Additional one-of-a-kind masks by Huck are available.

Posted May 21, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Hardware, MASS MoCA by Design, North Adams, Staff, Uncategorized
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15th Year Party: What We’re Wearing

By Julia Melnick
Photos by Olympia Shannon

Sometimes the hardest part about going to a party is figuring out what to wear. Is it casual, business- casual, or semi-formal? Who knows what that means anyway? Lucky for you, MASS MoCA staff members have got you covered with some tips about what they’ll be wearing for the celebration of our 15th anniversary. Our party happens on Saturday, May 24, right here in North Adams because that’s MASS MoCA’s home. We want you to come out in whatever makes you feel the best. One thing’s for certain, though–whatever you wear, make sure you bring your dancing shoes.

Laura Thompson, Director of Education and Kidspace, has been working at MASS MoCA for 12 years. She’s wearing a bright, colorful Lilly Pulitzer dress and her winter boots because you never know if it’s going to be wintery or summery in the Berkshires. A favorite MASS MoCA memory is mowing the lawn around the sculptures in one of the first exhibitions she curated in 2004. Laura is looking forward to the party because it’s fun to go down memory lane with old friends.

Kathryn Tufano can’t wait for the party, in large part because of this awesome pantsuit she found in a second-hand shop on a trip to Phoenix last month. It’s Oscar de la Renta and you will most likely find her showing it off on the dance floor. Kathryn has been at MASS MoCA for over two years as the Manager of Foundation and Corporate Giving. One of her favorite memories in that time has been dancing to Lake Street Dive at FreshGrass last September, and working with the lovely volunteers who helped make the festival possible. As far as the 15th year celebration is concerned, Kathryn can’t wait to see Teresita Fernández’s exhibition, As Above So Below. “I’ve made a conscious decision to to wait until it’s up to go into the gallery. I want to see it revealed at the opening in its entirety.”

Thomas Huston is a Visual Arts Intern who has just reached his one year mark here at the museum. A favorite memory is singing and dancing at Karaoke at the Mohawk Bar last summer. It was accompanied by live music courtesy of Bang On A Can faculty and fellows, at least one of whom will be joining us at the end of May. The multi-talented Mark Stewart will be performing a pop-up show somewhere around campus and you can be sure you’ll find Thomas front and center. He’ll be wearing a black silk sweater, a white button-down shirt, cream linen pants, and his favorite beat-up Converses; however, after learning one of the food trucks is bringing chicken tandoori, he’s rethinking the linen pants.

Matt Guyton is the Master Electrician at the museum and he’s responsible for the mood lighting up in Club B-10 and the awesome light shows at our Hunter Center concerts. Currently in his fourth year at MASS MoCA, Matt had a favorite night with the internationally-acclaimed contemporary dance company Chunky Move. “It was the coolest show and they were really nice and interesting people to work with.” Matt is going to be working hard at our 15th celebration, but hopefully he can catch some of Red Baarat’s set because they were “freaking amazing” when they were here a few years ago. His go-to outfit is black pants with a black shirt, but if we’re lucky he might change it up and surprise us. 

You may recognize Jane Burns from any one of our music, theater, or dance events from the last year and a half. As MASS MoCA’s videographer, Jane is always at the show with her camera snapping footage. She’s looking forward to the 15th year party because she can’t wait to see all the outfits. She will be wearing her Jeffrey Campbell shoes with bright socks, a funky jean jacket, and a sassy new pocketbook. Jane describes her outfit as “muted with pop accessories.” She remembers Dan Deacon’s live 4/20 show in 2013 as one of the craziest events held at the museum in recent years. We can only hope that Jane will bring some of that wild and frenetic energy to the dance floor for sets by DJ Rekha and Red Baraat. 

Art McConnell has been working on the MASS MoCA campus before the museum itself even existed. He was here in North Adams when Sprague closed in 1986, and he’s still here today as Operations Manager of the museum. His favorite exhibition to date was Xu Bing’s Phoenix. “It was interesting to recognize all the tools in the Phoenixes and to see how it was all pieced together. Xu Bing was an interesting guy and he was here a lot, so I enjoyed watching him work.” Art is looking forward to mingling in the lobby at the 15th year party while wearing his signature polo shirt,  and spending time with people he has known for 20 years, who helped make MASS MoCA what it is today.

We hope you will celebrate your museum with us on Saturday, May 24. It all starts with an opening reception for  Teresita Fernández: As Above So Below from 4pm to 6pm. DJ Rekha plays at 7pm, Red Baraat takes the stage at 8:30pm, and then DJ Rekha is back for another set at 10:30pm to help us close out the evening. Top that off with food trucks and cheap beer galore and this is bound to be an unforgettable night.  Can’t wait to see you in the galleries and on the dance floor!

Posted May 14, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance Parties, Music, Parties, Red Baraat, Staff, Uncategorized
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Mike Gordon: All time best

By Meghan Robertson
Artist Services/Company Manager, MASS MoCA
Phish Phan 

I’ve been listening to Phish since 1995. My first show was in Hartford, Conn., June 21, 2004.

In 10 years of being the Artist Services/Company Manager at MASS MoCA, I have worked with over 600 visual and performing artists. Yet, I was still speechless when I heard that Phish’s amazing bassist Mike Gordon was coming to North Adams!


As if that was wasn’t enough, Mike and his bandmate, Scott Murawski from Max Creek, scheduled a conversation about the of song writing and collaboration process from their new album Overstep — put together after a trip here, to MASS MoCA.

MIKE + SCOTT   mike Gordon - Overstep

It was the only time on their tour they did something like a song dissection! What a huge honor for MASS MoCA and for the only 200 people that will hear from both Mike and Scott directly. A rare experience for any fan.

Crowd Shot

The talk and the show were both incredible!  It was so great to see MASS MoCA full of true fans here, who come together as a Phamily before everyone makes plans for the for the Phish summer  tour. Just another reason that I love my job!

Meg & MG

That’s right, the “All Time Best!”

signed poster  

Posted April 21, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Uncategorized
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Western Swing in Style

We’ve got a great band, delicious food, fun drinks and plenty of room to dance – now it’s time to put together our outfits for Saturday’s Western Swing Dance Party.


Remember – comfort and mobility are key, so try to avoid anything that’s going to restrict your favorite dance moves.


Bike shorts under your skirt are also a good idea, especially if you’re planning anything like this: