Catching Up with Joe

Museum director Joe Thompson blogs about the latest goings-on at MASS MoCA.

I love mud season because it kicks off MASS MoCA’s most intense season of making art. It’s our sugaring season. Our performing arts stages are booked solid with residencies, and the galleries are abuzz with visiting artists.

I caught Gisele Amantea in the act of converting our Hunter foyer into what may end up feeling a little bit like a Canadian bordello (which is to say polite, and rather chic), riffing wildly on a Louis Sullivan decorative motif from the tomb of the wife of one of the architect’s greatest Chicago patrons, Ellis Wainwright.

But Gisele (seen here in the middle, with black shirt) is also riffing on the ‚ÄúMASS‚ÄĚ in MASS MoCA — her finger poking gently in our ribs for our penchant for large-scale work — by elaborating the delicate fleur-de-lis designs into man-eating dimension: every part of the design that is now white will soon be flocked into light-sucking blackness, and extended for the full 90‚Äô length of the space.

This is the powerful first contribution by a Canadian artist to our upcoming Oh, Canada show, opening this Memorial Day.

On a more precipitous timeline is Making Room, the Space Between Two and Three Dimensions, which just opened Saturday.


Claire Harvey was in town this past week for Making Room, doing an extraordinary series of tiny paintings on small pieces of glass and acetate, which are then projected on the walls and other provisional surfaces using old-fashioned overhead projectors, like your teacher used to do in fifth grade.¬† It‚Äôs startling how much modeling and complex space she can generate in renderings that in some cases are only ¬ĺ‚ÄĚ high, but which gain extraordinary presence when projected and enlarged to a height of 5‚Äô tall.

Continuing the theme of utilizing obsolete techniques with new media technology and inventive presentation,¬† Chlo√ę √ėstmo was also in North Adams this past week, fastidiously suspending over 200 photographs on a grid of cotton thread. The amazing effect is that of a single image. Here is a shot showing Chlo√ę’s process midway through installation.

This is going to be a sleeper of an exhibition, full of engaging art, rich narratives, and interesting cross-references: a true show. It is superbly selected by Caitlin Condell and Ali Nemerov, both now students in the Williams College-Clark Art Graduate Program in the History of Art, and MASS MoCA graduate interns. The eleventh in our series of exhibitions organized by up-and-coming curators, and realized with the support of the Clark (and, in this case, the helpful guidance of MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross), the exhibition is a fascinating bookend to the previous iteration of this series, Memery, which celebrated the internet’s capacity to propel strange bits of otherwise forgettable popular culture deep into our collective memories through sheer repetition and the power of web-buzz.  Making Room, on the other hand, focuses on work that celebrates and rewards careful looking through creation of complex visual spaces and thoughtful forms that feel, at times with a wisp of nostalgia, like an antidote to online frenzy.

Posted February 27, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Oh Canada, Work-in-progress
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Performance Artist John Kelly Talks about his Residency

Our managing director Sue Killam offers this background information for John Kelly’s video.¬† Stay tuned from more videos from John about the residency.

Performance and visual artist John Kelly is currently in residence at MASS MoCA.  He’s created over 30 pieces to date, and he is in the process of re-mounting his Bessie Award-winning work Find My Way Home.  Created in 1988 during the height of the AIDS epidemic, Find My Way Home deconstructs genres of opera, period dance, and cinematic acting, and includes scenes and arias from Gluck’s baroque opera Orfeo Ed Eurydice.

While we host a lot of artists-in-residence, what’s most interesting about this residency is that as John re-visits this work, reviving backdrops, props, character dummies, choreography, and movement from the original.  As he explained, the piece has been in storage for over 10 years and time has left its mark.  For example, only a third of the original painted backdrop (pictured above) was found so now it has to be pieced together from old photographs and reconstructed.  It’s become a group effort to bring the backdrop back to life, adding more layers of those who this piece has touched.   And as this resurrection commences, it’s natural to reflect on the original creators who have since passed.   Breathing new life into Find My Way Home is a mash-up of old and new, present and departed, original ideas and evolution.  Please join us on Saturday at 8pm and become a part of the story of this piece.

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Posted October 13, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance, Music, Theater, Work-in-progress
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‚ÄúThe Known Universe‚ÄĚ

Northampton-based artist Samuel Rowlett and a dynamic crew of 15 local high school students collaborated on The Known Universe at ‚ÄúTEENSPACE‚ÄĚ a project of Kidspace at MASS MoCA¬† in downtown North Adams as part of the annual DownStreet Art festival. Visit the space at 26 Holden Street to see the results.

Samuel Rowlet has written a guest blog for MASS MoCA, check out what he has been working on:

With sketchbooks filled after a month of meeting twice a week on the 3rd floor of MASS MoCA as part of my residency with the Teenspace crew, we finally saw the space for our installation this summer.  The site of the old Artery Lounge at 26 Holden Street was perfect!   With a patina of character and quirky architectural palimpsests it was just the raw space we needed to take the ethos of the sketchbook (the artist’s equivalent of a diary), blow it up large scale and make it environmental.  The process, based on my own studio practice of turning the unpolished immediacy of sketchbook drawings into wall drawings, certainly gave the project an uncertain future.  Especially having 16 sketchbooks to source from!  However, after seeing the sketches the Crew had made, I knew we had the makings of something great.

Perhaps the most pleasing part of the project (in addition to the rocking installation: a mash-up of social commentary, angst, honesty and satire, that somehow reminds me of a Nirvana music video) has been the camaraderie and sense of collaboration that has developed within the group throughout the installation process.¬† As we helped draw each other‚Äôs drawings, we got to know one another, to rely on one another, riffing off each other‚Äôs ideas, and (quite literally) drawing connections between our sketchbook worlds.¬† I had charged them with the task of mapping their own universes, however it has become less about individual paradigms and more about stewardship of the work as a whole and the conversation they have put into motion through the process of working together.¬† Which, primarily, is what I hope for them will be the real take-away from this experience.¬† One that they can repeat in the future in whatever their chosen field may be:¬† a sense of creative collaboration.¬† ‚ÄúThe Known Universe‚ÄĚ expands‚Ķ

Posted June 30, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Kidspace, North Adams, Work-in-progress
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Bon Iver Cover Art in Progress

Gregory Euclide who was in the Badlands exhibition here in 2008 just created work for Bon Iver’s new self titled album, which was released on June 21st. Gregory’s work is also featured on the first single off the album called Calgary (a funny naming coincidence given our upcoming Oh, Canada exhibition). Check out the video of Gregory making the piece.

Posted June 22, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Badlands, BLOG, Music, Work-in-progress
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Behind the scenes at Solid Sound

Here’s the low down on Glenn Kotche’s installation for¬† Solid Sound from our director Joe Thompson:


I caught MASS MoCA staffer Cody Johnson mounting the first of six speakers to be installed down the 100’ long elevated walkway leading from our lobby to the LeWitt building.  The speakers will be used to create a sound sculpture by Wilco’s magical percussionist Glenn Kotche, for the upcoming Solid Sound ’11 festival.

One of the greatest things about Wilco is the way the band’s aesthetic interests cast such a wide wake, parts of which wash up on MASS MoCA’s shores in felicitous ways.

Guitarist Nels Cline (who just released a fantastic new album with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Jim Black) for instance, will be joined by Sonic Youth‚Äôs Thurston Moore in what promises to be a mind-bending set.¬† Fans who attend the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival here will fondly recall Thurston‚Äôs electrifying performance at our 2006 Marathon‚Ķwhich loops me back to Glenn Kotche, who also performs from time to time with Bang on a Can, perhaps not surprisingly, given Glenn‚Äôs experimental turn of mind, and his use of intricate, often visually stunning instrumentation. Those of you who attended Solid Sound ‚Äė10 will remember Glenn‚Äôs elegant, playable, handiwork placed throughout the LeWitt Wall Drawing Retrospective, which Jeff Tweedy named inGLENNtions.

This year, using the LeWitt walkway as a sort of sonic preamble for the band‚Äôs newest (and still unreleased) work, Glenn will orchestrate audio snapshots sampled from the recording process from the band‚Äôs upcoming album.¬† The result of his ‚Äúfly-on-the-wall‚ÄĚ recordings was a rich collection of overdubs, full band tracking, fragments of meal conversations between band members, pinball games and playbacks.¬† ¬†For the LeWitt walkway installation, Glenn selected six of his favorite recording fragments for each of the six speaker locations.

And then, in Glenn‚Äôs own words, ‚ÄúI¬† used the drumbeat that opens the record as a guide for their arrangement ‚Äď assigning one recording to each voice of the beat.¬† The rhythms of each voice determine when tracks are audible or muted.¬† The result is a collage of behind-the-scene mini-clips of our recording work over the past 11 months. Each speaker has a dedicated collage that loops, going in and out of phase with the other 5 speakers over the course of the festival.‚ÄĚ

This is one of a half dozen or so Wilco-specific exhibitions that will be installed June 24-26. Look for it when you come to Solid Sound. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that tickets are still available.

Posted June 14, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Wilco Solid Sound Festival, Work-in-progress
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Working on The Workers

MASS MoCA’s galleries are currently undergoing ANOTHER transformation.¬†On May 29 a new exibition called, The Workers, will open at MASS MoCA:¬†a previous industrial site.¬† The show will explore work and labor. How the laborer relates to work. And how work is presented in contemporary art.

The show will feature photos, videos, paintings, and sculptures from about 30 artists.  We will be tracking the progress of this show for you on the blog!

Luckily for our readers – we bumped into Joe Thompson, MASS MoCA’s director, and got to pick his brain about this upcoming exhibition.

Joe is particularly intrigued with the installation by Camel Collective.  The artists are installing a 30ft long chain-link fence that will hold messages to reference a previous struggle.

This is a representation of a very similar chain-link fence that previously controlled the access to Sprague Electric.¬† “Many locals will remember that the fence was an odd shade of lime green,” said Joe¬†Thompson.

The fence was installed in 1971 during a strike at Sprague.  The strike was against the current wage negotiations as prices for electric capacitors went down along the Pacific Rim and oil prices began to rise.  The employees of Sprague would insert paper coffee cups into the holes of the chain-link fence to display messages.

This is a piece that “picks at an old wound” and “evokes a particular moment of the strike,” said Joe.

“When MASS MoCA removed the fence in ’98, you could feel almost a sigh of relief through the town as a stark symbol of a really bleak chapter was removed,” said Joe.

The Workers will include many thought provoking pieces that will definitely be worth a visit! Keep checking the blog for more updates about different pieces!

Posted May 12, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Openings, The Workers, Work-in-progress
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