NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- The only problem one faces in visiting MASS MoCA is one of time. There never seems to be enough of it to fully explore the ever-expanding North Adams exhibition space.
It helps that the tickets are good for two days, though perhaps even that’s not enough time.
Regardless, the Gazette visited the factory-turned-museum earlier this week to see some of the most recent exhibitions, including Ledelle Moe’s “When.”
The South African artist plays with legacy and scale, sculpting oversized statues and turning them on their side, or dotting together small sculptures of heads that seem to form constellations.
One of the most commanding works sits at the center of the exhibit and towers over the rest of the pieces. “Remain” is a concrete and steel sculpture that seems worn with time, pock-marked and thinning in some places, yet still powerful, coming in at 22 feet high.
Not too far away are more time-worn figures, only these are knocked down on their sides, their sense of command knocked down as well. These bodies at once timeless and frayed, as do the enormous male heads laying down next to them. Several of the latter are open at the neck, revealing a cavernous absence.
The ancient-looking figures make the viewer feel small in stature. Nearby, the smaller sculptured heads in “Congregation” have a similar impact. In the installation, Moe pieces together fist-sized heads into an array that echoes a star atlas, mapping out lives and legacies rather than gaseous figures in the sky.
Curated by Susan Cross, “When” is both unsettling and comforting. As Cross writes “Death haunts the entire exhibition, and fittingly the title functions as a reminder of an inevitability — that we will at some point face death, despite our efforts to deny it. It is not a matter of if, but when.”
In another corner of the museum is a recently installed exhibition that functions as the antithesis of “When,” in terms of attitude and medium. “Fantasías Modulares” is packed with colorful and fantastical pieces that are straight out of a fairytale, though not one most of us have grown up hearing.
In most fairytales, the woods are a place of terror and dangers unknown, especially for the “fair maidens” who must traverse through them. Instead, artist Ad Minoliti creates a terra that’s filled with friendly blushing trees and smiling creatures that seem to flirt with the viewer. These are mixed in with swooping and straight lines, sporadic triangles and tiny diamond shapes. With hints of dadaism and Cubism, “Landscape” creates a playful and hectic environment that wraps around one of the gallery walls and nearby a human-sized pink bunny observes it as a viewer would.
The bunny is unnerving and that sense is echoed in elsewhere in the exhibition with pieces like “Fantasías Modulares #1.” In the lower right-hand corner of the digital image sits a wide-eyed cat, with mouth agape and pointed teeth clearly showing. The creature sits beside what looks like a dancing figure, with bright greens, yellows and oranges.
Minoliti’s work is filled with images that echo classic fairy tales, like her kind-hearted creatures and exotic landscapes, though they’re all seen through a kaleidoscope of sorts.
Elsewhere in the sprawling museum is “The Bright and Hollow Sky,” which points to MASS MoCA’s reputation for bringing exceptional musicians from around the globe. The exhibition features photos of legendary musicians like Iggy Pop (hence the title), Patti Smith, Elvis Presley, Debbie Harry, The Velvet Underground and many others, off stage.
In one, taken by Norman Seeff in 1969, Smith leans against Robert Maplethorpe in a kitchen. Maplethorpe is focused completely on the camera with his body language and his gaze. Smith creates a bit of distance between herself and the viewer, leaning into Maplethorpe’s shoulder and glancing up at the camera through shaggy bangs while biting her thumb.
Another photo, this one from 1956, reveals a fleeting moment when Elvis Presley gives his mom a kiss in Memphis, Tenessee.
“The Bright and Hollow Sky” gives light to a different side of these artist’s lives than most have seen before and it starts off a multi-year rotating exhibition of photos from one private collection of rock and roll photography.
Other exhibition highlights include “ERRE: Them and Us/Ellos Y Nosotros” which delves into issues around the United States’ proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and “S-334473,” by Sarah Oppenheimer (an exhibition where you’re encouraged to touch the art), James Turrell’s “Into the Light” and Laurie Anderson’s virtual reality “To The Moon” (note: you have to reserve a spot beforehand).
Whether you have a week or a day to explore MASS MoCA, it probably won’t feel like enough time, and perhaps that’s a good thing. It means there’s always more to discover.
For more info on the above exhibits or about upcoming events at MASS MoCA visit massmoca.org.