Jasmine and I ditched Boston and its cement melting temperatures for a weekend
back in Western Mass., where we both went to school. And we finally cashed in that rain-check to go MassMOCA, the current show,
Contemporary Viennese artists, didn’t really excite us, but we’ve been saying we would go for nearly 3 years now.
A long road ahead
First thing you should know about visiting MassMOCA is it is far
mean everyone says its far, but its just hard to believe how far
. I grew
up in California where we have counties larger then Massachusetts, and the only
explanation I can think of to justify how far out there North Adam is and still
be in Massachusetts is that it exists on some other plane. So when you call the
museum and they say take 91N to Greenfield, get on Rt. 2W and you’re almost
there. They are lying!
Heading out Rt. 2 we nearly turned back in despair several times, only sustained
by the how beautiful and green that part of Mass can be. Even after finally
seeing the “Entering North Adams” sign, we hadn’t arrived, it was merely a lure
to reel in the reluctant. We would pass through 2 more towns, and cross a small
mountain range, before we descended (beautiful view) into the Hoosac river
valley, and the old industrial town of N. Adams.
I’ve been told with MassMOCA the show is everything, the curating can soar to
heights of brilliance, but apparently maintaining the altitude proves tricky. So
I was a little worried. My worries felt confirmed when we walked into the show
and were confronted with sophomoric video art that expressed the artists desire
to “break free of the conservative and oppressive Viennese art regime”, and a
painter of abstracts that cheerfully embraced the appellation, “decorative”.
However there were some hilights.
MassMOCA is in the back of beyond so that they can have a really huge space
cobbled together out of those great abandoned New England factory buildings. I
vacillate between: fanatsizing about remodelling them into amazing live/work spaces with steampunk enfused aesthetics, and the dread certainty of a
Californian that one day the Big One will hit, and I would be buried by a city
block worth of red bricks. Either way, the Franz West exhibit blossomed in the
Walking into the exhibit room a cheerful note proclaims, “All Chairs May Be Sat
In.” A 30ft tall sculpture of a Pepto Bismol pink intestine, “Drama
(Model)” quickly draws the
eye. As does the 90ft long white table, “Kantine”“, that attempts to
play with Kant’s 2 ideals of pleasure. We’re told at the MAK this was a
performance piece, where you ate heavy German peasant food while staring at the
high art intestine so that the lump in your stomach and your growing panic of
not understanding why Austria’s most influential artist has sculpted a giant
intestine come to symbolize Kant’s interested and disinterested pleasures. I
don’t personally remember Swedish meatballs coming up in our discussions of the
Enlightenment but it was an intriguing piece.
It was this piece that prompted Jazz’s insight, “They are going for
Disneyland. Art that is fun for the whole family.” Which is not to say we
didn’t like it, a lot, but one worried if the curator had sacraficed critique in bringing
it to you. Still, Wurm’s center piece was worth seengi
A self portrait of the artist in a hot pink button up and tight black pants,
shot from a decidedly unflattering angle, looks down upon a car which sags with heavy curves of flesh. The hood is chubby; the bumper and skirt, and
mirrors droop with cellulite; the door handle, and key hole are deep dimples.
The whole car is the unreal pink of a “Flesh” crayon, and fat. Unlike West’s
more conceptual intestine, endless hours have clearly been put into to making
the hard plastic shell of this car look like you would squish into its fleshy
expanses if pushed up against it. I feel as if we are supposed to be repulsed by its obesity, but to someone like myself who has never embraced the sleek metallic aesthetic of modern cars it is also sexy.
As we stand in awe, staring at this contrivance, we are excitedly informed by a
fellow museum goer that underneath all that pink excessive is “a Ford Escort!
Can you believe that? A Ford Escort!”. I feel deeply alienated from my
(Update: Actually the photo behind the car is not the artist, a man, but the curator.
Suddenly my whole understanding of the piece bucks, and swims before my eyes, as
I reconsider how I feel about it…)
Probably my favorite artist from the show, and probably the understated.
His little alcove revolved around a collection of plastic bags, filled with dirt
and plants under a grow light, “Portable Garden”. The plants were weeds transplanted from the
grounds of MassMOCA, the bags I recognized from Tijuana, but apparently they
are also popular among the Vienna’s poor immigrants from Eastern Europe, and
Africa. Hard to capture in words, you could sense Weinberger’s deep sympathy
with these scrappy, unwelcome transplants. A message that blended
environmentalisms, and social justice.
Against one wall was a large piece of newsprint in which a sprawling fictitious
city plan has been depicted, “Course/Drift”. The city has grown smack up against its encircling
mountains, represented with topo lines, and is now trying to figure out how to
go on growing. The cityscape is labeled, not with traditional names like Main St., or 6th Ave., but with a powerful and loaded vocabulary. (on which I
did not take notes, unfortunately) A plaza might be named happiness, taxes,
lost, or ball game. A concourse I remember was named “Upper Class Concert”, a
little neighborhood block named “Revolution”. It conjured up one of Calvino’s
invisible cities, and I stood and stared for a long time.