On Tour in the Berkshires: MASS MoCA
Just as Naumkeag and The Mount are museums of The Gilded Age, our next stop on the KUSC Tour of the Berkshires is a museum of our age, gilded less with gold than expression, and aren’t we the wealthier for it. Come 9.a.m., after a late night dazzled at Jacob’s Pillow by the world premiere of Ladies and Gentle Men by Trey McIntyre Project, we are bussed from our leafy Lenox resort, Cranwell, to North Adams, where MASS MoCA occupies 14,000 square feet of 19th-century mill buildings. The old brick workhouse is today, since 1999, a hive of stinging, cutting-edge art from near and far distant lands. I mean, like, they do more here than just hang paintings on the wall, such as avant-garde theater, contemporary dance, silent-films on the grounds to live music, cabaret, documentaries, and a lively Kidspace.
But the visual arts hold pride of place at MASS MoCA, and right now prime among the exhibits is Invisible Cities which uses as square-one Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel of Marco Polo’s travels as told to Kubla Khan. In order to impress the aging emperor with reports of fantastical cities that dotted his ruthlessly vast empire, Marco Polo, many historians now tell us, probably made most of it up, or elaborated upon stories told to him by Persian traders walking the Silk Road. The cities he described were invisible. Far from invisible (in fact rather confrontative), is Diana Al-Hadid’s sheet-polymer-gypsum-fiberglass-wood-foam-&-paint sculpture of “impossible architecture” (the words of the 33-year-old Syrian artist, not ours) Nolli’s Orders. “Nolli” is Giambattista Nolli, the 18th century architect commissioned by the Pope to create a new map of Rome. Nolli’s map was the first to include the public spaces of the city. Past and present merge for the moments we stand before the large and elegant mess.
Across the wide space, 32-year-old Kim Faler of Lima, Ohio has erected two site-specific stud-walls made of soap. (Even the nails are soap!) Mary Linn, 61-year-old Minnesotan who lives in North Adams, has six acrylic-on-panel works that “nod to poet Charles Baudelaire’s flaneur.” The metal-wood-glass-beads-&-mirror constructions of Lee Bul (Seoul, b. 1964) are suspended in a Modernist utopia fantasy. The bamboo Sopheap Pich, by the 41-year-old Cambodian artist Koh Kralaw, is not so much fantasy as nightmare of building-block bombs and Khmer Rouge. Miha Strukelj, 39-year-old Slovenian, has drawn on the wall with charcoal and graphite illustrating a mythic amalgam of Brooklyn, Manama, Vienna and his home of Ljubljana, in a work called The Melting Pot, which, we are told by our most excellent art undergrad MASS MoCA docent, will be painted over when the exhibit closes February.
photos by Erin Kyle