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MASS MoCA Announces A Mind-Boggling Expansion

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Sometimes bigger really is better.

We already knew that MASS MoCA was one of the biggest contemporary art facilities in the country. So it’s mind boggling to consider that its new expansion project will double its existing gallery space.

That’s not a fudged number or a bit of PR-speak. The converted factory complex already has a gallery the size of a football field and 120,000 square feet of total gallery space. When it’s done with its truly epic expansion, that number will shoot to 240,000.

This much we already knew, after the commonwealth of Massachusetts chipped in $25.4 million dollars in August to help things along. But this week, MASS MoCA called all hands on deck for one of the biggest announcements in its history. For the first time, we found out what’s going to go in all that new space. And when the new bits open in 2017, it’s almost going to be like a whole new museum, which anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary art (or forward-thinking performing arts) will feel the strong urge to make a pilgrimage to.

When MASS MoCA partnered with the Yale University Art Gallery in 2008 to renovate a three-floor factory building and install a mammoth installation of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt on a 25-year loan, it hit upon a winning formula. Building on that model, the new gallery space — chiefly a rambling building adjacent to what’s known these days as the “big gallery,” with an acre of floor space on each of its three levels — will be home to other long-term loans, in partnership with artists and other outside foundations.

Laurie Anderson. Photo by Lucie Jansch

Laurie Anderson, the legendary fixture on New York’s hip art scene (and widow to the late rocker Lou Reed), will create a visionary sound and light installation, plus a multimedia studio where she’ll invite the public in as she creates new work. (Specific plans are still being worked out.)

“This is really, really, really forward thinking stuff,” Anderson in an interview after a packed press conference that saw Governor Deval Patrick trumpet the plan. “I’m still really stunned. Where else is this going to happen? Where else could something this huge, ambitious and crazy happen?”

Some other heavy hitters were announced, of course. There will be paintings by the late, great Robert Rauschenberg, plus rotating pieces by other artists curated by the foundation devoted to his work. Louise Bourgeois’ marble sculpture will be on view —including some that’s never before been available to the public — as will immersive light installations by James Turrell (including a new commission), and projections by Jenny Holzer.

Work of Jenny Holtzer. Photo by Attilio Maranzano

Deepening its long-term relationship with New York City’s new-music innovators Bang on a Can, the museum will also make the oversized instruments of Gunnar Schonbeck available for visiting musicians and the public.

Additional elevated-walkways (like the cool one that leads to the LeWitt building now) will help complete a full loop around the campus for the first time.

“The public will be able to recognize this as a complex in a way that they never have before. Even though it’s a doubling of our exhibition space, it’s going to feel like a quadrupling,” museum director Joe Thompson told the assembled press, “or an order of magnitude larger, as an expansion of the experience of this complex and the way the buildings work together.”

Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

MASS MoCA will also build up the infrastructure surrounding its burgeoning side business in top-shelf music festivals. When Wilco has its Solid Sound Festival, Jeff Tweedy will have a finished green room to hang out in. More visible to the public, there will be a vending arcade that opens up onto the Hoosac River, which winds its way across the campus.

The world is noticing. MASS MoCA’s big news has been covered everywhere from the New York Times to the Washington Post. And even though the museum has been a fixture of the region since it opened in 1999, in a couple years it’ll feel like we have a whole new cultural centerpiece on our hands. And isn’t that big news?

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 11/19/14 at 05:46 PM • Permalink