The RuraList: The Big Six At Building 6
By Nichole Dupont
MASS MoCA, the unofficial Louvre of the Northeast, is about to unveil its newly renovated Building 6 on Sunday, May 28. The 130,000 square feet of space will be the new home of changing exhibitions, long-term installations, and so much natural light that it can alter the mood of visitors, who will travel in droves to see Louise Bourgeois’ megalithic marble sculptures, the floating, breathing light of James Turrell, and the virtual realities of Laurie Anderson.
Building 6, with its rough-hewn floorboards, exposed brick and factory windows, is a masterpiece of which every corner should be explored, including the art. But to ground you on your journey through the totally reimagined 19th century industrial complex, here are six things not to miss in the magnificent Building 6.
1. Cosmic Latte
Spencer Finch returns to MASS MoCA — his work, What Time is it on the Sun? appeared in 2007 — with the whimsical, 80-foot Cosmic Latte installation. More than 300 custom LED fixtures hang from the ceiling, emitting a brownish-gold light that cannot be muted, even with the flood of natural light coming into the gallery space. The lights are arranged in the formation of the molecular model of the pigments that are used to achieve this “latte” color. And the shape of the entire installation is meant to represent the Milky Way as it would be seen (in our hemispheric sky here in the Northeast) in early spring. You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to bask in the warm light of these stars, but they will inspire you to think great things.
2. Joe Wardwell’s wall of words
You might just get lost in the Boston-based artist’s Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States, a layered “landscape” that covers the entire wall, floor to ceiling, of one of the gallery spaces. The background of the work is the sloping silhouette of the tree line on Mount Greylock. But the naturalism stops there, as layer upon layer of yellows, blues and pinks, then huge lettering, lead us into the foreground: 40 screen-printed texts. Song lyrics, campaign slogans, quotes and lines of poetry from brilliant minds like Hunter S. Thompson, Maya Angelou and Bill Clinton create a haunting homage to an American dream long ago shattered. You’ll want to spend hours reading each fragment, and contemplating “what’s next.”
3. The lightwell
At the core of Building 6, which is three stories high and includes a bike tunnel, is a nexus of stairwells and bridges leading from one exhibit to the next. At first glance, it seems like the decision to make part of the building “open air” was cavalier considering the fickle New England climate… but look up. A 20-foot-wide by 140-foot-long skylight has replaced the roof of the building, allowing for maximum light to pass through. Rain or shine, the light is perfect.
4. Barbara Ernst Prey’s commissioned watercolor
The unofficial theme of Building 6 is “larger than life.” This includes a 9-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide watercolor — yes, watercolor — painting of the interior of the building before renovations began. No detail went unnoticed, as Prey captured the breadth and detail of each column (there were 400), brick and beam, using the most unforgiving medium with the precision of a watchmaker. Building 6 Portrait: Interior is by far her largest commissioned work to-date, and may be the largest watercolor ever completed by a living female artist.
5. The disturbing documents of Jenny Holzer
This multi-talented, multi-medium artist leaves no stone unturned on the MASS MoCA campus this year. Carved benches, large-scale outdoor projections and early wheat paste posters present the breadth, and brevity, of Holzer’s long career of tapping into the public consciousness. The posters are drawn from interviews and official accounts found in the annals of Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. The words, printed on large, stark canvases, are haunting reminders that war and politics infiltrate and slash the everyday lives of people the world over. In addition to the wheat paste “classified” accounts, she has arranged two tables of human bones — vertebrae, femurs, shoulder blades — to illustrate the stark reality of a society steeped in conflict without end.
6. The eternal sound smile of Gunnar Schonbeck
You don’t need to be a musician to make beautiful music. No Experience Required features a repertoire of fantastical instruments — a nine-foot banjo, megalithic chimes, a larger-than-life marimba — all designed and crafted by the late Gunnar Schonbeck. Throughout his musical life, Schonbeck — a professor of music at Bennington College — created more than 1,000 instruments, welding together steel drums, pan pipes, zithers and harps from found objects. Visitors to the installation are invited to play for themselves this unique collection of instruments that have been used by Bang on a Can founding member Mark Stewart as well as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.