Trenton Doyle Hancock at MASS MoCA

Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass

By: - Mar 10, 2019

For the next year Building 5, the largest gallery at MASS MoCA, has a new tenant.

There is always some suspense as mid winter from its inception visitors anticipate how the designated artist will negotiate the challenge of the most daunting space for contemporary art in North America.

Over the years it has been sorted to two basic approaches. The glass is either half empty or half full. One impulse is to cram it full with aesthetic detritus or to set off an installation and let it breathe allowing one to absorb and feel the magnificent vaulted space.

The aesthetic success of these projects have ranged from the sublime to ridiculous. Hit or miss may be another way of putting it.

This year’s installation  Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass by epic scaled and zealous cartoonist/ illustrator Trenton Doyle Hancock feels rather tween. Working with the MoCA staff of fabricators and installers most of the content is site specific. There are large and small paintings that appear to have been created in the studio.

The windowless back room under the balcony has billboard scaled banners that have been printed. There are more large and small paintings on the balcony. From its edge we have a view down into the space. This provides a panorama of a spiral with large, brightly colored floor panels that provide a path or guided tour through the raucous, stridently graphic exhibition.

From the steps of the entrance to the gallery we enjoy a first encounter, in cuatorial parlance “The Approach,” as we launch into the artist’s eccentric world. It entails ersatz action figures, oddly chubby caped crusaders of color, and a cornucopia of sci fi inspired narrative.

We first encounter a house, the entrance to which is fenced off and populated with a line of kids trick or treating. They wear Halloween costumes and masks. The back of the house has been sliced off to reveal a vintage, uninhabited interior evoking generic Americana. On the wooden beams above the space is hand written “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Indeed.

There are a number of tent like or mound structures of varying scale. Visitors were filtering in and out of them. One igloo-like interior was lined with shelves on which were displayed stacks of toys. One assumes they conveyed aspects of the artist’s inventive and complex narrative.

We made our way through a post-modern, FAO Schwarz toy store.

The extensive display of  toys in various configurations recalled the stepped pyramid themed sculptures of local artist Jarvis Rockwell. They have been shown quite often in North Adams pop up galleries as well as at MASS MoCA.

The coincidence was not lost on seasoned MoCA visitors who asked Jarvis about the similarity.

We had a curious interaction. He acknowledged the similarity of material but noted that he uses it in a different manner. I asked Jarvis if he and Hancock compete for toys on E Bay? He wasn’t sure what I meant so I explained.

“I’m 87-years-old” he said “So I don’t even have a computer.” He added sincerely “Do you have one?” I answered that indeed I do and am using it right now to write this piece.

The curators and staff of MASS MoCA are quite serious folks. But with this exhibition, it would appear that like Cyndi Lauper this time round, they just want to have fun. Post Derrida that seems a bit odd but why the heck not?

This is arguably a show for all ages. The appeal primarily is for the young or all least the young at heart.

As to what it means here is the artist’s statement.

About 50,000 years ago an ape man named Homerbuctas masturbated in a field of prehistoric

flowers giving birth to a legend, no, “The” Legend. For years, there have been reports of large,

furry, smelly heaps residing in wooded areas around the world. These reports are supposed

sightings of the cryptid (creature not yet verified by science), simply known to cryptozoologists as Mounds.

I am, for reasons that I can’t quite explain, connected to these mysterious Mound creatures. I

share a psychic bond with each Mound. I am ground control, and they are my satellites. I

remember things that they have done, and I recall things that they have seen even after they are

dead. I am able to inhabit the reality of the Mounds. Therefore, it has become my duty to

document the goings-on in their realm, an alternate space that exists in hidden Earthly pockets. I

have come to know these spatial accumulations as The Moundverse. The first Mound I learned of

was in 1997, at which time I began chronicling his life. This Mound was called Mound #1, The

Legend. In the year 2000, I began telling the tale of this Mound’s demise at the hands of Vegan

rebels.” – Trenton Doyle Hancock