MASS MoCA Launches Summer Season

Annie Lennox Life of the Party

By: - May 26, 2019

Over the Memorial Day weekend, with cooperative weather, MASS MoCA launched the summer season with a huge party.

In the Hunter Center there was a performance by multi platinum, British rock star, Annie Lennox. It sold out months ago for tickets that ranged from $100 to $1000. For the occasion there is a mound of dirt displaying her memorabilia as a gallery installation. There is also a trophy room, video projections and ambient music.

While the Lennox event and VIP meet and greet was a bit rich for our blood those who attended reported that it was awesome.

For total access to the museum complex there was free admission. That created an enormous turnout and party mood. It was truly a family event with lots of activities for kids.

There were a number of food and drink vendors both inside and outside the museum. Notable were long lines for barbecue. It’s a relatively new feature of MoCA and business was brisk. On a normal day you can take your food to the nearby micro brewery for a down home, finger licking experience.

In special costumes were queen, princess,  wizard, elf and other spirits on hand to promote the annual Faerie Festival which is staged on the Adams fair grounds on June 15.

Some we chatted with recalled the long line on Memorial Day, some 20 years ago, when MoCA first opened for business. The museum and North Adams community have come a long way since then with a build out of the 17 acre former Sprague Electric campus in several stages.

If you count steps, to see it all in one day, is quite a hike. That’s a daunting task for tourists who also have the Clark Art Institute and Williams College Museum of Art to take in. With so much to see and do Northern Berkshire County has morphed as a weekend destination. Twenty years ago it was a day trip.

That increase in seasonal tourism has represented a spike for the hospitality industry. There are numerous new hotel projects and more museums in the pipe line.

When we called around for a reservation for a party of four the average wait for a table was 90 minutes. Even if you could get in local restaurants were slammed.

We headed for the Austrian-themed Hafflinger House in Adams which was not that busy on a Saturday night. It seems that MoCA traffic doesn’t stretch that far from the axis of North Adams/ Williamstown.

There were smiles on the faces of Joe Thompson, director of MASS MoCA, and former Clark Institute director, Michael Conforti. They have collaborated for decades and now celebrate the fruits of all that labor.

Back in the day, MoCA was touch and go. There was skepticism that the vision of former Williams College Museum of Art director, Tom Krens, would get off the ground. Dark years passed trying to get money legislated  by Governor Mike Dukakis. The bill was passed as one of his last acts in office. The Republican Governor, William Weld, initially regarded funding the museum as “Over my dead body.” Starting from scratch, with Krens then departed for the Guggenheim Museum, Thompson succeeded in selling the project. The money was released in increments.

With the general public contemporary art is a hard sell. There is more appeal to the Clark’s programming of shows of 19th century art and aspects of Impressionism and Post Impressionism. What Thompson and Conforti tried to initiate is synergy between the museums and their audiences.

Under the watch of Conforti, the Clark leased prime real estate in the MoCA court yard. That building remains to be developed but there have been some projects in the raw space.

The vast MoCA complex entails long term, semi-permanent displays. These feature in depth exhibitions by major contemporary artists including Sol LeWitt, Anselm Kiefer, James Turrell, Louise Bourgeois, Laurie Anderson, Robert Rauschenberg and others. There is a comfort zone of familiarity in viewing work by these modern masters.

Memorial Day is when MoCA launches year long displays of emerging artists. Typically, there is a mix of work with immediate impact as well as more remote and theoretical.

When we toured the new exhibitions in the late afternoon traffic was relatively light. After viewing the galleries visitors were focused on a community party.

An advantage of living with MoCA as a neighbor is the opportunity to absorb new work over time. There are always first impressions with high impact as well as projects to linger over.

In addition to exhibitions there is lively programming including Fresh Grass and Solid Sound Festivals. There are smaller scaled cabaret events. We are looking forward to a performance of The Pretenders. For now MoCA is in full swing.