Around here we embrace the idea of repurposing. Theodore for instance, was once a stray dog, repurposed as a family member and Service Dog who does volunteer Therapy Work on the side.
Theodore also likes the idea of repurposing canine family members into Presidential Candidates, but when I informed him that a knowledge of history, finance, global politics and the like would be helpful to him in that endeavor, he quickly returned to rooting out chipmunks at the base of our stone wall in Vermont.
Perhaps he’ll try to repurpose a wild rodent into his personal playmate.
Another striking example of repurposing with brilliance can be found at MASS MoCA, a sprawling, former textile printing mill (circa 1860) turned art museum.
The museum makes its home on a thirteen acre campus consisting of twenty-seven buildings located in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, surrounded by picturesque Appalachian mountains. The largest contemporary arts center in the United States, MASS MoCA is known for featuring large scale, complex art installations as well as live music, theater and dance performances, all of which have earned the museum a reputation as one of the premiere, innovative cultural complexes in the world.
Something remarkable happens when phenomenal works of contemporary art are juxtaposed against the history and structure of this place. It seems an odd pairing and yet, it all comes together in a way that dazzles the mind and eye.
On our recent Father’s Day visit, we were accompanied by family, including Theodore’s Other Favorite Human and his dad, Lyman…
….as well as Leo, a service dog in training, who also happens to be one of Theodore’s besties.
Federico Diaz’ Geometric Death Frequency greets visitors at the front entrance. Comprised of 420 thousand black spheres, the 50 foot long, 20 foot high sculpture was created specifically for this site at MASS MoCA.
Theodore and Leo were instructed not to molest any of the balls on display, and they obediently complied, though not before raising a doggie-eyebrow or two. (‘If not for chewing and fetching, what is a ball FOR?’ )
Theodore felt it necessary to register his displeasure at our instructions and turned his back on the whole enterprise…
But I beckoned him indoors and he quickly fell into step, anxious to make new friends and take in what MASS MoCA has in store.
Up on the second floor, Nari Ward’s installations which address history, memory and perception left us with mouths literally agape. Nu Colossus (part of his five piece work Sub Mirage Lignum–all on view at MASS MoCA) was inspired by a small, conical, woven fish trap but it is re-imagined here in massive proportions. See the photo below of Leo and his human Nicole for a clue to the piece’s scale.
Jamaican-born New Yorker Nari Ward recycles found objects and materials for use in his works of art. In fact, remnants from MASS MoCA’s former industrial tenants as well as wood leftover from another artist’s installation were incorporated into the formidable works on display…
….And their arresting presence is another example of how one man’s junk is another’s treasure.
Clearly, Ward takes ‘repurposing’ to an entirely new level.
Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective is made up of 105 of the conceptual artist’s large scale drawings spanning his career from 1969 to 2007 and occupies nearly an acre of interior walls built to the artist’s specifications for this special installation.
(My favorite LeWitt quote: Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.)
With his deceptively simple, vibrant and energetic works, Sol LeWitt (who died in 2007) immersed the viewer in his world. Meandering from room to room, these painted walls felt like some kind of entrancing 3D poetry.
Click HERE to check out MASS MoCA’s website dedicated to LeWitt’s installation which features timelapse films of the drawings in progress as well as an audio tour and more.
Katherina Grosse was the next artist to leave us slack jawed. With its towering peaks of styrofoam and hulking mounds of soil painted in shockingly bright colors, her psychedelic landscape entitled One Floor Up More Highly made us feel as if we’d just stumbled into a trippy version of Superman’s planet Krypton.
As we wandered about the cavernous space, taking in the work from various angles, the dogs saw another opportunity for a boisterous game of dig-and-chase, and our instructions to conduct themselves with indoor manners were met yet again with obedience mixed with a touch of disbelief. But who could blame them? The humans were equally compelled to scale those inviting, polychromatic mini-mountains!
Jail time is an excellent deterrent, however, so we refrained from indulging our childish whims.
There’s far more to see at MASS MoCA, plenty more than we can represent here, but we hope this glimpse entices you to visit, as well…
We made one more stop at Hudsons art and antiques store before leaving MASS MoCA’S campus…which conveniently brings our repurposing conversation full circle.
Artfully displayed antiques, art and vintage collectibles fill the shop, and Jane Hudson presides over it all with a bright smile and elegant manner.
Stop by and see Jane and she’ll tell you tales about all the wonderful goods she and her husband have assembled in their store.
One more important note before we say sign off today…
We’d like to send warm wishes and healing thoughts to one of MASS MoCA’s gallery attendants. Theodore and I met Joe, a gentle man with a quiet way about him, while taking in Nari Ward’s work. After chatting a bit about the museum and the art on display, I shared some stories about Theodore’s work with hospitalized children. Joe has seen therapy dogs on duty many times, as his fifteen year old daughter, Anna, is now undergoing her fifth round of cancer treatment. She’s a beautiful, bright young girl, and a dog lover to boot. Joe told us she’s been unbelievably strong and brave though it all.
Our hearts go out to Anna and her family and we hope that this latest course of treatment will serve her well. We feel so fortunate that we were able to meet Joe that day, especially Theodore, who isn’t shy about sharing his affections. (He leans into the folks with whom he’s truly smitten.) I know he was hoping Joe would share some of his doggie love with his wife and the lovely Anna, too.
We hope to visit again soon, but until then, cheers and thanks to everyone at MASS MoCA.
It was the perfect outing for a very special Father’s Day.
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247
Phone: 413.MoCA.111 (413.662.2111)
A note: Unfortunately, dogs without legitimate Service Dog Credentials are not allowed at MASS MoCA.