Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 42/60: MASS MOCA

A warm day! Shirt-sleeve weather!
The tree-covered hill behind North Adams glows gold and copper as the sun comes up. The view from our 5th-floor window of the hill and the brick buildings of the town is so fascinating as the light changes that we both are forced to take photos though the window is spattered by last night's rain.

A major goal of the trip for me was to see a retrospective exhibit of the wall designs of Sol Lewitt; I am a major fan. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art occupies huge a complex of defunct factory buildings; they have lots of space to play with, and have yet to make use of it all. About five years ago they renovated one of the buildings for this retrospective. They are showing Lewitt's wall designs on three floors, sixty to eighty huge designs, all very different. This project was completed just before his death, so he personally was involved in the arrangement.

It is amazing to see how he progressed. Because ideas were more important to him than appearances, his early work used faint lines of graphite, all of them straight, all related to the square. Over the years he used heavier lines, he started doing systematic demonstrations of color relationships, and then he discovered the curve; by the end of his career, he was doing wildly gyrating curves in blindingly contrasting colors.

Both Dan and I really enjoyed the show. The light was fairly decent; photography and video was allowed. The wall designs are still in good condition, no smudges or heel marks. Several young guards prowl constantly about. The way the paintings were arranged created a visual surprises. It reminded me of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris—the church with the most and the prettiest stained glass. The mental and aesthetic mood created by Lewitt's work is similar.

We had lunch in their busy cafĂ© amongst students, parents with children, and tourists from abroad. I had  salad, Dan had soup, it was fine.

After lunch Dan and I split up. The hotel is only a couple blocks away, so we planned to meet back here. The light was nice and Dan was eager to visit a place called the Hoosac tunnel museum to learn about a railway tunnel here in the Berkshire Mountains.

The rest of the exhibits were interesting, more or less, but lacking in aesthetics. There was a show of contemporary work from Canada, including some very strong gay statements. Everything was weird structures and video expressing attitudes of discontent. There was a show of structures representing "invisible cities."

The rough factory complex, with metal staircases and signs left over from its active days, is quite interesting. Both of us wandered around the property separately. There were some weird installations here and there. The river running through it is dark and swift. I followed a path toward some pillars, thinking there might be a different view of the river. I ended up by the river under a highway. From the highway was hanging a half-dozen swings, flat black boards hanging from very long black ropes. It happens that I have been dreaming about swinging, so I saw these unexplained swings as an answer to a dream. I dropped my stuff in a pile and used one of the swings for awhile, swinging toward the fence by the river. It was satisfying.

I explored the small town a little. North Adams is funny because everything is crammed into a small space. From the hotel you can walk to the art museum, to the fire station, the police station, other public services, several restaurants and other businesses; the highway and the railway are right next to the hotel. There's a liberal arts college nearby and students ply the streets and pubs. By 4 p.m. I was hot (hot! yay!) and tired; I returned to the hotel for a brief nap.

Dan returned from the railway museum with lots of information. For dinner we walked across the street to the Hub. Very busy; very noisy. Very good food and good service. I had chicken noodle soup. Dan had grilled strip with fresh steamed veggies. We shared an excellent piece of cherry pie.

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