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New Season At MASS MoCA Expands Outward, Looks Inward

Josh Landes
MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson at Wednesday morning's announcement in the museum's Club B10.

Mass Moca in North Adams announced its new season of exhibitions, events, and concerts on Wednesday. The contemporary art behemoth is touting new and familiar voices.

One bellwether of the coming season at the largest contemporary art museum in the United States was on prominent display at the announcement.

“For those of you who were looking as you walked in, you saw that Titus Kaphar has graced the entry to Mass Moca with a new work of art — a piece he calls Language of the Forgotten," said Director Joseph Thompson.

He was describing a statue containing a concave silhouette of Thomas Jefferson’s profile outside the entrance of the museum, just past its iconic upside-down trees on the former campus of the Sprague Electric Company in North Adams. Within the founding father’s head, there lies an image of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman whom Jefferson owned and had children with.

“Titus looks at history, quotes from it, and stitches together from bits of known history stories that have been forgotten or left out in some way, often through the lens of the Black American experience,” said Thompson.

In addition to Language Of The Forgotten, new work by Kaphar will appear in the group exhibition Suffering from Realness alongside artists like Cassils and MPA, scheduled to open in March 2019.

That preview was the tip of the iceberg for a year of new works at MASS MoCA, from Laurie Anderson updating her long-running installations at the museum…

“Laurie is projecting an image of herself about 8 or 10 inches high on the floor — it has a very soft soundtrack that goes with it," said Thompson. "You can hear it literally if you get down — as she was describing it to me, she said she hopes that people get down and put their ear to it, closely.”

…to a December 8th presentation of a three way work-in-progress collaboration that will welcome a television icon to North Adams. Entitled “Fishing,” the yet-undetermined project will bring together…

“John Hamm, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, and choreographer Danielle Agami," said Sue Killam, Managing Director for the Performing Arts and Film at MASS MoCA. In addition to the Fresh Grass bluegrass festival at the museum in September, indie stalwarts like Angel Olson and the Decembrists will make appearances in the coming months. The schedule includes a rare outing from singer-songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy on October 13th.

“He’s bringing a sprawling band," said Killam, "which will include some folks that have been here before, a lot of jazz musicians from New York, including Greg August from Bang On A Can.”

Outside of the firsts, MASS MoCA is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of the three-floor, building-consuming Sol Lewitt wall drawing retrospective. It’s come to define the museum to many, and Thompson says it’s proven to be an anchor for the institution.

“We change some 150,000 or 200,000 square feet of exhibitions every year, so it’s literally a three ring circus of changing shows — to say nothing of the performing arts program," he told WAMC. "But to have a few deep monuments that are unchanging I think become markers in people’s lives.”

The anniversary will be marked by symposiums, storytelling, and music to explore the legacy of the “father of conceptualism.”

For more on MASS MoCA’s upcoming season, click here.

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