MassMoCA: Step Into the Light
Or the dark, if you prefer
Art critic John McDonald wrote that James Turrell's works are "dull to describe but magical to experience." I am finding that to be true after yet another visit to MassMoCA’s exhibition of his work, including “Into the Light,” nine immersive light installations in all. “Perfectly Clear” is an exceedingly peaceful stroll around a platform bathed in changing, foggy light. Feels like heaven. By contrast, there is “Hind Sight,” a chamber of absolute darkness into which you must blindly guide yourself with the use of a handrail. It drove me right out of there in less than one minute and, even though it was two years ago, the thought of it still fills me with dread. Excruciating. Try it.
This trip included an experience with a new Turrell project.
Thirty years in the making, James Turrell’s largest free-standing circular Skyspace — titled C.A.V.U. — opens on the MASS MoCA campus in May 2021. Measuring 40 feet in diameter and 40 feet high, this repurposed concrete water tank transforms into one of Turrell’s signature immersive light installations, carving out a small piece of the sky and framing it as a canvas with infinite depth. (MassMoCA website)
Sit on the slightly reclining bench that encircles the inside of the tower and gaze upward at a circle of sky. Then walk to the center, where a polished almost-labyrinth reflects an orb that, try as you might to detach yourself, will follow you without fail. Then sit back down and just breathe. The art critic was right. This description is inadequate, photographing it proved near to impossible, and the experience is indeed magical.
If you aren’t familiar with MassMoCA, it is the country’s largest museum of contemporary art and it is located practically in the backyard, about a 2 hour drive from the Upper Valley, in North Adams, Massachusetts. Most of its art works are immense, which means that the museum, comprised of multiple old and still grittily beautiful factory buildings, is a behemoth, with an estimated 4 miles of galleries and corridors (this as of 2017, and it continues to expand.) Big names (Laurie Anderson, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer) exhibit there, often for long periods of time. An installation of Sol LeWitt’s works is promised “at least until 2043.” The Turrell installations? Until 2025, or longer.
Just a note: Much of the Turrell exhibition requires timed tickets bought in advance, and it sells out. The C.A.V.U is open without reservations. As of November 1, proof of Covid vaccination for everyone over 12 years of age will be required for admission to the museum.
For sheer beauty, Spencer Finch’s “Cosmic Latte” (top) is inviting. The John Cage/Merce Cunningham interior bridge is a slice of sound that seems to breathe with you as you walk. Glenn Kaino’s football field-sized “In the Light of a Shadow” (directly above) is inspired by the connection between protests across the globe, specifically those in response to the tragic events known as “Bloody Sunday” from Selma, Alabama and Derry, Northern Ireland. And art reflecting our face-covered times? Richard Nielsen’s “This Is Not a Gag” (in part, below).
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.