August 23, 2007

Behind the Tarps at MASS MoCA


Since I was close to MASS MoCA, and having walked through his meth lab/Iraqi trading post at Art Basel, I wanted to check out the Christoph Büchel's cancelled Training Ground for Democracy. Call it an impasse, debacle, broo-ha-ha, catastrophe, fiasco, controversy, or whatever, if nothing else the non-show has increased his art world gossip and press.

There was a tinge of guilt, peeking behind tarps that shield the incomplete work that were put up by court order, Büchel's attempt to keep from viewers a work-in-progress. Guilt was easy to cast aside as Büchel was selling reproductions of the legal documents pertaining to his lawsuit at Art Basel. Both parties behaved badly, and I had few qualms about slowing down to inspect the car crash.

The main entrance to the installation was to be through a real movie theater, taken apart and reassembled in the gallery. Next to a the ticket window, one would walk through the theater lobby, past the candy counter and into the theater pictured below.


With 120,000 square feet of exhibition space in a complex that covers 1/3 of downtown North Adams, it seemed disingenuous that MASS MoCA's horn-tooting show, Made at MASS MoCA, was placed placed in a room that forced visitors to walk through the uncompleted work.

Due to the space constraints imposed by the materials assembled for Training Ground for Democracy, the exhibition Made at MASS MoCA is being presented in MASS MoCA’s only remaining available gallery space. To enter Made at MASS MoCA, visitors will pass through the Building 5 gallery housing the materials and unfinished fabrications that were to have comprised elements of Training Ground for Democracy. Reasonable steps have been taken to control and restrict the view of these materials, pending a court ruling which is being sought by MASS MoCA.
They don't mention that you can take a side trip through the theater, projection booth, and view the installation by peeking through a banner that lists all the component parts on view.



Other work on view included a retrospective of Spencer Finch's work, "What Time is it on the Sun?" Below is a snapshot I took at MASS MoCA of their installation, and below that are a couple of images off the web taken at Finch's show at Galerie Nordenhake. Abecedary is owned by a Swiss collector, and Sunlight is from Frankfurt's modern art museum. I think these works capture the mindset at MASS MoCA that let to the Büchel catastrophe.
The cloud piece would have to be made from scratch each time it's shown. The colored gels get creased and pierced in the process of hanging, and making it impossible to reconfigure the cloud in exactly the same way each time it's installed. In fact the wall didactic states that the dimensions are variable, which infers that the work is recreated each time it's installed. I have no illusion that I'm looking at Finch's handiwork.

It's a different experience looking at a pre- or post-mortem installation by Jason Rhoades and a drawing show at the Getty. Different assumptions are made about the artist's hand.
Abecedary is a drawing composed of 36 sheets of paper pinned to the wall. Up close one can see the multi-colored droplets of watercolor that comprise the image, some overlapping and bleeding together. I think most viewers would expect the actual drawing to be on view, rather than a reproduction produced in the MASS MoCA fabrication department. I expect that LACMA's show of Latin American Art would have been much easier to put on if the decorative arts were fabricated in Los Angeles, rather than crated and shipped from points South. I was surprised to read that the drawing being exhibited was not original. I didn't run around to check out the other wall tags, but it did make me question how much of what I saw were reproductions.

Spencer Finch Sunlight in an Empty Room
(Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004) 2004


Spencer Finch Abecedary
(Nabokov's Theory of a Colored Alphabet Applied to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) 2004

Abecedary (Detail)


Also while there I ran into Joseph Beuys' Lightning with Stag in it's Glare (Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein aug Hirsch) which I saw a month or so ago when I was in Frankfurt. The Guggenheim Bilbao has another copy and there's a fourth somewhere else. It was unfortunate that MASS MoCA stuffed Beuys into the corner of a large room and then roped it off. In Frankfurt I was able to wander around and in between its parts, and closely inspect the turd-shaped objects on the floor. For a museum that has the floor space and professional preparators, the installation left me unimpressed.

Beuys at MASS MoCA


Beuys' installation at the Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt (supervised by Beuys himself)

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1 comment:

  1. hey, guess what, that cloud piece really was finch's handiwork! i visited when he was installing it... crumpling up the flat pieces and climbing up the stepladder, all by himself.

    to get to "the believers" it was necessary to walk through the finch show in the process of being installed... and there are a couple vantage points, balconies, on the second floor from which people could see that big room with the fans and the cloud, and watch as finch hung it.

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