North Adams, the least populous city in Massachusetts, has the largest museum for contemporary art in the United States. Yes, I had vaguely heard of it. No, I was not prepared for how delightful, and mammoth, it is. My husband and I set out on a two-day jaunt to sample what is just marginally outside of our own backyard. Unless you travel by way of Brattleboro, which we did for the purpose of investigating lunch at the famed Chelsea Royal Diner, you can be over the border and partaking of great art in just two hours.
North Adams is an old mill town, complete with still-existing mill housing in its center. Mass MoCA occupies a series of buildings that were once textile mills, and then home to Sprague Electric, responsible for the design and manufacturing of the trigger for the atomic bomb. The industrial past has not been erased from MoCA’s architecture; rather it is celebrated. Even as the buildings were repurposed as galleries for very large works of art, much of the original flooring and brickwork remains (reminiscent of the Tip Top Building in White River Junction, VT). In a particularly charming example, the restrooms appear to have been left unaltered, with a small art installation about them hanging outside of the restroom doors.
Artist Sol LeWitt’s retrospective has been on view since 2008 and won’t be going anywhere until 2033. (That is not a reason to put off getting there.) His work is monumental in size, hence the 27,000 square foot building devoted just to him. He is in good company. Tucked into one of the stairways in an adjacent building is Eclipse by three artists, Sayler, Morris, and Kolbert, that graphically demonstrates the extinction of the species called passenger pigeons. The video opened at MoCA in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon on earth. It is visually beautiful, and haunting.
Once you have filled your head with contemporary art, the more traditional Clark Art Institute is a stone’s throw away in Williamstown, MA. Van Gogh and Whistler’s Mother will be there this summer. In the meantime, we made do with stunning numbers of Renoirs, Monets and other Impressionist works you haven’t yet seen, and some notable American painters as well. Until July 19, you can see Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. It is on loan to the Clark as a result of a Super Bowl bet between the directors of the Clark and Seattle Art Museum; the Patriots’ 2015 victory nabbed the Bierstadt for the Clark. The museum just completed a massive renovation, resulting in a beautiful modern wing that looks over a restful reflecting pool.
Ever onward, our mid-week road trip brought us to Manchester, VT, where we visited the Lincoln home, Hildene. More about day two in the next post.