Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Established 1999
Location North Adams, Massachusetts
Director Joseph C. Thompson
Arnold Print Works
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is located in Massachusetts
Location: 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Massachusetts
Coordinates: 42°42′5″N 73°6′59″W / 42.70139°N 73.11639°W / 42.70139; -73.11639Coordinates: 42°42′5″N 73°6′59″W / 42.70139°N 73.11639°W / 42.70139; -73.11639
Area: 24 acres (9.7 ha)
Built: 1872
Architectural style: Italianate Industrial
Governing body: Private
MPS: North Adams MRA
NRHP Reference#:


Added to NRHP: October 25, 1985

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, commonly referred to as MASS MoCA, is a museum in a converted factory building located in North Adams, Massachusetts, USA. It is one of the largest centers for contemporary visual art and performing arts in the country.

MASS MoCA opened with 19 galleries and 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of exhibition space in 1999. In addition to galleries and performing arts spaces. MASS MoCA also rents space to commercial tenants.[2]

Along with a large variety of contemporary art displays, the museum also hosts film screenings and has seen performances by a variety of musical acts, including Joan Baez, Cat Power and Steve Earle. MASS MoCA is the home of the Bang on a Can Summer Institute, where composers and performers from around the world come to create and perform new music. The festival, started in 2001, includes concerts in galleries for three weeks during the summer. Starting in 2010, MASS MoCA has become the home for the Solid Sound Music Festival, curated by Wilco. The three-day long festival takes place all over MASS MoCA's campus.


Museum location & history

Arnold Print Works

The buildings that MASS MoCA now occupies were originally built between 1870-1900 by the company Arnold Print Works. These buildings, however, were not the first to occupy this site. Since colonial times small-scale industries had been located on this strategic peninsular location between the north and south branches of the Hoosic River. In 1860, the Arnold brothers arrived at this site and set up their company with the latest equipment for printing cloth. They began operating in 1862 and quickly took off. Aiding their success were large government contracts to supply cloth for the Union Army.[3]

In December 1871, a fire swept through Arnold Print Works factory buildings, destroying eight in total. Rebuilding started almost immediately and an expanded complex was finished in 1874. Despite a nationwide depression during the 1870s Arnold Print Works purchased additional land along the Hoosic river and constructed new buildings. By 1900, every building but one in today's Marshall Street complex was constructed.[3]

At its peak in 1905, Arnold print works employed over 3000 workers and was one of the world's leading producers of printed textiles. Arnold produced 580,000 yards or 330 miles of cloth per week. Arnold had offices in New York City and Paris. In addition to printing the textiles, Arnold Print Works expanded and built their own cloth-weaving facilities in order to produce "grey cloth," which was the crude unfinished textile from which printed color cloth was made.[4]

In 1942, Arnold Print Works was forced to close its doors and leave North Adams due to the low prices of cloth produced in the South and abroad, as well as the economic effects of the Great Depression.

Sprague Electric Company

Sprague Electric Company, a local North Adams company, bought the Marshall Street complex to produce capacitors. During World War II Sprague operated around the clock and employed a large workforce of women - not only because of the lack of men, but because it took small hands and manual dexterity to construct the small, hand-rolled capacitors.

In addition to manufacturing electrical components, Sprague had a large research and development department.[5] This department was responsible for research, design, and manufacturing of the trigger for the atomic bomb and components used in the launch systems for the Gemini moon missions.

At its peak during the 1960s Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000. Essentially the factory was a small city within a city with employees working alongside friends, neighbors and relatives. The company was almost completely self-sufficient, holding a radio station, orchestra, vocational school, research library, day-care center, clinic, cooperative grocery store, sports teams, and a gun club with a shooting range on the campus.

In the 1980s Sprague began to face difficulties with global changes in the electronics industry. Cheaper electronic components were being produced in Asia combined with changes in high-tech electronics forced Sprague to sell and shutdown its factory in 1985. As a result North Adams was left "deindustrialized" and found itself on a steep economic decline.[6]

The site was formerly listed as a superfund contaminated site.[7]


The development of MASS MoCA began a year after Sprague vacated the buildings. In 1986 a group of staff from the nearby Williams College Museum of Art were looking for large factory or mill buildings where they could display and exhibit large works of modern and contemporary art that they weren't able to display in their more traditional museum/gallery setting. They were directed to the Marshall Street complex by the mayor of North Adams. When they spent time with the space, they quickly realized the buildings had much more potential than an off-shoot gallery. The process for MASS MoCA began.

It took a number of years of fund-raising and organization to develop MASS MoCA. During this process the project evolved to create not only new museum/gallery space but also a performing arts venue. The museum was granted $18.6 million by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after a public/private coalition petitioned the state government to support the project.[8] In 1999, MASS MoCA opened its doors.

Designed by the Cambridge architecture firm of Bruner Cott & Assoc, it was awarded highest honors by the American Institute of Architects and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.[9] The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[10]

Current Exhibitions

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Retrospective Exhibition

On November 16, 2008, the museum opened a landmark exhibition of Sol LeWitt wall drawings in partnership with Yale University Art Gallery and Williams College Museum of Art. The exhibition, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective occupies a 27,000-square-foot (2,500 m2) building located at the center of the campus. Over 100 monumental wall drawings and paints conceived by the artist from 1968-2007 will be on view through 2033. Cambridge-based Bruner/Cott & Associates converted the historic mill building and worked with LeWitt to design the gallery space. LeWitt designed the final placement of the drawings before his death in April 2007, and the drawings were installed by a team of draftsmen between April 1 and September 30, 2008.[11] The exhibition was chosen as the "top museum exhibition of 2008" by Time Magazine.[12]

Katharina Grosse

One Floor Up More Highly Katharina Grosse, wielding a spray gun instead of a brush, Grosse often paints directly on the walls, floors, or facades of her exhibition sites. At MASS MoCA the artist has applied her atmospheric veils of paint to four mounds of soil which seem to spill from the upper balcony into the enormous space below. Stacks of Styrofoam shards rise out of the seductive mountains of color, mirroring the white of the gallery walls -- the metaphorical canvas of Grosse's tremendous painting.

Petah Coyne

Everything That Rises Must Converge Over-the-top Baroque style pieces are displayed in 4 different galleries in MASS MoCA's main floor. One piece, Scalapino/Nu Shu, comes upon you as a former apple-bearing tree. Coyne had it uprooted, after it stopped bearing fruit, and brought to the museum. Petah's exhibit also includes a selection of her photography.

Federico Diaz

Geometric Death Frequency: 141 Based in Prague, artist and architect Federico Diaz will create a large sculpture formed from a pixilated abstraction of the museum’s entrance courtyard, rendered in 3D, then decomposed by fluid dynamics. Fabricated from polyethylen and aluminium spheres, the work will address man’s relationship to the universe, and the uncanny moment caught between movement and stasis, permanence and change, fullness and emptiness. The museum clocktower is transformed to wave motion.

An Exchange with Sol LeWitt

LeWitt consistently traded works with admirers whom he did not know but who had nevertheless sent their work to him, as well as amateur artists with whom he interacted in his daily life. LeWitt's exchanges —- he responded to every work he received by sending back one of his own -— fostered an ongoing form of artistic communion and, in some cases, a source of support and patronage. Cabinet and MASS MoCA issued an open call for gifts to Sol LeWitt in any form of an image, an object, a piece of music, or a film, books, ephemera, and other non-perishable items (e.g. wine) for a two-part exhibition taking place at MASS MoCA and at the offices of Cabinet.

Sean Foley

Ruse Sean Foley's new work occupies the over-100-foot-long wall outside of the Hunter Center for the Performing Arts.

Jörg Immendorff

Student of Beuys, 6 paintings Jörg Immendorff was one of several prominent artists of the past four decades who studied under Joseph Beuys at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. This exhibition is the second in an occasional series of shows focused on Beuys and those influenced by his work and teaching.

Natalie Jeremijenko

Tree Logic Six live trees are inverted and suspended from a truss, displaying the contrived growth responses of the trees over time. In this age of the commodification of information, Jeremijenko has made data her medium.

Past Exhibitions

Christoph Büchel's installation

In May 2007, the museum became embroiled in a legal dispute with Swiss installation artist Christoph Büchel. The museum had commissioned Mr. Büchel to create a massive new installation, "Training Ground for Democracy," The exhibit was to include a re-built movie theatre, nine shipping containers, a full size Cape Cod-style house, a mobile home, a bus, and a truck.[13]

The museum, which had already invested significantly in the exhibit and had amassed literally tons of materials in its largest gallery, filed a lawsuit to determine its rights and those of artists were in relation to showing or removing the materials. Büchel claimed allowing the public to view it in an unfinished state would misrepresent his work[14] and did not respond to requests by the museum to come and remove the materials. On September 21, 2007, Judge Michael Ponsor of the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, Springfield, ruled that there was no distortion inherent in showing an unfinished work as long as it was clearly labeled as such. Judge Ponsor said that his opinion would likely not be viewed as creating a legal precedent.

Though the museum was granted permission to open the gallery, it chose not to and the materials were discarded without ever being seen by the public.

Jenny Holzer Projections

On November 18, 2007, Jenny Holzer presented her first indoor projection in the United States at Mass MoCA. Holzer's projection at Mass MoCA filled a large chamber first with selected poems by Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska, and later with selections from prose by Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. Holzer placed expansive beanbags around the floor of the chamber, inviting the audience to sit, lie, and bathe in the light of the work. Holzer's installation immediately followed, and took place in the same space as, the Büchel installation.

Simon Starling

Simon Starling's The Nanjing Particles opened in December 2008. When he came to MASS MoCA he did a bit of research about the museum's factory buildings and North Adam's history. In doing so he found a small stereoscopic photograph depicting a large group of men in front of a factory building. It turns out that the building depicted was the Sampson Shoe Factory and the large group of men were about a hundred or so Chinese workers who Sampson had brought east from California in order to break a strike. As a result North Adams had the largest population of Chinese workers this side of the Mississippi. His next step was to view the stereograph image underneath a one million volt electron microscope, allowing him to see individual metal particles that comprise the photograph and allowing that to propel him towards the creation of two large scale sculptures that ultimately were manufactured by hand in Nanjing, China.

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

Opening in December 2009, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With opened with an ambitious installation of an upside-down Mies van der Rohe glass house in MASS MoCA's large Building 5 gallery space. The architecture of the house comes from plans made by Mies van der Rohe for his house with four columns or the 50x50 house (1951), that was never realized. Within the house, whose furniture defy gravity sitting firmly on the floor that is the ceiling, there is evidence of an occupant who has been up to something. Accompanying the house is a film, titled Always After (The Glass House) (2006), that might answer some questions about the house or just raise even more. The film was created at Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe's 1950 School of Architecture building on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago.

The Knitting Machine

On June 30, 2005, MASS MoCA presented an American sculptural installation by Dave Cole. Cole was in residence at MASS MoCA with his project The Knitting Machine which comprised two excavators specially fitted with massive 20' knitting needles. The knitting project was expected to be completed by July 3. The product of The Knitting Machine is an oversized American flag - a flag which can be seen as both a celebratory gesture of pride and a commentary on America's role in world affairs.

When the flag was removed from The Knitting Machine it was folded into the traditional flag triangle and was on display in a presentation case which Cole described as "slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle", accompanied by the 20' knitting needles, and a video of the knitting process. [6].

Material World

Sculpture to Evnironment Working in a range of modest, industrially produced materials—from plastic sheeting to fishing line—MIchael Beutler, Orly Genger, Tobias Putrih, Alyson Shotz, Dan Steinhilber, and collaborators Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B Nguyen engage the former factory spaces of the museum's second and third floors, creating extradordinary evironments from ordinary things.


Art At the Edge of Perception A group exhibition of works by artists who explore the line between visibility and invisibility and, in so doing, invite viewers to participate in a deeper act of looking. The exhibition examines the demands and subtleties of the viewing experience and includes works that test the limits of perception.

Leonard Nimoy

Secret Selves Artist/actor Leonard Nimoy will exhibit his recent photographic series. Shooting in nearby Northampton, Massachusetts, Nimoy recruited volunteers from the local community with an open call for portrait models willing to be photographed posed and dressed as their true or imagined "secret selves." These various secret identities (offer an intimate, sometimes humorous, and often profound new look at the residents of Northampton and the inner yearnings and fantasies that we all share.

Accompanying the large, life-size photographs is a video documenting the artist's conversations with his subjects.

Past Building 5 Exhibitions

Past exhibitors include Robert Rauschenberg, Tim Hawkinson, Robert Wilson, Ann Hamilton, Cai Guo Qiang, Carsten Höller.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ Dobrzynski, Judith H. (May 30, 1999). "Massachusetts Home for Contemporary Art". (New York Times). Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  3. ^ a b Trainer, p. 9
  4. ^ Trainer, p. 10
  5. ^ Trainer, p. 11
  6. ^ Trainer, p.11
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Trainer, p. 12
  9. ^ "Bruner/Cott Award". Archived from the original on 2007-06-18. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  10. ^ "Press Release: Site History". Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  11. ^ Smee, Sebastian (November 16, 2008). "In vast LeWitt show, absurdity and beauty". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  12. ^ Lacayo, Richard (November 3, 2008). "Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective". 2008 Top Ten Museum Exhibits (Time Magazine).,30583,1855948_1863352_1863353,00.html. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  13. ^ Smith, Roberta (September 16, 2007). "Is It Art Yet? And Who Decides?". (New York Times). Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  14. ^ Johnson, Ken (July 1, 2007). "No admittance: Mass MoCA has mishandled disputed art installation". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 


Trainer, Jennifer ed. MASS MoCA: From Mill to Museum. North Adams:MASS MoCA Publications, 2000.

External links

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