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MASS MoCA: A Gem in Contemporary Art Museums

Lynn Spooner November 9, 2012 Noteworthy

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Where is the largest contemporary art museum in the United States? You might guess New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or perhaps Boston…But you would be incorrect!

It’s actually nestled in a peaceful spot of the mountains in Western Massachusetts known as the Berkshires. That’s right; MASS MoCA (The Massachusetts Museum Contemporary Art) first opened in 1999 in the smallest populated city in the state, North Adams. This innovative arts center was developed at the site of 25 old industrial mill buildings, rich with history and character, and converted into an impressive 600,000 square feet of art space, encompassing a massive 13-acres.

The museum is set in the Berkshires, which is home to a plethora of art, theater, dance, music, film, and historic sites. The Berkshires has earned its reputation for being rich in culture and the arts. I have a special appreciation for the area; I grew up in Cheshire and was fortunate to explore the arts under the wings of local artists and teachers before I relocated to Boston to attend The Art Institute of Boston. It always surprises me to learn that a great deal of Bostonians have never visited or have even heard of MASS MoCA. Hopefully, this blog entices you to take the scenic road-trip 3 hours west of Boston to discover what you have been missing!

MASS MoCA ranks among the most visited institutions in the U.S dedicated to new art and has become one of the world’s premier centers for showcasing the freshest and most challenging art of our time. It is known for featuring custom large-scale installations — installations that would be impossible to bring to life in other typical museum settings. The unique industrial space is comprised of 19 galleries of various sizes and shapes, including one gallery that is the length of a football field and several stories high. Now that’s one amazing art space! The space itself attracts many impressive artists – both well known and emerging. I can’t imagine this expansive space being utilized more perfectly than to house such thought provoking creations!

While exploring the many different galleries of the museum, one discovers the spaces are connected by a maze of bridges, balconies, and staircases. This experience brings with it a sense of discovery where around each turn or climb to a new level reveals another new installation. The process of exploring the galleries is an interesting adventure in itself! Not to mention the fantastic exposed industrial beams and distressed brick of the old mills makes for an interesting backdrop for the artwork.

I feel one outstanding aspect of MASS MoCA is not only does it display art but a key part of its mission is to “catalyze and support the creation of new art…” In fact, more than 80 major new works of art and more than 50 original performances have been created through residencies there, making it perhaps one of the most thriving sites in the country for new art creation. Talk about impressive! What I love about visiting MASS MoCA, is that I always leave feeling incredibly inspired to create.

“The Geometry of Light” by Alyson Shotz

When it comes to contemporary art, I think those who have a particularly open mind will especially enjoy a visit to MASS MoCA. For me, each visit is a completely new experience due to the sheer variety of revolving installations and live performances. Even if you don’t necessarily like and/or agree with all the artists’ viewpoints, if you allow yourself to engage with the art you can potentially discover a new perspective that may just inspire you into a new way of thinking.

Don’t forget to check out the great museum gift shop, Hardware! The store has very cool artsy gifts, books, and interesting items so I always like to give myself extra time to check it out. A word of advice for those traveling a few hours to visit MASS MoCA; before planning your visit, first check out their website for the current and future installations, concerts, and performances that might interest you. The art is so incredibly varied from month-to-month that planning the right time to go for your particular interests is key if you are making a significant drive. And in addition to visiting this gem of an art museum, why not make a weekend out of the trip?! Stay at a bed & breakfast and enjoy the beautiful scenery and other attractions around the Berkshires while you are in the neighborhood!

MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA – The beautiful Berkshires


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