Oh Canada! at Mass MOCA

Posted on Monday May 28, 2012

Yesterday I also trickled up the road to North Adams, to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – Mass MOCA. Actually I alternated between a fast trickle (one section was a brave 50 mph), a medium trickle (40 or 45) and sundry slow trickles (30 down to 20). All this on roads that, in Australia, would be 100k. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the days when US autos didn’t want to turn corners quickly; more likely it’s what’s euphemistically described as a ‘revenue-raising activity’ – the speeds change so frequently that it’s easy to be going over the posted limit, and there’s nothing the traffic cops like here more than sitting in their ‘cruisers’ waiting for their prey to give them an excuse to turn on all their flashing lights and sirens, and pull open the zip on their macho. Ah weren’t in no hurry, man, so they didn’t bother me. The scenery was gorgeous.

Ye Typical New Englande Woods

What brought me to Mass MOCA was the opening of Oh Canada!, an exhibition of – surprisingly enough – works by Canadian artists, 62 of them. With that many artists, there’s bound to be something to please everyone, and I’d have to say I was multiply pleased. Like Australian artists, the Canadians suffer from the ‘if it wasn’t done in NYC it can’t be good’ syndrome, so it’s great to see an American museum – albeit one located close to the border with Canada – mounting such a show.

Some works were quirky – an array of mini oilwell pumps in the carpark, apparently sucking up the last drops of oil spilled by cars, referencing America’s lust for a dwindling supply of oil.

Pumping the last oil

Others were disturbing, such as David Hoffos’ Scenes from the House Dream: Winter Kitchen. This had a video projection of a curtain billowing, set somehow within a small 3D diorama of a room beyond which was a dark forest. On the floor of the kitchen was what seemed to be a couple of piles of snow blown in through the open windows – or was it a body shape beneath a rug? It raised questions about what was happening, and brought to mind a modern take on those dark fairy tales by the appropriately-named Brothers Grimm. Scary!

Don’t go down to the woods today…

Mass MOCA is lucky to have so much space that it can mount exhibitions of large sculptures and installations. It occupies a set of old factory buildings with massive spaces. One of these was given over to a multi-artist show called Invisible Cities, featuring works that draw attention to the physical and psychological features of urban environments. Diana Al-Hadid’s large sculpture Nolli’s Orders caught my eye for its ability to suggest the volume of a decaying Roman fountain and the movement of water using simple materials and space.

Diana Al-Hadid’s ‘Nollis’s Orders’

Also on show is a major collection of Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawings, and another multi-artist show Making Room: The Space Between Two and Three Dimensions, with a range of really interesting – and accessible – works.

If you’re ever in this corner of New England, treat yourself to an afternoon at Mass MOCA. As they said in those old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette ads, “You’ll be so glad you did”, without risking lung cancer.