If you have a chance to see Material World: Sculpture to Environment at North Adams, Massachusetts’s MASS MoCA, before it closes in February, I hope you do. The museum is a converted electronics plant, complete with rugged brick walls, heavily clanging doors, squared-off support beams, and wooden floor, all criss-crossed overhead with steel beams. It is beautiful. It radiates place. It bolsters the art inside, giving it a setting to dialogue with, in contrast to the “white box gallery” aesthetic of Chelsea, et al. I think white walls and concrete floors make the art look lonely and oddly small. Isolated planets in miniature. At MASS MoCA, they feel emboldened with context, history, an extra oomph.
And “Material World” is the perfect show for this old-soul building. Seven contemporary artists were invited to create large (huge) scale, site-specific installations in the museum’s second and third floor galleries, using uncharacteristically humble materials like fishing line, sheet plastic, bubble wrap, and paper towels. The result is an ephemeral delicacy that nonetheless looms large. (I almost wrote “booms large.” Not incorrect either.)
All of them were beautiful — truly — but “White Stag”, a crumpled paper dreamscape created by collaborators Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen blew me away. It crawled over two floors, coiling quietly on the lower and on the top-most, unfurled like so many trees before big factory windows overlooking the Berkshire mountains.
I wanted to curl up inside in the trees’ hollow knots (have you seen the California Redwood forests? Like that.) and explore every crinkled paper wrinkle and fall asleep in the museum. I’m trying to give you a little more to go on: quiet and white. Room-sized fragility but it still felt permanent. I didn’t want to leave, but since all museums must close, I instead bought the catalog and took (perhaps forbidden?) photos, and have now recommended this all to you. Just to say I haven’t felt so bundled together and rolled up cozy by art in a long time.