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Kris Wilton
WGBHArts Goes West to Explore... Canada at MASS MoCA
By Kris Wilton

July 7, 2012

Widow, 2012 (Janice Wright Cheney, b. 1961, Montreal, Canada)

With its immense scale, giant machinery and surprises at every turn, Mass MoCA feels like a huge, post-industrial grown-up’s playground.

The marquis exhibition at the moment is Oh, Canada, a survey of Canadian art which, according to the wall text, “does not pretend to define a country as expansive and intricately layered as Canada, though it provides insight through more than 100 artworks into some of the country’s most noteworthy art practices and ideas.”

The show makes good use of the former factory’s cavernous rooms, with many works as generously scaled as our northern neighbor. Installations the size of small rooms dominate, along with videos and large-scale photographs.

Certain Canadian themes are apparent — lonely, icy landscapes; environmental concerns; wry humor; DIYism; an obsession with forest creatures, especially human-forest-creature hybrids — but for those of us unversed in contemporary Canadian art, which I’ll assume is, oh, just about all of us (eh?), much of the significance is about as accessible as the Canadian tundra in February. I know this because I read in entirety curator Denise Markonish’s 38-page essay for the exhibition catalog, due out in July, and realized I’d missed about 98 percent of what was actually going on. Those 100 blobs hanging from the ceiling in Thanatos are actually Remembrance Day poppies entombed in dozens of layers of paint and left to die? Those disease cells illustrated in bright, sparkly glass-bead embroidery are the ones that have wiped out native populations? Fascinating! But how was I to know?

[Note to curators: Wall texts? Yes please! Give us at least a fighting chance…]

Of course some of the stuff is great in and of itself, but after the show’s overarching inscrutability, the ongoing Sol LeWitt wall drawing retrospective upstairs is especially satisfying, a fun immersion into color, line, and pattern that can be appreciated with or without its conceptual and historical significance.

Included in Invisible Cities: No Way Out, 2002 (Carlos Garaicoa)

Invisible Cities, ten reimaginations of “urban landscapes both familiar and fantastical” is also stunning (I especially loved Lee Bul’s contribution). And be sure to check out All Utopias Fell – an installation by Michael Oatman in the plant’s oh-so-industrial-chic Boiler Plant involving a 1970s Airstream trailer repurposed for what seems like time travel, or waiting out the apocalypse —especially if, like me, you’ve got a sci-fi buff in tow (or are one yourself). Then, before you leave, to have a go on the giant swings suspended under an overpass and let all the sensory and aesthetic overload sink in.

Oh, Canada through April 1, 2013

Invisible Cities through February 4, 2013

Michael Oatman: All Utopias Fell through November 4, 2012

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective ongoing

Mass MoCA
1040 Mass MoCA Way
North Adams, MA  01247
(413) 662-2111


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