Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It’s been hot. New England is as bad as Tucson. It’s worse than Tucson. At least in Tucson, it’s a dry heat. Here, you’ve got humidity.
The charming little shops that line Spring Street in Williamstown are all but empty, although most of them are air conditioned. Bao likes Library Antiques, as you can see. He and proprietor Joan (who is also a dog lover) have become real buddies. Joan says things have been quiet, this summer. People aren’t travelling as much.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MOCA) cost $23 million and was supposed to put North Adams (a twenty minute drive from here) on the map. What they did was transform an abandoned factory into a space in which monumental pieces of contemporary art can be displayed. By monumental, I do mean monumental. The gallery showing the Amusement Park installation (more about that in a moment) is the size of a football field.
MASS MOCA is big, but it’s surprisingly difficult to locate. The signs point the wrong way. And when you do get there, it’s hard to find the parking lot. And once you’ve parked, it’s hard to find the entrance. You’re sort of wandering around a brick labyrinth. Once you’ve negotiated it, and shoved your way through two sets of heavy, user-unfriendly doors, and paid your $10 admission (no Seniors discount) you’re ready to enjoy the art. Such as it is.
I don’t think I’ve ever visited a public gallery that provided less information to visitors.
Or in which the staff were less helpful.
Contemporary art isn’t always self explanatory. Hundreds of glass jars, filled with things like ashes, or a snippet of fur, or tin foil bearing labels like, My mother taught me to save this and I have a whole drawer full. The jars are stacked on a table, and you’re meant to move them around. What does this mean? And more importantly, do I care?
Amusement Park (on the second level) consisted of half a dozen full-size amusement park rides – Bumper Cars, Gravitron, Twister, set in a row in the dark. Their neon lights flashed on and off, and they moved, very slowly. The “artist’” didn’t make the rides, but they’re in a museum of contemporary art, so that makes them art, by definition. I suppose. You walk past them. You look at them. You move on.
Bao’s relished the installation by Huang Yong Ping, on the third level. Two huge cages, with thick, black iron bars. Inside each cage, a water dish, genuine lion poo (they’re lion cages) and – miracle of miracles – a bone! A bone the size of Bao, with bits of meat still clinging to it. I had a lot of trouble persuading him that it was art, not lunch.
If you care enough to want to know what to make of all this, you can join a Docent Tour.
Or you can buy a $50 book.
Or you can do lunch, which is what we did. The Café, by the way, was excellent.


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