ART AND POLITICS: PART 1
Williamstown, MA in mid-August provided the perfect weekend for my husband and me: golf in the morning, museum in the afternoon, and theatre in the evening.
There are many fancy museums being built. As an architect, I know that they are very sought-after projects. However, the transformation of these huge and ordinary mill buildings into the sprawling art museum Mass MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts, may be one of the finest examples of museum architecture and of architecture as inspiration for the artists whose works fill the space and give viewers an experience not easily forgotten.
The Mass MoCA is definitely worthy of a visit as soon as you can. It’s a 2 ½ hour drive from Boston and from New York. There are so many amazing exhibits that are relevant to those of you who love art, architecture and the mastery of a medium.
Sol Lewitt designed paint by instruction wall art. The scope and breadth of the exhibit is almost overwhelming. If you are looking for something even kids can appreciate, this is it. This is a visual, not a political experience.
The James Turrell light show is filled with master works. I encourage you to go online and secure a time slot for the 1991 “Perfectly Clear.” The tickets are free (not including admission), but only 6-7 people can go in at a time. The experience is physical and visual. There are many other pieces that do not require tickets, so you can see the Light Master at work. Take your time to see these ever-changing art pieces in their entirety. Turrell’s work uses technology, artistry, ambition, and color to create an experience not to be missed.
The art with political content at Mass MoCA is by Nick Cave. His installation in Building 5 is called “Until.” There are three parts: a “hanging garden” of metallic lawn ornaments, some of which have gun shapes hidden in all of the shiny twirling objects. In the middle of this “garden” is a crystal “cloud,” which asks the question, “Is there racism in heaven?” On top of the cloud are many objects including a black-face lawn jockey. The last part is a giant draped object made of netting and beading with symbols like the rainbow. Cave believes that art must speak to society, challenge society, and he hopes, to bring people together.
Architecture is not the same as art. It is an expression of an idea that must also solve specific functional requirements, site requirements, neighborhood/community requirements, government requirements (codes and zoning), maintenance requirements, materials challenges, while at the same time be acceptable to the client and most importantly, perhaps, be within an acceptable budget and buildable within a given timeframe.
Art is generated by the artist, although some art is commissioned by patrons for a specific site, such as the Nick Cave work at Mass MoCA, or such as the art for most corporate atria or lobbies, and thus must also meet the requirements of the space and perhaps of the patrons, but art is the result of the artist’s expression – communication as banal as how the light bounces off an apple in a still life or as political as confronting racism in billboard sized messages.
Architecture communicates the hopes and ideas of the client, of the architect, and of the community (see our blog on P.O.P.S). It’s really hard to satisfy all of the demands/requirements, but it is possible tosolve many, if not most of them. The client may want a space “filled with natural light”, but if the site isblocked on the south with a tower and on the east with a forest and on the west with a midrise buildingand the north has a highway, and if their goal is to reduce their carbon footprint with solar or windpower and to reduce heat loss with lots of insulation – “filled with natural light” may be a biggerchallenge than if the project were in the middle of a rural field.
Architects are constantly balancing the needs of the client, the community, and what’s possible. It’s not easy. Be kind to your architect.