Pumpkin MoCA

The following reviews of shows at Mass MoCA were originally published at Paper Monument.

Jörg Immendorff
“Student of Beuys”
June 1, 2010–May 1, 2011

To find the iconic professor, one has to first navigate a super-dense hallucinatory realm: naked ladies kissing behind a veil, Mao and Merkel twice each, Goya’s floating witches, nudes on barstools, a giant bumblebee costume, penis-themed woodgrain, drawings of folded drawings, more naked “lesbians,” a man on a ladder with a pitcher, a purple man with a tripod, a white man with a broom, chess pieces, cocktails, cigarettes, naked ladies playing one another like violins, Immendorf himself, playing a waiter—even Blinky Palermo makes a cameo.

Witnessing this pictorial orgy, I kept thinking of the real one, in 2003, with the seven prostitutes (plus four more on the way) and small mountain of cocaine (in a Versace ashtray) at a $2,000-a-night suite at the Steigenberger Park Hotel in Düsseldorf. In court, the terminally ill painter citied his “orientalism,” confessed to arranging twenty-seven such encounters, and got off with a fine. These six bacchanalian allegories would probably plead a similar case, but I didn’t feel qualified to judge, so I just stood there, both overawed and kind of annoyed, like the unwitting policeman who has just kicked open the hotel door.


Leonard Nimoy
“Secret Selves”
August 1, 2010–January 2, 2011

Confused as I was about how the beloved Star Trek actor could also be a photographer worthy of such a venue, I was concerned MASS MoCA had given him a show solely to draw all the nearby Trekkies out of the mountains and through the turnstiles. But before I could so much as flash a Vulcan salute, I was busy watching a video of a psychologist holding a chainsaw talking about how she struggled in relationships because she was, possibly, too aggressive. Turning away, I faced a photo of a large bearded man lying naked next to his equally rotund dog, with a caption to the effect of, “No, this really is my best friend.” Turning again, I confronted a photo of a man playing a flaming guitar in his tighty whities, and very soon, like some stranded intergalactic traveler, I began searching for a communication device.

I found some solace in the wall text, which presented Aristophanes’s notion, put forward in Plato’s Symposium, that love is the search for a previously severed part of oneself; Mr. Nimoy had invited people from the area to come into his studio and evoke that missing half. If he meant thereby to disprove Aristophanes, he’s not letting on.


“Material World: Sculpture to Environment”
Through February 2011

Every time I get into one of these huge institutional spaces filled extravagantly with mass-produced materials, I start thinking about money. How much did all this cost, what is the museum’s budget, what percentage did the artist take, et cetera. I picture the grant proposals, the board meetings, the bemused driver from the rope company reading the packing slip and texting his girlfriend: dlvry 2 museum! This is odd, because I don’t usually think much about money and logistics, but the real question is: What am I supposed to be thinking about?

The standout here is Tobias Putrih, whose Re-projection: Hoosac (2010) is a gargantuan, simple, and seductive wall-to-wall wire show.


Petah Coyne
“Everything That Rises Must Converge”
Through February 2011

Viewers are transported when entering the galleries, baroque works delicately combining taxidermy birds and dripping with wax rise up from the floor and chandelier-type sculptures descend from the ceiling, taking full advantage of the multiple vantage point [sic] of MASS MoCA’s triple height gallery space.

It’s easy to poke fun at press materials, but unfortunately the presence of taxidermy birds, dripping wax, and baroque-type statements extolling delicate combinations merely confirms the viewers’ transport to a “triple height gallery space.” Which is too bad, because one would like to believe in the transformative power of this kind of personal, visionary art—especially in big institutions. But if one dead bird is sad and evocative, these dozens of dead birds—spiraling from the ceiling, protected by cords, primped, and carefully lit—mainly evoke the difficulty, not to say folly, of presenting pre-industrial sentiment at a post-industrial scale.


Sol LeWitt
“A Wall Drawing Retrospective”

As evidenced by the tremendous amount of real estate he holds down both here and over in Beacon, no one (of his generation) understood the nature of the large-scale institutional art project as well as Sol LeWitt. What he clearly perceived, and played with impeccably, were its limits. The resulting body of work is so successful precisely because it is so institutional. The catalogue essays practically write themselves, and the wall texts literally do. That his project survives him so well is a clear tribute to his genius, but taken together with the other fall offerings at MASS MoCA, it made me restless for a vision that fits a little less comfortably into the contemporary art mega-complex. For something that rises but refuses to converge? And maybe doesn’t involve prostitutes?

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