Mass MoCA in the Berkshires: Time Magazine’s #1 Art Exhibit in America, 2008

Posted on December 12, 2008 by Stan Rosen

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Mass MoCA’s Sol LeWitt exhibit has been named the No. 1 art exhibit in America for 2008 by Time Magazine, which hailed it as "a great new American art-world destination."

The exhibit is located in the Berkshires, a short drive from Hampton Terrace, a top-rated inn located in Lenox.

The honor comes on the heels of a rave review for the exhibit from The New York Times last week, among other raves since its Nov. 16 opening in the Boston Globe, The Hartford Courant and various art and design Web logs — all of which bode well for Mass MoCA and the city, local officials say.

The LeWitt retrospective, which will be on display until 2033, outshone several worthy opponents for Time’s top honor, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Gustav Courbet exhibition earlier this year, along with two showings of the Terra Cotta Warriors from Japan.

"The wall drawings of Sol LeWitt are art’s equivalent of gifts that come with ’some assembly required,’" wrote Richard Lacayo, Time Magazine critic. "The plan is for the drawings to remain in place for a minimum of 25 years. So, this isn’t just an exhibition. It’s a great new American art-world destination."

Among the museums included on the magazine’s "Top Ten Museum Exhibits" were Boston’s Museum of Fine Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contem-porary Art and The Paul Getty Museum.

"It’s deeply gratifying and a real honor to be chosen as the top exhibition of the year, ahead of shows presented by major institutions like the Met, MoMA and the Getty," Katherine Myers, the museum’s marketing and public relations, said.

"So many people put long hours into the installation, and everyone associated with it is delighted and honored," Myers said. "Despite the economic news, our visitation numbers have been high, and we’re cautiously optimistic that this amazing installation will continue to drive visitors to North Adams for years to come."

Lisa Corrin, director of the Williams College Museum of Art, who helped coordinate the exhibit, said the honor demonstrates the impact local museums have on the art world at large.

"This honor demonstrates yet again that the museums in our community are operating at a level of international importance," Corrin said. "While we in the Berkshires have great affection for Mass MoCA as a home-grown institution, it is a cultural treasure that has an impact on art lovers worldwide."

Mayor John Barrett III said the attention being paid to the newly opened exhibit has been outstanding.

"When we first announced this project over a year ago, we knew it would be big, but not like this," he said. "This (the Time recognition) is one of the most prestigious honors any cultural institution can receive. It’s a feather in the museum’s cap and a feather in the city’s cap as well."

Barrett said the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time for the museum or North Adams.

"It’s great for the museum, but even better for the city," he said. "In these hard economic times, it’s going to bring more and more people to the city."

Myers said the museum’s attendance has been "strong" since the opening of the LeWitt gallery.

"We had our best Thanksgiving weekend ever — more that twice as many visitors as some of the previous 10 years," she said. "It was also our best November ever, by far."

The LeWitt retrospective is an ongoing collaboration between the museum, Yale University Art Gallery and Williams College Museum of Art. Students from Yale, Williams College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts worked as interns during the six-month installation process of LeWitt’s conceptual drawings, which exist as sets of directions. The completed Mass MoCA installation is the largest in the world of LeWitt’s work.

"The partnership between Mass MoCA, WCMA and Yale provides a new model for how museums with very different missions can come together to do together, as a group, what they could not do alone," Corrin said. "At a time of economic downtown, we will need to work together in order to achieve great things without lowering our standards of excellence."

LeWitt, who died in April 2007 after a prolonged battle with cancer, first began planning the exhibition after a nearly six-hour visit to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003. His vision quickly became a 27,000-square-foot, three-floor installation featuring 105 of his wall drawings in Building 7 at the MoCA complex.

"The setting is close to perfect," wrote New York Times art critic Holland Cotter in a Dec. 4 review of the exhibition. "The space, with its generous windows, is large and flexible enough to accommodate more than a hundred of the ink-painting murals LeWitt designed between 1969 and 2007.

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Stan Rosen
Stan Rosen
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