Mass MoCA building home for Anselm Kiefer's work


NORTH ADAMS -- A new 10,000-square-foot art space to house sculptures and paintings by contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer will open at Mass MoCA on Sept. 27.

The concrete and aluminum-clad building, designed by the artist in collaboration with his architect, Bill Katz, will house a 15-year installation of Kiefer's work. Similar in concept to the space Mass MoCA developed here in 2008 with the Yale University Art Gallery and the Williams College Museum of Art for a 25-year exhibition of wall drawings by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, the Kiefer project is funded largely by collectors Andrew and Christine Hall of Fairfield, Conn., through their Hall Art Foundation. No cost figures were released.

"We believe," said Mass MoCA Director Joe Thompson, "we have constructed an operating model which is fair, transparent, and efficient, allowing the Hall Art Foundation to bring art and programs to the public at a fraction of the cost of building and operating its own stand-alone museum."

The project has been known and talked about locally and in wider art circles for nearly three years, but its opening date and its presentation as an innovative model for collectors to show their art publicly are new.

Thompson said Mass MoCA, which has abundant space, but no permanent art collection of its own, is in a unique position to partner with collectors like the Halls, who have lots of major artworks but little means to display them meaningfully.

Moreover, he said, the cluster of museums and colleges in North Berkshire with the scholarly and technical skills they harbor, plus the sophisticated viewership, is unusual if not unique in the country, adding to the collaborative programming possibilities. An exhibition of Kiefer's early work, from 1969 to 1982, will also open Sept. 27 at the Williams College Museum of Art.

The tradeoff, Thompson went on, is being "off the radar screen," outside of a major urban center.

The Halls, avid collectors of Kiefer's work, as well as art by Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz and Richard Artschwager among others, approached Mass MoCA in 2008 with an offer to loan the museum an 80-foot long, 42-ton Kiefer sculpture they own called "Narrow are the Vessels."

They were forced, after a court battle with neighbors and the Fairfield Historic District Commission, to remove the piece, which resembles waves of broken concrete and metal, from the front lawn of their estate.

The loan and the opening that same year of the LeWitt art space, Thompson said, led to discussions about creating a similar facility for Kiefer.

The artist, 68, who lives in Paris, is one of a generation of postwar Germans who grappled to redefine their national and artistic identity in the aftermath of the Nazi years. His work in both paint and three-dimensional materials often draws upon literary history and myths with images of written words, scorched-looking landscapes, military objects and architectural structures.

The new Kiefer facility, built on the foundation of a former industrial water tank, will house "Narrow are the Vessels" and other large works by the artist as well as 30 of his paintings dealing with nautical warfare and a commission especially for the space.

Austere and sky lit, it will be very different, Thompson said, from the other red-brick mill buildings on campus.

"It will be bright, clean and white, a very different vibe," he said.


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