Lewitt exhibit prompts 50% attendance spike

Saturday, January 03
NORTH ADAMS — About six weeks after opening, the Sol Lewitt exhibit at Mass MoCA is having a robust impact on the museum's attendance figures, according to MoCA's marketing director.

November's and December's figures were up approximately 50 percent above years previous, Katherine Myers said. Specific numbers were not available.

"December has been one of our best winter months ever," Myers said. "Our Thanksgiving holiday was our best, and the Christmas holiday has been really strong also."

Lewitt, a pioneer in the conceptual art movement, picked the space and designed the gallery himself before the 78-year-old's death in April 2007. Collaborating on the $10 million installation were Yale University, Mass MoCA and the Williams College Museum of Art. The gallery houses 105 Lewitt works in a 27,000-square-foot space in Building 7; the exhibit will remain at MoCA until at least 2033.

The free gallery opening on Nov. 16 drew more than 1,000 visitors, so the numbers for that month maybe somewhat inflated, Myers noted.

Myers said it is apparent the gallery will continue to have a positive affect on attendance.

"We've had a ton of great press about this," she said.

The Lewitt exhibit was named 2008's best art exhibit in the nation by Time Magazine, and received rave reviews in a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Hartford Courant.

Mayor John Barrett III is also pleased with the response so far. He recalled that before the Lewitt exhibit opened, he predicted it would draw 50,000 new visitors to the city every year.

"After seeing the reviews, I doubled my projection— it will probably bring 100,000 new visitors to the city every year," he said. "It means there are going to be more people here and businesses have an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the situation. And it could bring new people who want to live here because of all the cultural activities that are taking place.

"I knew it would be spectacular, I just never dreamed it would be this great," the mayor added.

Myers agreed that the future looks good, but there is still plenty of work to do.

"The challenge for us is to continue to keep it top-of-mind for people who would be coming to the Berkshires," she said. "We're optimistic that it will continue to do well. It's popular, it's resonating with people, and it's generating good word-of-mouth. We just need to keep it on people's radar screen as we go forward."

The three floors of Lewitt works are organized chronologically. Drawings from 1968-1975 are on the ground floor. His work from the late 1970s to early 1990s is on the second floor. His latest works are on the top floor.

Lewitt conceived his work but usually never actually made them. Instead, he made specific instructions detailing how each painting or drawing should be executed. Someone who buys a Lewitt work gets the instructions, and either hires someone to carry them out or does it themselves.

To get his work onto the walls of the gallery, roughly 60 artists, apprentices and interns followed Lewitt's specific instructions.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 664-4995.


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