Welcome to Building 6: Mass MoCA's 130K-square-foot expansion opens May 28

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NORTH ADAMS — Wall paintings, rooms of light, virtual reality experiences, giant and unconventional musical instruments and immense sculpture pieces.

Those are among the exhibits that will inhabit Mass MoCA's Building 6, a 130,000-square-foot expansion of the museum set to open May 28.

The contemporary art museum is using the vast space to feature more enduring, more experimental, and more immersive experiences using a higher degree of technology in many instances. The building will feature nstallations by high-profile artists such as Laurie Anderson, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, Robert Rauschenberg, Gunnar Schonbeck and James Turrell.

The expansion allows the museum to offer a walking path through the exhibitions in a circular route that does not cover any of the same ground.

"It's now a big, generous figure-8 loop, with about 4 miles of walking," said Joseph Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, to about two dozen journalists and visitors during a preview of the new building.

The expansion will eventually include a tunnel through Building 6 that will hook up to the walk/bike path now in development, and will exit onto a bridge over the north branch of the Hoosic River that feeds onto River Street near The Porches. The bridge will be built soon.

Building 6 is the third and final phase of the Mass MoCA build-out at a cost of $65.4 million, with nearly $10 million still to go. About $25 million of the cost was a grant from the state, something Thompson referred to as a "heroic effort."

The museum opened in 1999.

Thompson noted that the museum would never have gotten this far without "uninterrupted support of seven governors from both parties without hesitation. It is an interesting demonstration of what you can do with a public/private partnership and bipartisan support."

The result is spacious, airy and bright, due to the hundreds of factory windows providing illumination for the three-story, post-and-beam former industrial space built in the 1870s.

Building 6 nearly doubles Mass MoCA's gallery space, adds new art fabrication workshops, performing artists' support facilities, music festival amenities and other new capacities. The improvements include increased green room space and catering capacity for performing artists, their families and crews.

Among the long-term exhibitions to be featured:

• James Turrell has been using light as a sculpture medium since 1966, and his work at Mass MoCA takes that work into a retrospective with immersive spaces bathed in a variety of light waves, frequencies, and colors designed and built by the artist.

• The late Gunnar Schonbeck designed and built more than 1,000 instruments over 50 years, many of which were being stored at his Bennington home. Bang on a Can's Mark Stewart, among others, rescued some of the instruments for the installation in Building 6, where patrons will have the chance to play the wildly unconventional instruments on their own.

• Jenny Holzer will bring her socially conscious writings and multimedia pieces to Mass MoCA in a campuswide installation that will feature a large-scale outdoor projection on the River Street side of the museum, a series of carved stone benches scattered around the campus, and rotating exhibitions spanning the breadth of her career.

• Laurie Anderson, for years a premiere multimedia artist, will create a multifunctional environment for use as a working studio and exhibition space that will feature two virtual reality experiences, as well as more than 10 years of archival works.

• The late Louise Bourgeois, who used her art to work through personal turmoil, has four pieces in Building 6 that will remain for 15 years, including three marble sculptures, one of which was so large and heavy, part of the wall of Building 6 had to be removed to make room to lift the piece into the structure.

Thompson noted that Mass MoCA has an annual operating budget of about $10.5 million, with roughly 165,000 visitors per year.

"Building 6 encourages patrons to explore our entire 16-acre campus, opening a big, freewheeling circulation loop, long sight lines and beautiful views onto our inner courtyards, as well as the neighborhoods and surrounding hills of North Adams," Thompson said.

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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