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Invisible Cities

Mass MoCA
North Adams, Massachusetts
April 14, 2012–February 3, 2013

Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities, has captured my imagination since my student studio days. The stories of his eloquent traveling character, Marco Polo, invite readers to think about seeing what we can’t see. More than the stone beside us and beneath our feet, the architecture of cities is also built of less tangible notions of memory, culture, anticipation, and movement. The 10 artists in Mass MoCA’s Invisible Cities exhibition also explore those ephemeral concepts.

Some installations look like model cities, using materiality to elicit ideas. Sopheap Pich’s Phnom Penh–inspired cityscape, crafted of woven rattan and bamboo vessels that evoke buildings under scaffolding or bombs or fishing baskets, is one such project.

Other artists focus on the experience of place by capturing movement or sound. The hanging, Lebbeus Woods–like structures of Lee Bul are an example, reflecting sunlight, the gallery, and viewers themselves.

The most effective installations are the most site specific. Miha Strukelj uses charcoal to draw on the walls and wires to extend the lines of perspective and structure into the space of the gallery. Kim Faler literally strips away the plaster walls of the museum to expose the brick behind and then builds it up again with studs fashioned from an intensely perfumed soap, warping under their own weight.

Whether Calvino’s Polo told stories of far-away cities or simply reimagined his own Venice home, Invisible Cities encouraged readers to consider the relationships of people, places, and ideas like no other text. The installations of Mass MoCA’s exhibition were inspired by the artists’ home cities as far flung as Rome, Havana, Lagos, and Detroit, and like the book, cause us to rethink our own landscape.