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MASS MoCA: The opening of Building 6

North Adams, Massachusetts

The new prow construction of Building 6 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams. Photo: Douglas Mason

Several years ago, MASS MoCA entered into a novel 25-year agreement with the Sol LeWitt Foundation to have volunteers draw, paint, and crayon hundreds of his works, per LeWitt’s loopy instructions, on walls in a new wing of the museum. Building on that long-term exhibition approach, MASS MoCA has now doubled its already staggering size — adding 130,000 square feet of space. In this phase of its continuing renovation of the 28-building campus, Bruner/Cott & Associates has transformed a beautiful old mill building with lovely patinaed surfaces into a beautiful old mill building still with lovely patinaed surfaces — but now with heat and some amazing art, too. This expansion of Building 6 seamlessly lengthens the museumgoer’s experience by creating a long, sinewy loop.

The newly opened wing provides long-term gallery space to such artists as Louise Bourgeois and Robert Rauschenberg; for artists who are still actively working, exhibitions can change from time to time, giving them the opportunity to experiment in the public eye. Laurie Anderson, who will be in residence for 15 years, is immersed in virtual reality, staging works that are wildly innovative and musically lush. You will have an experience that’s better than your best flying dream; Piranesi would be jealous of the amplitude of this space. At Gunnar Schonbeck’s exhibit — a collection of more than a thousand musical instruments hand made over 50 years by the Bennington College music professor — the public is invited to whale away on drums made of aircraft fuselages, hammer on the 8-foot-tall marimba, and pluck the 9-foot-long banjo. Bring the kids! Wander, too, through the ethereal spaces of James Turrell’s light sculptures, each representing a specific period of his career. Jenny Holzer brilliantly fuses her playful imagination with the existing architecture, projecting a 400-foot-long group of text onto the exterior of the three-story post-and-beam building.

Bruner/Cott’s love of old mill buildings and budget realities have ensured that much of the original 19th-century brick structure has been left untouched (although 5,000 original bricks were removed, cleaned, and reused). When the architects removed a floor to create high spaces, their solution was often to leave the top four feet of the upper-floor columns intact, bring a cable down from one side of the room under the column and then back up to the far side of the room, creating an upside-down triangular truss, which — like the museum as a whole — is innovative, practical, and beautiful.