Redefining Production-Contemporary Art Museums in Post-Industrial Spaces: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

By Melissa Matuscak.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The decline of an industrial-based economy has left many cities in the United States with enormous, empty shells that once contained manufacturing facilities. As corporations have continually shut down or relocated overseas, contemporary art is finding unlikely homes in buildings that once symbolized industrial success and power. The infiltration of art into these spaces was first seen in the form of artist live-work spaces in the 1960s, alternative exhibition spaces in the 1970s and commercial galleries in the 1980s. More recently art museums, particularly contemporary art museums, are institutionalizing and transforming historically private space with missions to serve the public. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), located in North Adams, is housed in the former site of Sprague Electric Company. The closure of Sprague in 1985, combined with a failed downtown urban redevelopment plan in the 1960s left North Adams economically and socially devastated. The history of MASS MoCA, the United States’ largest producer and presenter of contemporary art, is traced through the lens of the industrial history of the site and the history of the city of North Adams. As the history of the site and MASS MoCA’s programming is told, the relationships between industry, labor, location, city and people become apparent. MASS MoCA’s physical space houses a collective history with intrinsic connections to the city in which it resides. It is suggested that the physicality and location of the space affects mission implementation through program development and presentation of contemporary art. Through commissioning new work, cross-disciplinary programming and “colLABORations” (George Yúdice 2003) among artists, organizations, the local population and even the staff of MASS MoCA, the museum has reestablished relationships among people and space through the consideration of history and labor in the production of contemporary art.

Keywords: Contemporary Art, Site-specific Installation, Community Redevelopment, Economic Redevelopment, Artistic Labor, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts, Postindustrial Economies, Peggy Diggs, Martha Bowers

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.55-66. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 578.764KB).

Melissa Matuscak

Director and Curator, The DeVos Art Museum, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI, USA

Melissa Matuscak is originally from Flint, Michigan and received a BFA from Northern Michigan University in Graphic Communications (2002) and an MA in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2007). She was co-founder of the non-profit exhibition and live space, Two Thirty One (Marquette, MI); and has held positions at Walsh Gallery (Chicago, IL); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL); the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation (Chicago, IL); and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (North Adams, MA). Matuscak is currently the Director and Curator of the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University (Marquette, MI). Her work has been published in Proximity, Mute Magazine and she is currently writing an essay for a catalogue on Finnish-American artist N. Cecelia Kettunen.

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