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  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

Mass MoCA...An Incredible Day Trip from Saratoga Springs!

Visiting Mass MoCA on an incredible day trip from Saratoga Springs!
The incredible Mass MoCA in North Adams

Over the holidays, my daughters and I were looking for something fun to do while they were visiting me in Saratoga Springs. Taylor, my youngest daughter, suggested taking a short drive (just over an hour) to visit Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts. I agreed, even though I am not the biggest museum fan. I am so glad she suggested it because it was an incredible afternoon that I highly recommend! The drive through charming small towns and beautiful scenery was easy and relaxing and the Museum itself was breathtaking in more ways than one!

The Beautiful Mass MoCA Buildings Are Historic and Artistic in Their Own Right!

Mass MoCA is one of the largest centers for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States. The Museum is housed in a converted factory that used to produce printed textiles up until 1942 when it was closed due to the impacts of the Depression. All of the buildings in the factory complex were originally built between 1870 and 1900. The 19th century complex is listed on the National Historic Register and the 26 buildings are connected by an elaborate system of interlocking courtyards and passageways that the Museum curators have expertly integrated into the presentation of the art exhibits. The brick facades, industrial accents and large windows are rich with history and create an architectural ambiance that perfectly complements the amazing art displayed within. I spent almost as much time admiring the details of the buildings as I did the incredible art.

The Mass MoCA Art Exhibits

Banners of the current Mass MoCA Art  Exhibits
Banners of the Current Mass MoCA Exhibits

We spent several hours at the Museum and didn't even come close to seeing all of the exhibits listed on the Museum's website. You should plan for several hours if you want to see it all in one trip OR you can plan to split it up and take a couple of day trips to cover the whole Museum. There are many long-term exhibits supplemented by several temporary exhibits that are only on display for a designated period. There are exhibits from well-known artists as well as new and emerging artists. The exhibits are mostly large-scale, immersive installations. The experience at Mass MoCA is so different than what you would typically experience at a more traditional museum. This is exactly what I really enjoyed about my Mass MoCA visit.

Many of the exhibits were artistic representations of deeper ideas and concepts that really made me think as I experienced the art. Here are a few of my favorites from what we saw:


One of the colorful Wall Drawings in the Sol LeWitt Exhibit at Mass MoCA
A colorful Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing

The Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective is a amazing exhibition of 105 wall drawings installed on three floors of a 27,000 square foot mill building specifically renovated for this show. The work is on display for an unprecedented 35-year period. The three floors represent his work Early Career, Mid-Career and Later Career respectively. The exhibit clearly shows the progression of his work and his wall drawings are certainly distinctive and visually intriguing.


EJ Hill paintings at Mass MoCA
The fun and funky paintings of EJ Hill

The EJ Hill: Brake Run Helix exhibit was fun because of the bright pink colors and neon lights, not to mention the fully-functional, rideable roller coaster! We were there just in time for an actual performance of the art installation when one of the Museum employees took a ride on the pink EJ Hill roller coaster. EJ Hill has been obsessed with roller coasters since he was young, constantly sketching roller coaster designs. His works reflect this passion in sculptures and paintings. The title of the exhibit, Brake Run Helix, comes from two essential elements required for a functional roller coaster design: a brake run and a helix. The brake run is a section of the track meant to slow or stop a coaster's carts giving riders "a moment to collect themselves, for their minds to catch up with their bodies." The helix is a moment in a roller coaster's track when the carts complete at least one 360 degree turn: "a moment of intense g-force and forcible perspectival shift". While the functional roller coaster in the Brake Run Helix exhibit does not contain a brake run or a helix, the title can be interpreted to be an artistic representation "of social and environmental structures that mercilessly subject the body to outside forces." [Quotes from the EJ Hill pamphlet provided by the Museum.]

EJ Hill sculpture at the Brake Run Helix exhibit at Mass MoCA
I love the whimsical nature of this EJ Hill sculpture!


Mark Swanson art display at the A Memorial to Ice at the Dead Deer Disco exhibit at Mass MoCA
An eery display at the Mark Swanson exhibit A Memorial to Ice at the Dead Deer Disco.

Mark Swanson's exhibit, A Memorial to Ice at the Dead Deer Disco, was a strange but moving exhibit meant to represent the relationship between humans, culture and the natural world. The ruins in the art sculptures and environments he created "symbolize a bleak future resulting from the impending loss and inevitable results of climate change, a future which could have been avoided, but now comes with consequences beyond our control." The installation represents the two spaces where Mr. Swanson felt the most comfortable and spiritually connected-the nightclubs of his youth and in the woods today. Despite this comfort, both places became sites of threat due to climate change and the AIDS crisis. Mr. Swanson creates an intriguiging and eerily uncomfortable space with his sculptures and environments reflecting humans' destruction of the natural world. [Quotes from the Mark Swanson pamphlet provided by the Museum.]


A Louise Bourgeois sculpture at Mass MoCA
A poignant metal sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.

Louise Bourgeois transformed emotions about intimacies and traumas of childhood, marriage, motherhood, and artistic struggles into physical form through her artwork. She used a variety of materials and mediums in her work that evoke a highly provocative feeling when observing them. She was intrigued by the subconscious and it is said her artwork is an expression of repressed feelings from anger to fear, love and desire. There is definitely a feminine energy to her work and I really enjoyed the pieces in her exhibit.


In addition to the highlighted artists above, there were many other amazing art pieces we got to experience at Mass MoCA. Here is a teaser to encourage you to plan your own visit!

Performing Arts at Mass MoCA

Besides the unexpected performance art experience we happened to catch with the EJ Hill roller coaster, we did not attend any other live performances at Mass MoCA. However, Mass MoCA presents numerous performances year round. In fact, 50% of Mass MoCA's programming resources are devoted to performing arts. Live events include popular music, contemporary dance, alternative cabaret, world music dance parties, outdoor silent films with live music, avant -garde theater, documentaries and music festivals. Check out their schedule of performances here and maybe you can combine a Museum visit with a performance!

Where to Get Sustenance for Your Mass MoCA Day?

If you need to take a break during your visit to Mass MoCA, there are several places to grab a bite to eat or something to drink right at the Mass MoCA complex.

Lickety Split at Mass MoCA: This cafe is right in the Main Building of the Museum. They serve delicious sandwiches, salads, coffee and ice cream to go. They also offer yummy baked goods. I had a slice of pumpkin bread that hit the spot when we took a quick snack break!

Door Prize: Located right outside of the Museum, this spot serves sandwiches and more. It has limited hours so it may not be open depending on when you visit.

Tunnel City Coffee: Located to the side of the Museum, you can get your caffeine boost here.

Bright Ideas Brewing: Maybe a craft beer is more your speed? No worries, Bright Ideas Brewing is located right outside of the Museum and serves beer that is brewed right on site.

Planning Your Day at Mass MoCA

Mass MoCA is open Wednesdays through Mondays from 10-5. Advanced timed entry tickets are highly recommended, although we were fine just walking in to purchase tickets. Tickets prices are $20 for Adults, $12 for Students, $8 for Children Under 16 (Children Under 5 are free!). Note that there is a Free Museum Day on Saturday, January 28th! You would definitely want to reserve a timed entry ticket if you want to take advantage of the Free Day. Reserve or purchase entry tickets here. I suggest you check out all of the exhibits that will be there when you plan to visit at the Mass MoCA website to get an idea of what things you want to see if you don't have time to explore all the exhibits. The exhibits are all very different and there is sure to be something for everyone!

I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Mass MoCA and I think you will be too. Even if you don't consider yourself the "artsy" type, the exhibits are so fun and different it will definitely capture your interest. Enjoy and let me know what your favorite exhibit was!


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