Interview: Joseph Thompson (MASS MoCA)

CH MASS MoCA has been open for 15 years now?

JT This is year 15, but for me personally 13 was more significant because we had then been open longer that it took to get open to begin with.

CH Can you give those of us who have never been to MASS MoCA some background of the museum and how it got started?

JT “MASS MoCA One” exists, the idea of it, and it’s called DIA Beacon. DIA Beacon is a beautiful monument to mainly large scale, mainly minimal art of the 70s and 80s.

The original idea for MASS MoCA was that we were going to borrow works from Ileana Sonnabend and Charles Saatchi and Giuseppe Panza, works by Judd and Flavin and Morris and Serra, large works that required ample time and space, install them and leave them up for a very long time.

These buildings are gorgeous, a factory campus 26 buildings 600,000 sq. ft of floorspace, 16 acres, roughly a third of the downtown business district of North Adams. The former occupant, Sprague Electric, had closed in the mid 1980s when we first proposed this idea. It was simple: clean the buildings up and install these large bodies of work which were as much environmental as landscape in orientation.

CH So you were setting out to start a museum?

JT Absolutely. More of a fixed depot, a place where large monumental works came and were sighted for a very long length of time. It has relativity little to do with what MASS MoCA is today.

CH Kind of the opposite, isn’t it?

JT In fact it is.

In the early 90s, as we were trying to bring money, buildings, art, political support, philanthropic support all together at the same time we introduced several really important changes.

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