There's More to See at MASS MoCA than Hancock Exhibit (Luckily)

Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass
Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA
Through October 2019

As many of you know, I’m a fan of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). I go there a few times per year because I’m guaranteed to see things I’d be hard pressed to see elsewhere. This summer’s big show comes from Trent Doyle Hancock. Well …  they can’t all be winners.

I guess it would have helped me appreciate “Mind of the Mound” if I had ever heard of Hancock’s bumbling graphic arts superhero Torpedoboy. Or maybe not. Sometimes one doesn’t get something because there’s nothing to be got. That’s how I felt about this large but uninspiring exhibit. Here’s the deal if you know even less than I knew when I went in. Hancock has constructed a fantasy world around the Mounds, who are human/plant hybrids who toil heroically for the greening of the planet. Alas, they are opposed by the Vegans (really?), mutants that eat tofu and kill Mounds whenever possible. Torpedoboy tries his best to aid the Mounds, though he’s not always successful. Hancock overlays all of this with a fuzzy mythology that he calls the Moundverse.s his work a comment on im Crow and vigilante rule? Dunno!

Let me quote–from the exhibit’s brochure–how Hancock describes the Mounds: “[They] are not only natural depositories for memories and other bits of discarded humanity, but they are a way for us to build a collective psycho-emotional hierarchy, as well as way to describe an individual’s intuitive profile.” Does that make any sense to you? Nah, it didn’t for me either. Did Hancock open an app that randomly generates artist statements? 

What do we actually see? That’s a bit random as well. Hancock cites influences such as painters Philip Guston, Marvel comics, the set designs of Peewee’s Playhouse, TV shows, films (“Repo Man,” “Clash of the Titans”), and graphic arts pioneers such as Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. As you make your way through the Mind of the Mound, you will find artifacts and hints of his various inspirations, as well as actual toys and books. If you’ve never been baptized in this, it looks like a children’s game show in which contestants make their way down at cotton-candy-colored game board that skirts past and into various mounds, domes, and what appear to be shops. The experience is as if someone had run a Second Life fantasy through a massive 3-D print printer.

If you’ve got a Candy Crush-like addiction to Hancock’s fantasy world, perhaps you’ll enjoy this. I was not inspired to go deeper.

Among the good things about Mass MoCA, though, is that there’s always something else to grab you attention. There is, for example, an Annie Lenox exhibition titled “Now I Let You Go,” which is as enigmatic as you’d expect from Ms. Lennox. It’s a collection of objects–many of them personal–but also writings, recollections, and stories. It’s jumbled into something that’s hard to describe. It’s kind of like a memoir meshed with an installation.

Jim Morrison and Pam Courson
Freddie Mercury
If that’s as elusive for you as Hancock’s objective, try something more concrete. MassMoCA also possesses a large collection of rock n’ roll photos that it cherry-picks for shows. The one currently on display is called “The Bright and Hollow Sky,” a selection of vintage and more recent shots of pop and rock idols. It’s always fun to waltz through one’s own past, though sometimes it’s a bit jarring to see how things looked in earlier days! 

There’s also “Chrissie Hynde: Paintings.” Did you know she painted? I don’t think I did. She’s competent, though it would be fair commentary to call much of her work derivative–of Picasso, the Cubists, Surrealists, Lucian Freud, Milton Avery, and scads of others, including Joni Mitchell. But, hey, she’s not bad even if she isn’t the savant with a brush that she is with a guitar. Hynde was one of rock’s pioneering bad girls, so you know the work is filled with swagger and bravada. And if you know her music, you also know she doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you think of her art. I like it, whether she cares or not. 

Finally, if you’ve not yet seen “Language of the Future,” personal musings of a 1984 multimedia presentation from Laurie Anderson, you must. Can you say “certifiable genius?” If you but watch 10 minutes of the video, you’ll come away with your mind blown. To say that Anderson sees the world and hears music differently from most scarcely dents the parameters of her capacious mind. You get the feeling that when the next great social, cultural, or technological transformation comes that Anderson will have arrived two or three steps ahead of the pack.  

Like I said, always something to see at MASS MoCA.

Rob Weir

1 comment:

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