If I had the chance for a long weekend in the Berkshires, I’d time the trip to align with one of our signature festivals or performing arts events, which tend to activate the museum and all of its courtyards with great energy (and every gallery, theater, and nook and cranny, too). This summer is particularly awash in music. Neko Case (June 29), Courtney Barnett (July 12), and Debbie Harry (August 3) are a juggernaut of fiercely independent women whose music is charged with intellect and powerful rock n roll…which is to say nothing of The Decemberists (June 15), Grizzly Bear (June 16), and a wide array of other headline performers, including Ray LaMontagne (June 29), and three weeks of Bang on a Can in July. We bookmark the season in grand fashion with FreshGrass Festival, September 14-16.
But if you prefer a quieter visit, here’s a three-day plan:
Visit MASS MoCA in the morning, but buy the combo pass to the Clark. Spend the morning awash in the 30,000 SF Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, then move outdoors and see the magnificent Anselm Kiefer installation (a Hall Art Foundation project) and the adjacent Franz West, and explore the rest of this historic mill complex from the outside. You’ll enjoy seeing how the site’s first tenant, Arnold Print Works, placed buildings cheek-by-jowl, aligning building foundations tight to the curving banks of the north and south branches of the Hoosic River. After lunch at Lickety Split, use your discounted combo ticket and visit the Clark: don’t forget to walk up Stone Hill, where the view is fabulous (and there’s more art up there, including a grove of contorted trees transplanted from the first generation of Natalie Jeremijenko’s Tree Logic, which marks MASS MoCA’s front door—see if you can find them). In the summer, check out MASS MoCA’s roster of music, dance, and theater, or catch the play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Field Trip! I suggest an early start at Hancock Shaker Village, which boasts one of the most exquisite buildings in America, in the form of a round barn. If you have kids, they will love the heirloom livestock. Since you’re halfway there already, do the full Berkshires and drive to Stockbridge to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum (again, buy the MASS MoCA combo ticket, since that will get you back into our galleries at a steep discount). We like to think of ourselves as natural antidotes: Norman Rockwell’s sharply observed and sometimes surprisingly trenchant realism, countering the more conceptually inclined art at MASS MoCA. A lunch at Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, on Eagle Street in North Adams, would keep you in a 1950s Norman Rockwell frame of mind.
In the afternoon back at MASS MoCA, enjoy our temporary exhibitions in Buildings 4 and 5. The exhibition in our signature space, the football-field-sized Building 5, will stick in your mind forever, I promise. 130,000 square feet of new art recently opened up in Building 6, including landmark installations by James Turrell, new (virtual reality) work by Laurie Anderson, and a soundproofed room full of Gunnar Schonbeck’s oversized, handmade instruments. Pick them up and give them a play: there’s no experience required.
On most Saturdays, we have great performing arts and film in our Club B10 or our mega-scaled “black box,” the Hunter Center. Buy your tickets for the evening show before dinner at Gramercy Bistro on campus or at one of the many excellent restaurants along Marshall and Main Streets. (A lot of our musicians and artists like to hang out at The Mohawk Tavern late at night, perhaps stopping by Bright Ideas Brewing on the way, for a locally made craft beer.) Or if you’re on a date, it’s hard to beat pizza on the banks of the Green River, behind Hot Tomatoes in Williamstown.
Bike or hike up Mount Greylock—the state’s tallest mountain—the entrance for which is through the Heritage State Park complex, about a block south of MASS MoCA on Route 8. The 6-mile climb is considered the best and most challenging bike ride in Massachusetts…but there is also a beautiful system of hiking and mountain biking trails. Other outdoor adventures include Zoar Outdoor—a white-water rafting operation off of Route 2—or, in the winter months, Berkshire East and Jiminy Peak ski mountains, both about 20 minutes from MASS MoCA. Berkshire East is small, old-school, and less expensive, while Jiminy Peak runs a modern fleet of high-speed quad lifts, with full-bore services. Pittsfield State Forest has excellent fat-bike trails.
Back indoors on the arts and culture beat, you won’t want to miss the jewel-like Williams College Museum of Art in the heart of the Williams College campus. And for those who really want to make a deep dive, the Chapin Rare Book Library at Williams College is exquisite and is one of the very few places on earth that has on view the four founding documents of the United States, which always takes my breath away.