Spring 2014 Education Intern, Katherine Agard, reflects on her experiences as a tour guide.
Much of art is about having an experience – about opening yourself up to noticing and looking at the world in a new way. At MASS MoCA, all tour guides learn to approach tours as conversations: we never know what we’ll find ourselves opened to. As my internship at MASS MoCA comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on my experiences at the museum and Kidspace. Some of my most memorable experiences have been on slow afternoons with small tour groups, where we can give ourselves the time and space to respond to what’s in front of us at our own pace. Many of my tours have gone off-route – responding to questions, looking at links between pieces, and most of all, learning from whoever is present.
I was recently given the chance to guide a tour for a visually impaired woman. Before this, I must admit that I had not actively thought about the experience of visual art…without vision. It sounds like a challenge, but that tour went on for two pleasant hours, made possible by the rich scents, sensations and sounds MASS MoCA’s past life as a factory has to offer.
An exercise for you: Next time you come to MASS MoCA, stay quiet and close your eyes. Take a second to notice what you feel and hear in each new space -the quiet coolness of the basement with its echoing concrete floors; the lingering smell of paint and resin coupled with ethereal cello in Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre; the dry air and the smell of lead and cracked earth in the Anselm Kiefer Building. Without sight, try and describe these sensations. Can you? Everything begins to build on each other. Looking at art in this way expanded for me the field of what art is and could be – pretty good for an afternoon, I think!
Another memorable tour was with Sandy, an architect from FEMA. Sandy drew my attention to MASS MoCA’s poured concrete floors and doorways – the cracks and scuffs of the grey concrete in stark contrast to the perfectly smooth white walls which provide the foundation for Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings.
I usually end my tour on the on the first floor of the LeWitt building in Wall Drawing 146A.
At MASS MoCA, 146A is executed on 4 bright blue walls. On the walls are combinations of lines – arcs, diagonals, dotted lines, wavy lines. Standing in the middle of the space, one is immediately enveloped by this sea of blue. The scale of the work always invites me to imagine a virtuosic LeWitt standing in the center of the room – his hands making wild flourishes – instructing his team of draftsmen to make free-form strokes on the walls. But of course, I am sobered and startled each time by the instructions by which this wall drawing was executed.
Wall Drawing 146A
All two-part combinations of arcs from corners and sides, and straight, not straight, and broken lines within a 36-inch (90 cm) grid.
With Sandy that day, we came in the room looking at the floor. “Did LeWitt think of the patterns on the floor when he chose to put this wall drawing here?” Sandy asked. He saw in the cracks and scuffs of the concrete a mirror to LeWitt’s work. I couldn’t be sure – he might have, I said.
At every point, we are talking about the physics of the building and how certain figures – certain corners, curves and planes – are essential to the structural integrity of the building, and architects explore and riff off of these essential realities. Much in the way, I began to think, LeWitt’s particular combinations of line and color are essential to the depiction of a concept, and how we riff on them, depending on location, scale, new constraints, but must return to these essential facts.
You never know what you might find a tour.
Free Public Tours – every weekday @ 11am, 1pm and 3pm (Highlights); Saturdays @ 11am (Highlights), 1pm (Kiefer) and 3pm (Highlights); and Sundays @ 11am (Highlights), 1pm (LeWitt) and 3pm (Highlights).