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May 06, 2019

A Wake-Up Call at MASS MoCA: Suffering from Realness

Cassils, Inextinguishable Fire, 2015, Single-Channel Video with Sound and Fourteen Encapsulated Breaths, 2017, Hand-Blown Glass, Each Unique; photo by Hideyo Okamura.
Cassils, Inextinguishable Fire, 2015, single-channel video with sound and Fourteen Encapsulated Breaths, 2017, Hand-Blown Glass, Each Unique; photo by Hideyo Okamura.

by Sara Farrell Okamura

It opened with a funeral procession. A mariachi band, the artist, Vincent Valdez playing trumpet, led a band of mourners channeling a New Orleans jazz–styled funeral march through the newest exhibit to open at MASS MoCA. Pallbearers hoisted Requiem, a black patina bronzed colossal carcass of an American Bald Eagle, to their shoulders, carrying him past the monumental charcoal drawings of Robert Longo, past Robert Taplin’s giant alabastrine clown, Punch (Punch & Judy puppets) silently preaching to an imaginary crowd, past the immense green squares of MPA’s examination of binaries, past Hayv Kahraman’s Three Celebrities, depicting an image of three women arguing over a pile of gold, a treasure secured by appropriating the suffering of refugees, past Christopher Mir’s paintings, symbolizing anxieties and hopes, past Titus Kaphar’s paintings and sculptures correcting history. The American eagle, created by Valdez and fellow artist Adriana Corral, was lowered to lie in repose in front of Corral’s white wall with 243 dates embedded into the museum’s drywall, submitted by 243 Americans (one for each year designating the age of the United States). Each of these dates symbolized a personal or historical event. Suffering from Realness was now on view to museum visitors.

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