The Boston Globe’s Geoff Edgers profiles Mass MoCA which owes its existence to Thomas Krens’s imagination and Joseph Thompson’s perseverance. At one point the museum was $850,000 in debt to its vendors with no endowment and deficits that ran as high as $2 million in its first year:
For years, there’s been a big secret in this run-down former factory town. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, praised for bringing life to the region, was barely surviving. Mass MoCA organizers found themselves scrambling every year for more than $1 million just to keep the lights on. “We had no cash,” says director Joseph C. Thompson, sitting in a museum conference room on a recent afternoon. “We nearly went out of business 100 times.” […] Today, Mass MoCA’s endowment has grown to $14.7 million. That, along with revenue from properties the museum renovated and rented, has put it in a different position. The once $2 million gap has become just $150,000. […]
“They added something very unique to the ecology of the museum scene in Massachusetts and the US, period,” said Nicholas Baume, chief curator at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. “Nobody else has that wonderful, character-filled, 19th-century architecture. And they’ve been smart in the way they’ve used it, inviting artists who can take advantage of that scale.” […]
[I]n the galleries, the museum quickly developed a reputation for exhibiting daring works that, by virtue of its ample space, could not be shown anywhere else. Mass MoCA’s signature structure, the football field-size Building 5, housed Robert Rauschenberg’s massive 1999-2000 installation “The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece,” featuring colorful quilts and tablecloths, a bench made from oil barrels, and close to 200 other objects. Later shows would include Tim Hawkinson’s 300-foot-long “Überorgan,” a giant musical instrument made up of tubes and 13 bus-size inflated bags; Ann Hamilton’s “Corpus,” which involved millions of sheets of white paper dropped, lifted, and then dropped again in a gallery lighted by magenta-tinted windows; Robert Wilson’s “14 Stations,” which explored Jesus’ journey through a series of sculptures, paintings, and clapboard huts; and Jenny Holzer’s recent “Projections,” in which texts flowed hypnotically across beanbags strewn through the space.
Making it Big (Boston Globe)