MASS MoCA: Studies from a Museum Commission

August 15 – Sept 20

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) has commissioned Barbara Ernst Prey to paint a groundbreaking monumental watercolor for their new Building 6 that opened its doors to the public at the end of May 2017.

Study for Building 6 Portrait: Interior, 2015-2017

Study for Building 6 Portrait: Interior, 2015-2017

Barbara Prey’s massive interior portrait of MASS MoCA’s 120,000 square foot Building 6 depicts part of the historic mill in its raw, un-renovated state, just prior to the beginning of the construction work. Measuring 8 feet tall by 15 feet wide, the painting is monumental by any standard, but for a watercolor on paper—perhaps the most unforgiving combination of any painterly media—the undertaking is truly breathtaking as it stretches the medium in new and exciting ways. The monumental scale of Prey’s project broke boundaries and opened up new ideas and concepts within the artist’s own practice; the project was a technical tour de force, requiring specially made papers, mounts, frames as well as an extra large studio space to paint.

As an artist that  works mainly on site, Prey spent countless hours in the space at MASS MoCA, looking, distilling and thinking about the architecture; as the concept developed, she started working on preliminary drawings during her visits. The studies began small and in pencil to accurately capture the architecture and overall composition; Prey then moved to color and larger formats, working out the light and the complex colors.

The drawings displayed in this exhibition serve as references for the final painting and uniquely chronicle the development of Barbara Prey’s commission for MASS MoCA.

The finished painting installed at MASS MoCA's latest addition Building 6

The finished painting installed at MASS MoCA's latest addition Building 6