In a time when populism is suspect in many quarters, MASS MoCA gives it a good name. It is a place where it is possible to progress from novice to art enthusiast. This is usually considered the task of museums that have encyclopedic collections. But MASS MoCA, under Mr. Thompson, has managed it, out of principle or necessity.
The show with the widest appeal may be the three large installation pieces in “Until” by the Chicagoan Nick Cave in Building 5 — an open, column-free football-field-size space that remains MASS MoCA’s grandest. Mr. Cave has pushed beyond his well-known over-the-top assemblage-like “Soundsuits,” and branched out emphatically. “Kinetic Spinner Forest” is a veritable rain forest of 12,000 eye-dazzling spinners suspended from 1,500 thin cables. “Crystal Cloudscape” nestles a large garden of good and evil, especially racial evil, in an enormous hanging chandelier (and visited by ladder), and “Beaded Cliff Wall” is a cavern made of beaded netting.
The shows in Building 4 range from the rough-and-tumble “In the Abstract,” where 11 artists explore abstract art’s potential for political expression, to the refinement of Elizabeth King’s obsessively made, sometimes animatronic half-size figures and limbs; from Steffani Jemison’s often arcane explorations of the connections among writing, autonomy and race (including an excellent sound piece), to the accessible Conceptualism of Tanja Hollander’s “Are You Really My Friend?,” a project for which she traveled widely to photograph all of her Facebook friends.
MASS MoCA has a similar breadth regarding other arts, from performance art to the popular music events it holds nearly every weekend, indoors and out. (In 2010, it built a concert field…