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Martin Puryear’s ‘Big Bling’ Heads to MASS MoCA

Big Bling in Madison Square Park in New York.

© MARTIN PURYEAR/PHOTO: RASHMI GILL

When Martin Puryear’s Big Bling sculpture debuted in Madison Square Park in New York in May of 2016, the plan was that, after completing its run there, the enigmatic 40-foot-tall piece would be displayed in Philadelphia and then disassembled, its plywood and fencing finding new uses.

But after star turns in both cities that yielded big crowds and critical acclaim, it will not be taken apart and put toward other uses quite yet. Instead, a third major presentation is in the works.

“We were saved by the bell,” Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the director of Mad. Sq Art at Madison Square Park Conservancy, which commissioned the piece, told me. “This bell was a phone ringing from MASS MoCA. It was an eleventh-hour save.”

Denise Markonish, the curator of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts, who has been aiming to work with Puryear on a project there, was taken with the piece when she saw it New York. “If we can hold onto it a little more, and try to get a little more out of to, that would be wonderful,” she said, recounting her thinking. And so she approached the artist and Rapaport about borrowing the piece as it was ending its run in Philadelphia. “It was a heroic save-a-sculpture-effort of phone calls and contracts back and forth,” Markonish said.

The work, all boxed up, arrived earlier this week at MASS MoCA, which is in the early phases of working with Puryear to decide where it will be installed for a run on its sprawling campus.

The additional stop nicely aligns with goal of Mad. Sq. Art, Rapaport said. “It’s important to bring our commissioned projects out on the road to other museums or public art programs or sculpture parks. It’s a real goal to get our projects out into the world.”

Markonish, for her part, was thrilled it had all come together. “It was really exciting how fast we could mobilize and have this exist in the world for the artist and the audience and the commissioners,” she said. “It felt like a good Christmas miracle.”

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