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To Infinity and Back, Arts Center Becomes MoCA

By James Lomuscio

From narrow quarters with limited parking at 51 Riverside Ave., the Westport Arts Center opens Sunday with a new name, MoCA Westport, a new location with three times the space, expanded programming, and a more global focus.

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Yayoi Kusama’s “Narcissus Garden” is on exhibit at MoCA. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

MoCA, the acronym for Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 19 Newtown Turnpike in a 1926-built stone building that initially made airplane parts. Years later it served as Martha Stewart’s television studio.

The property straddles Westport and Norwalk. The driveway iis n Westport, the building itself, Norwalk.

“The mission of the newly named MoCA Westport is to inspire intellectual and creative curiosity through the arts, which rightfully does not limit itself to town lines,” said Heather Lawless, MoCA spokeswoman.

In fact, today’s media preview tour went far beyond town lines, showcasing Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s world famous installations, “Infinity Mirror Room: Where the Lights in My Heart Go” and “Narcissus Garden.”

The exhibit, which officially opens Sunday and runs through Saturday, Nov. 2, will be the first time the 90-year-old artist’s works will be shown together on the East Coast.

“And it’s not in New York; it’s Westport, Westport-Norwalk,” Lawless said.

Each municipality’s sense of ownership of the new place can be found in statements from Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

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The new home of the former Westport Arts Center straddles the Westport-Norwalk line. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“MoCA Westport is a cultural and arts beacon, and we are absolutely thrilled to have them as part of the Norwalk community,” Rilling said.

Marpe, an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center, lauded MoCA’s two galleries and instructional spaces, adding that the location offers the opportunity for performance, as well as visual art.

“Their new location will expand and enhance the quality and variety that Westporters have come to expect from all their premier arts organizations,” Marpe said.

On today’s tour, Lawless and Kersten Rivas, who works as a consultant for MoCA, pointed out a member’s lounge, the MoCA Bookstore and Gift Shop and the Academy, which offers art class children ages 18 months to 3 and plans to expand programs through adults.

Liz Leggett, exhibitions coordinator, detailed Kusama’s two exhibits, both of which are owned and shown at specific venues by Westporters Derek and Lauren Goodman.

“Kusama is the most famous living artist on the planet now,” Leggett said as she stood in the South Gallery next to “Infinity Room.”

“Infinity Room” is a 10-foot square mirrored structure with holes selectively placed in it to allow light in from a large skylight.

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The Road to MoCA at 19 Newtown Turnpike. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

On one side is a low door which one has bend to enter. As the door shuts, the inside appears to be a celestial space replete with stars and a shaded view of oneself, all of which appears to go on infinitely.

Today, visitors were only allowed two minutes in the room for fear they might become disoriented.

The North Gallery features “Narcissus Garden,” a display that lives up to its vanity namesake. It holds 1,200 stainless steel, two-pound spheres in which viewers’ reflections are always with them. The work was initially shown in Venice in 1966, with Kusama showing up to hawk some of the spheres, saying, “Your narcissism for sale,” according to Leggett.

“It’s the reverse of what you see in the ‘Infinity Room,’” Leggett said.

Next year, the exhibit heads to the New York Botanical Garden, according to Rivas.

Bringing the exhibits closer to home, plans are in the works for the first permanent collection of works by Westport artists.

Titled “Life and Legacy: A Collection of Westport Artists,” the exhibit is being planned to open in 2020, according to Amanda Innes, MoCA’s executive director.

“Our expanded footprint gives us a chance to showcase all that Westport has to offer and all that the world has to offer Westport,” Innes said. “Bringing the two together is what contemporary art is about.”

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