MassMoCA ball exhibit strikes a chord
Anthony Fyden - iBerkshires.com
For many a summer afternoon, the group of kids played with the ball. They threw it, kicked it and chased the dog when he ran away with it. Then one day, as evening was drawing near, the ball was kicked high in the air; it soared over the tall grass behind a grove of trees near the river.
The kids searched until it started to grow dark, then gave up. The ball was lost.
But maybe not. The ball is still out there, somewhere, and artist Danny O wants not only to find the ball, but also to give it new life as part of a dynamic "found objects" exhibit.
"Ball Walk" is part of the current "Game Show" exhibit at MassMoCA in North Adams. The evolving show now features about 12,000 balls of nearly every size, shape and variety. Before the exhibit ends sometime in October, the artist hopes to display at least 16,000 balls - the largest collection of balls in the world.
O, along with friends and fellow collectors, rescued the balls from backlots and neighborhoods throughout the state and beyond.
"Frankly, I don't think I'm obsessed with balls," says O. "I'm committed to making great art."
O's ball collecting quest began several years ago. After a long winter, the artist went to a beach to paint. "I set up the easel and just as a started to get into it, I noticed there was a lot of colorful plastic on the beach. So I sort of abandoned my paints and went for a walk."
O, a Lexington native who now lives in Boston, began by collecting all types of plastic items, but it soon became apparent that he was drawn to balls of all types. He began focusing exclusively on balls.
"I thought that the balls had a unique and beautiful presence," O says. "I thought balls were the perfect 'found' items. Some of these balls were literally decades old and quite beautiful. The way they have worn over the years, they look like relics. A baseball that has been out there for years, by putting it an art context it really transforms it"
Both the beauty and the abundance of abandoned balls amazed O. During one of his first days of searching, he found 310 balls. He also discovered that ball walks provide an ideal opportunity for prayer and meditation.
"As I would go on these walks, I would chant a mantra," he said. "I would just try to keep my mind focused on prayer and not so much on the greedy ball collection."
Eventually, he began inviting others along on the walks, even organizing large groups to search. These daylong scavenger hunts would often net hundreds, or even close to 1,000 balls.
Friends would often react with amusement when O suggested they participate in a ball walk. As his collection grew, even O had some doubts.
"In fact I stopped for a while because I though it was little crazy," O recalls. "I started to think 'what am I doing?'"
But after some soul searching, the artist "rediscovered" the idea. The balls were beautiful, they had histories and stories, they were objects that had given people joy at one time and could give joy again.
As the artistic concept took shape, O's ball walks became more structured. He envisioned a massive ball collection. In fact, the exhibit encompasses the entire process - the ball recovery, adding to the collection, displaying and then photographing.
O first exhibited ball art at the DeCordova gallery DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, where he built a 35-square-foot sculptural "ball boy" collage entitled "Have You Seen My Ball?"
While ball collecting is a relatively new focus for O, he has long been fascinated with rediscovering lost objects and displaying them in an artistic context. A previous North Adams-related work was called "Midnight at Coca-Cola Ledge," a large relief made from discarded paint cans near a graffiti-marred rock which for years has been targeted by fraternities.
The rock itself, on which generations of kids had painted, also fascinated O. He created an abstract two-dimensional piece made from paint peelings. Both of these works were displayed at the Contemporary Arts Center.
With its vast spaces and wide-ranging themes, MassMoCA seems an ideal venue for the "Ball Walk" exhibit. When it opened, the exhibit featured about 7,000 balls. That number has already nearly doubled. Before the show closes, O hopes to completely fill the gallery room with balls - a feat that many people thought could not be done, according to O.
His confidence in meeting the goal has recently been buoyed by new searching techniques. "The combination that works is a river that goes through a populated suburban area," O said. "There are thousands and thousands of balls that are hidden out there."
O has learned that the reeds that grow along the riverbank grow in layers. Each layer, he has found, reveals an additional hoard.
The "Ball Walk" exhibit evokes strong responses from viewers" O says. "Many people look at this and are awe struck," O says. "Everybody has a ball story, and they are not always happy ones. All these wild stories kind of connect people.
"People invest in a ball, invest in joy, when they buy a ball," adds O. "I see this exhibit as a reinvesting in the ball."
The project has been fulfilling for O on several levels. Artistically, he has found a way to not only strike a chord with people but also to include them in the process. Emotionally, he has gained trust in his own instincts.
"It's been an art work that's about following your intuition as much as anything." he says
The balls in the collection include nearly every type imaginable - although O says he is still surprised by the balls he finds. The exhibit features some decades old "Grandma and Grandpa" balls that are nearly eaten away by decay. There are "Big Bird" balls "Boston Celtics" balls and balls from foreign lands. Extremely rare balls are put under glass in a section called the "ball of fame."
"The cool thing is, with as many as I have, I'm still finding new ones," O says. "Every week I'm finding balls I've never found before.
O has contacted the Guinness Book of World Records and believes he has a shot of earning an entry. In the mean time, he intends to continue his search. He is focused on his goal of filling the gallery, which will likely take an addition 15,000-20,000 balls.