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A long painting walks down the street

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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If you happened to be near the intersection of University Avenue and Frances Street this past Saturday around 9 a.m. or so, you may have seen me and six other people carrying a long, narrow object covered in green bubble wrap. It wasn’t a battering ram or an ungainly building component, but a piece of art. UW-Madison art professor Derrick Buisch painted it as part of a series of five pieces called “Peripheral Paintings,” which are being installed in various nooks and crannies of the Chazen Museum of Art for a faculty show that opens on February 1.

Buisch assembled a group of friends and family members on that cold grey morning to move the painting from his studio in the Art Lofts building (near the Kohl Center) to the Chazen, a trip of less than half a mile on foot. Most of the people who showed up had some experience handling art in a professional capacity. I don’t, and I’d always thought of tasks like this as being strictly for the experts. There’s a reason that museums and galleries pay people to prep and install artwork. But Derrick helped me move a couch once and I helped him move a bookshelf once, so I suppose this was the next step in our rotation of moving favors. I don’t often end up socializing with people I’ve written about, but Derrick’s been one of my favorite painters for years, and over time we’ve gotten to know each other and play music together.

“I always try to get help with moving the big paintings because they are heavy and cumbersome and a lot of times at risk of becoming sails,” Buisch says. “Plus the easiest way to ruin a painting is moving it.”

I didn’t realize what I was in for until the night before, when I asked about the dimensions of the painting and he told me that it was one foot wide by 38.75 feet long. On Saturday, Buisch had the painting set up on sawhorses at the Art Lofts. Six of us spread out along its length, each tucking it under one arm. Buisch spotted us (occasionally helping carry the back end), as did our friend Dan Fitch and his dog, Greg. Even in the Art Lofts, a relatively capacious space, it took a series of careful back-ups and turnarounds to maneuver the painting out the door. 

As we made our way north on Frances Street, eventually crossing University and cutting west toward the Chazen, we had to make a whole series of careful spatial decisions to keep ourselves and the painting clear of parking meters, trees, and concrete traffic bollards. For the most part it didn’t feel all that heavy, but we had to be mindful of the structure behind the canvas—the very much three-dimensional assembly of wood, screws, and plates that makes the two-dimensional viewing experience possible. 

We loaded the painting in through the back of the Elvehjem Building (the Chazen’s older half), took a short break, maneuvered it around a large art installation, up the gallery stairs, around some glass cases of ancient pottery, and into the capable hands of the museum’s preparators. Museums and galleries often feel like such immaculately controlled and tidy spaces, so it was comforting to realize that setting up an art show can be as tricky and awkward as heaving a bulky sofa into a cramped apartment. The experience just reinforced for me that a lot of people in the art world are handy and practical folks. After we left, the Chazen staff had the much more exacting job of raising the painting up on lifts and actually hanging it.

This “Peripheral Painting,” consisting of orange on a field of blue, has since been installed in a space that’s not usually treated as part of the gallery walls. The goal of the series, Buisch says,  was “to make paintings to fit into spaces inside the museum that don’t typically get paintings and spread them out, so it’s a bit of an egg hunt to find all of them.” If you see it, please take a moment to appreciate its brief but memorable journey.

Photo by Dan Fitch.

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New this week:

Madison experimental project Noxroy issues a new split release with Chicago’s Forest Management.

Dancehall artist Jimmy Sugarcane plays this Friday at Mickey’s.

The new documentary Sid Boyum: Life Is An Illusion screens Sunday at the Monona Public Library.

More events of note in this week’s calendar.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Shellac has announced a March 13 show at BarleyPop Live, and it has already sold out. Bandcamp Daily reviews DJ Speedsick’s Nothing LastsWe care. Disq released a new video for the first single from its forthcoming album. WORT launches its new Madison BookBeat podcast. The Murfie fiasco enters its “action news” phase on NBC15The Capital Times reports that a new nightclub is planned for the former Plan B/Prism space on Willy Street.

Upcoming Tone Madison Events!

March 5: Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero, Telechrome. Communication, 8 p.m. Tickets available now, discount for Tone Madison Sustainers

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