Sculptures made of bad bets

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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MICROTONES by Ben Munson, contributor

I’ve taken part in pull-tab gambling binges that have left bar tables buried under mountains of losing tickets. It’s an effective illustration of my susceptibility to this very Wisconsin form of gambling, and a great reminder to stop buying so many pull tabs. But my own monuments to misplaced optimism never came close to the artistic expressions currently on display at the Ideal Bar.

The sculptures currently on the wall at the venerable Atwood Avenue dive are the work of Madison artist Jo Jensen. Jensen collects losing pull tabs—all torn open, with their colorful symbols exposed—from local taverns including the Ideal, Chief’s and the Atwood. She adds losing raffle tickets to the mix as well. Then she combines those materials into startling creations: massive mermaids, grinning gods, and skulls with glowing eyes.

Jensen says her artwork, which will be on display at the Ideal Bar until the end of October, is intended to offer visual puns about the dangers of gambling.

“The work you see before you is inspired by one of Wisconsinites’ favorite past times: gambling. All of the tear-offs and tickets used to make the art are losers—thousands of dollars of losers,” Jensen wrote in the artist’s statement accompanying her show at Ideal.

The exhibit’s most stunning piece is a giant nun with poker chips for eyes, holding a bouquet of failed bingo cards. There’s clearly an astute commentary on gambling in there. But in the red, orange, and yellow lighting of the bar, that piece along with the rest of Jensen’s work gives off a harder-to-define, eerie feeling. Part of that is also due to the spooky season and the fact that each piece is constructed from loss and dashed hopes. It’s goosebumps in the best possible way, and a spectacular method for turning a pile of regrets into redeeming art.


New this week:

Note: We’re having a slow week over on Tone Madison as we catch up from a vacation and make some preparations for our fall Sustainer drive. Look for more stories early next week!

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Madison band Dumpster Dick says The Winnebago needs a name change. UW-Madison professor Dr. Sami Schalk twerked with Lizzo and then some. Madison Public Library’s Cinesthesia film series has announced its 2020 lineupMore east-side ice cream fallout.

This week’s Madison calendar: Afterglow screens at the Chazen. Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore play the Rathskeller. Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick pays tribute to Don Cherry at Café CodaAnd more.

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