The quiet power of “Sunbathers”

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.



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The issue of public art creates so much drama in Madison these days that it’s easy to overlook the more subtle and reflective works dotting our parks and other public spaces. One of my favorite examples is tucked away in Olbrich Park, not far from where “Hip Buckster” gazes out over Atwood Avenue.

It’s called “Sunbathers,” by Mary Michie, and consists of three stone slabs each set a foot part, each side carved with the outline of a figure reclining. That’s not to short-change a much more conspicuous sculpture in the park, William King’s “Act,” which I also like and which has caused some controversy of its own. “Act” certainly brightens up this little stretch of Lake Monona shoreline, but “Sunbathers,” created in 1993, belongs there in a way that feels special to me.

Created in 1993, “Sunbathers” uses minimal but graceful lines to suggest ripples in a body of water in the background. The beauty and atmosphere it wrings out of what’s essentially a two-dimensional field reminds me of Henri Matisse’s painting “Bathers By A River,” which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Michie’s piece doesn’t add much color to the material—what color is there might just be from weathering, I’m really not sure—but the park and the lake supply the color, at least in the spring and summer. Michie supplies a gentle but powerful reminder of the moments of retreat people seek on the shore. You notice the art, but maybe you also notice something different about your surroundings.

In other words, “Sunbathers” makes me feel more connected to the space around me, and that’s maybe the best thing you can say about a piece of public art. It’s a piece that accomplishes a lot with a few flowing strokes.


New this week:

Adam Powell tackles Tempest Oyster Bar in his column Small Plates In Nice Placescolumn.

Trophy Dad bassist and singer Abby Sherman discussed the confusing and treacherous path toward success with our Henry Solo.

On the podcast, we revisited the Access Denied panel discussion from last year.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: For Our Lives, Emily Mills covered the anti-transgender rhetoric that has been bubbling up under the guise of radical “feminism” in Madison. Yusra Murad takes apart UW-Madison’s “white liberal cognitive dissonance.” Bully will play a Sept. 14 show at the Shitty Barn.

This week’s Madison calendar: It’s year 42 for WisCon, Madison Comedy Week makes its debut at various venues across town, Buildings bring their crushing noise-rock to Art In, plus Gin Blossoms at World’s Largest Brat Fest 2018, Wurst Times VIII at the High Noon Saloon, and more.


An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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