A vacant city building, a powerful mixed-media show, and other highlights of the year in visual and performance art.
When it comes to seeing art in Madison, knowing where to look is half the battle. On any given day, you could be looking at world-renowned works at the Chazen or the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, meandering through installations in the woods, or stumbling upon an art show inside a stationary train car.
Late last year and throughout 2016, a couple new art venues opened their doors for the first time: namely, Arts + Literature Laboratory and Drunk Lunch. Plus, several co-making spaces came on the scene, such as One-One Thousand, Polka Press‘ new location, and the Marianne Fairbanks’ summer weaving lab at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
With an eye toward those developments, here are some of Tone Madison‘s favorite moments in visual art from 2016.
Beyond Function at ALL (May through June)
This juried group exhibition explored the theme of function and dysfunction, primarily through three-dimensional artwork. UW-Madison art professor and sculptor Gail Simpson selected works from 12 different artists across the U.S.
Evansville, Illinois-based ceramics sculptor and educator Mie Kongo’s work, “Unknown Game Series,” was selected as the prizewinning work from the show—earning her an automatic spot in an ALL exhibition in 2017.
Claire Stigliani’s Half-Sick Of Shadows at MMoCA (May through September)
New York-based artist Claire Stigliani, a former MFA graduate student at UW-Madison, explored sexuality, identity, and “female transgressions” in this solo exhibition. It invokes several stories, some better known than others—the Bible’s Adam and Eve, the Brothers Grimm’s Snow Child, and Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott—each featuring a girl or woman who transgresses in some way, and pays a terrible price. These classical narratives are intertwined with contemporary pop-culture references and scenes depicting Stigliani in her home and studio.
Constructing puppet stages, diorama, film, and two-dimensional artwork, Stigliani recreates the same imagery over and over in multiple mediums—producing a many-layered vehicle for her ideas. Each work provides additional perspective, incrementally building the viewer’s understanding with each iteration. Hear more about the show in our art catch-up podcast from August.
“The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever” at James Madison Park (July)
In tandem with similar events around the world, several dozen red-clad people gathered in James Madison Park to re-enact the music video for Kate Bush’s 1978 classic “Wuthering Heights.”
Dubbed “The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever,” the performance-art piece was inspired by an event in Brighton, UK, that drew a record-setting 300 volunteers in 2013.
Off The Wall at ALL (August)
This summer, ALL hosted a series of outdoor film nights, showcasing experimental video-art pieces from local and international artists. The series, curated by ALL board members Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky, contained several dozen works. ALL projected the films onto a screen set up between two walls (hence the event title) in an alleyway adjacent to its brick-and-mortar location on Winnebago Street. This one was also discussed in our August podcast episode.
Wisconsin Triennial at MMoCA (September 2016 through January 8, 2017)
Held every three years, the triennial is perhaps the most prestigious regular exhibition of Wisconsin art. This year’s struck a comfortable balance of two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and interactive works, and brought together contemporary talent from across the state.
We discussed several standouts on the Tone Madison podcast, including Sky Hopinka’s video work, Jáaji Approx; Colin Matthes’ series of apocalyptic ink drawings, “Essential Knowledge”; Amy Fichter’s exquisitely lo-fi photographs of bird specimens, “Study Skins”; Helen Lee’s neon “OMG”; and James Cagle’s eerily wonderful “Domestic Image” series of archival digital pigment prints, depicting artifacts of everyday life in a Sturgeon Bay retirement home.
Facades at Chazen Museum of Art (September through December 31)
This exhibit should leave the viewer in complete awe—just for the sheer complexity of each work’s construction. Markus Brunetti, and his partner, Betty Schoener, carefully select buildings across Europe (usually a historic church or landmark) to photograph in exquisite detail.
Over the course of a year or more, Brunetti photographs the building at the same time of day and season, in order to replicate similar lighting in each frame. He then digitally manipulates the images, smoothing out edges and adjusting perspective lines, to give the impression of a straight-on view. The end result is often reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s imagining of the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel. Facades was also discussed on an October episode of the podcast.
You Can’t Take It With You at Commonwealth Gallery (October)
Featuring work from artists across the country—mostly women with ties to Madison—You Can’t Take It With You explored life, death, and ephemerality. Curated by local artist and MFA candidate Erica Hess, the show fluidly blended a variety of works centered on these themes.
Hannah Bennett stuck pins, wool fleece, and other materials into a cloth-mesh anthropomorphic wall hanging, titled “Pincushion.” Yeonhee Cheong’s “Growth and Decay” had alfalfa and chrysanthemum sprouting out of soil arranged purposefully on the ground, creating a delightfully unnerving juxtaposition of life and cold, hard cement.
Katie Garth, former vice president of Polka Press, showed two screenprints, “Chaos/Bliss” and “Keeping My Promises.” Kaylyn Gerenz’s “Another understanding of their accumulation” makes a mockery of throwaway culture, by constructing faux bin-bags out of bedsheets, wax, and ribbon, as does “Mended Clothing,” a piece by Heidi Parkes, who teaches “contemporary mending” courses around the state.
Perhaps the most visible work, in the foreground of the gallery, is Hess’ “Organ Harvest” sculpture, crafted out of steel wire and handmade paper. This is yet another show we discussed on the podcast in October.
Lovey Town at Central Library (October)
Madison-based visual artist Michael Velliquette launched Lovey Town in 2013 as a way to show work from friends and artists scattered across the country. He asked them to send postage-stamp to postcard-sized works, as well as a photos of themselves posing as if viewing the work or attending a gallery opening. He would then set up the miniature art and artist “paper dolls” in a small-scale gallery space in his studio or a public art show, the latest of which was at Madison Central Library’s Bubbler for its Night Light series[http://madisonbubbler.org/night-light/] and the citywide gallery night in October.
Keep an eye out for more exhibitions at the Bubbler and other Madison Public Library galleries in 2017.
Municipal at the Madison Municipal Building (December)
Reminiscent of the Madison Public Library’s Bookless event in 2012, this free, one-day, interactive, pop-up event, took place inside the Madison Municipal Building on MLK Boulevard (currently empty, as it’s undergoing a $20.8 million renovation) and featured more than 100 artists.
A number of local groups and businesses collaborated to set up art installations, performances, and other activities for the event, which was designed to highlight artists and bring community members together to celebrate the space and its unique history. Constructed in the 1920s, the building is an example of neo-classical revival architecture, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.