The varied, dazzling MFA shows that never were

Highlights from grad-student art shows at UW-Madison that were canceled due to the pandemic.

Highlights from grad-student art shows at UW-Madison that were canceled due to the pandemic.

Image: Deanna Antony created “faux installations” of her works in locations including the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee.

Student art shows on the UW-Madison campus can be frustratingly hard to catch—often they’re up for a week or less in the Humanities Building or the Art Lofts. It’s well worth going out of your way, but unless you’re tapped into the campus art world you might not even hear about a lot of it. To make matters worse, public events in Madison came to a standstill just as a whole cohort of graduate art students were preparing to host their MFA shows. Seeing artwork on a screen is a poor substitute for seeing it in person, but these bodies of work are worth exploring. The UW-Madison Art Department is hosting a digital show for some of the artists, and others have made the best of a lousy situation by re-framing their works in a digital context. 


Quite a few of the artists shared samples of their work and accompanying statements. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve discovered so far from this crop of lost MFA shows. A lucky few got their shows in just under the wire, including Ashley Lusietto, who was kind enough to connect me with most of the other artists featured here. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but a look at the work I’ve been able to spend time with so far.

Deanna Antony, How To Cover Your Dark Eye Circles

Deanna Antony writes in her artist statement that the paintings in this show emerged from a “cycle of grief.” They draw on the overstimulated color palette that many kids soaked up from their TVs during the late ’80s and early ’90s (Antony cites the influences of shows included Care Bears and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), but Antony uses those colors to evoke the rattling disorientation that comes with any trauma, depicting people in the painted equivalent of a double exposure. 

“Some unimaginable things rip apart your soul and need lots of time to heal from, and some unimaginable things are the greatest gift and bring immense joy and satisfaction,” Antony writes in the statement for the show. When the physical gallery show got canceled, Antony created wonderful and witty “faux-installations” that place the paintings among other hyper-colorful settings, including a bowl of Lucky Charms and a carnival food stand. 

Cate Richards, Turnips Like Skulls Are Heaped House High

“As a metalsmith, a majority of my work and research has had to stop due to the loss of access to equipment and specialized work spaces  that UW-Madison provided—resources that are incredibly hard to have access to outside of the university,” Cate Richards told me in a recent email. It’s also that much more of a shame that people aren’t getting to see her MFA show in person Richards clearly has a deep and complex relationship with the physical materials in her work, and even the best photography won’t quite do justice to the texture and ingenuity of these pieces.

Pranav Sood, Life Is About Love And Love Is Complicated

Pranav Sood has put up all the works and the statement from this show on his website. Sood’s paintings use dazzlingly intricate composition to harness a joyous near-chaos of colors. He paints scenes nested within scenes, stories colliding with the planes of other stories.The people he depicts may inhabit a geometrically hyper-structured world, but they are achingly, riotously alive. This show includes the 5′ by 12′ opus “The Day Without You,” a painting so packed with detail that I’m sad I don’t get to stand in front of it for a good long while. However, Sood’s online show includes a bunch of nicely photographed close-ups of individual sections of this and two other paintings, so head to the aforementioned link if you’d like a more in-depth look.

Maryam Ladoni, Cheltikeh

Up on the Art Department’s virtual show as of this writing, photographer Maryam Ladoni‘s latest body of work takes advantage of Madison’s endless supply of curbed furniture. Ladoni depicts herself lounging in front of a trashed TV on an overgrown lawn, watering some houseplants that were apparently abandoned along with a dresser, and kicking back on a multitude of orphaned mattresses and couches, including one propped up vertically in an apartment building hallway. You can’t miss the humor here, but Ladoni, as an Iranian who came to Madison for grad school, also captures the displacement and rootlessness so many people experience in our often-transient city. These photographs show her poignantly trying to make her own life in the cast-off fragments of others’. “I do not know where my home is, and no physical wall or boundary can define my sense of home,” Ladoni writes in an artist’s statement. “Most times rather than being responsive I am questioning what has made me or is important for me.”

Kayla Story, Familiar Words Between Good And Bad 

Also currently in UW’s online showcase, Kayla Story captures photos of her multi-media show as installed in the Art Lofts’ main gallery, a span of spectral dress shirts occupying its glass front wall. Just from that one striking piece, it’s clear that the show deals powerfully with a theme of absence. “Some works are deeply personal and some draw directly from conversations with 32 adults who experienced, and have had to come to terms with having, an absent father as I did,” Story writes in the artist’s statement for the show. Story is combining photography with paper work here, and it’s a good example of how important the physical staging of a body of work within an art gallery can be. 

Lucas Pointon, de natura rerum – (or) on the nature of things

One more artist up on the UW Art Department showcase now: Metalsmith Lucas Pointon, who melds stately ornamentation with raw elements from the animal kingdom. A gold-coated chicken foot reaches out from the front of a breathtakingly beautiful, teapot-like vessel, evoking both awe and genuine discomfort. The sheer amount of craft in Pointon’s work makes the claws, fur, and small-animal skulls look not tamed or domesticated but instead fearfully grand. “Many of my pieces formally reference medieval reliquaries, which are elaborate and precious metal containers that hold the relic of a saint, such as a bone fragment,” Pointon writes in an artist statement. “Reliquaries provide a visceral religious experience, melding life and death into one mysterious indivisible whole. Reliquaries represent an attitude towards death that is interesting to me, and a belief in the cycles of life and death as part of the process of renewal and veneration.”

Tim Jorgensen, My Father’s Son

Sculptor Tim Jorgenson teases a lot of character out of the concrete that fills up the various components of this show. “Patrilineal” consists of two dozen shiny red toolboxes arranged in a semicircle. Each one is packed with concrete, and in each one the concrete engulfs a different object or substance: A baseball, a shoe, a hammer, the papery honeycombs of wasps’ nests. The concrete is variously rugged, smooth, crumbly, jagged, and in at least one case seemingly eroded by water. In another piece, the concrete looks bubbly and almost wet, as if it’s about to spill out of the row of mailboxes into which Jorgensen has poured it. Jorgenson’s artist statement frames the show as an exploration of masculinity and parental legacy: “For better or worse, these are the parts I’m made of.”

Guzzo Pinc, EGGS

Painter Guzzo Pinc took the works from this show on something of a field trip. On his website, Pinc shares the images of these at once soft and brash paintings, along with photos of Pinc’s wife, Cynthia, holding up several of the paintings in various settings: Fields, behind a school bus, in front of a colorful building, by the banks of the Rock River in Pinc’s hometown of Fort Atkinson. Throwing the paintings into totally different contexts makes their colors and gently abstracted shapes pop out in a way that simply viewing them as cropped image files wouldn’t accomplish. Even if the gallery show had still happened, this would still be a welcome change of scenery. Pinc’s statement leaves the painting themselves playfully open to interpretation: “These paintings came to me from some distant wavelength, dig, and like I don’t know what they mean, but I know they mean something! They mean a whole lot of things! I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it all, know what I mean? Sure I could get into postmodern theory or trigonometry or whatever but I just want you to enjoy the show.”

Abrahm Guthrie, Interior

Abrahm Guthrie’s paintings and cut-paper works usually have a vulnerable, tactile intimacy. In this show, Guthrie applies that approach to the places he’s lived in throughout his life. “Though I have never truly felt at home, I feel a deep affinity for each home I’ve inhabited,” he writes in an artist statement. “I imagine every one could be found in my psyche.” Guthrie recreates these spaces with handmade paper, creating both busy domestic scenes and still-life renderings of the things we use to make spaces feel like home, like salt lamps and favorite records. Like some of the other artists mentioned here, Guthrie tried to treat the canceled show like a creative opportunity, digitally “installing” the works into the interiors of various homes.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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