Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Girl Power

What is feminist art? Who is a feminist artist? Must the artist knowingly make feminist art? Must the artist be a woman?

These are just a few of the questions raised in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest exhibition, Girls 
and Company: Feminist Works from MMoCA’s Permanent Collection.

The show, which opened in May and runs through July 20, explores the legacy of feminism in art through a collection of roughly twenty paintings, photographs and prints from the 1960s through ’90s.

Artists represented in Girls and Company include Diane Arbus, Joan Brown, Ilona Granet, Jenny Holzer, Mary Laird, Jin Lee, Marisol, Lev T. Mills, Nancy Mladenoff, Frances Myers, Christina Ramberg, Miriam Schapiro and Hollis Sigler.

Photography in the exhibition is particularly striking, from Cindy Sherman’s untitled image of a woman—herself posing as an abused wife—with a bruised face and a look of shock to Anne Noggle’s scenes of an elderly woman in her small Santa Fe kitchen and two nude women sitting at desks in a small office smoking cigarettes.

Nicholas Nixon—one of two men in the show—also presents a thought-provoking photograph in St. Petersburg, Florida, in which a group of teen girls directly confront his camera as well as those who encounter the image. It’s a good example of much of the art in this show—in that it raises questions for viewers but doesn’t offer up easy answers.

Noteworthy, too, are prints by the Guerrilla Girls, a collaborative activist group that formed in the 1980s and raised awareness about discrimination in the art world and other realms. In one poster-style screenprint from 1989, the group comments that with the $17.7 million one could spend on a single Jasper Johns painting, he or she could instead purchase at least one work from each of the over sixty-five women artists and artists of color that they list. It’s a powerful statement made in a powerful work.

Jane Simon, curator of exhibitions at MMoCA, recently offered some insight into how the exhibition came together, what feminist art means today and what she hopes viewers take way from the show.

How did Girls and Company come about? Why did you decide to hold this exhibition? 

Exhibitions are sometimes planned years in advance. This one was planned about a year ago. And I think it happened because I was thinking about the changing role of feminism and because I knew we owned these works by the Guerrilla Girls. I’ve wanted to show them since I started working here four years ago. I’ve been intrigued by practices that involve performance and masquerade, two approaches that often revolve around feminism.

What were the challenges for you in putting the show together?

I think I associate with a second or third generation of feminism, and I think that is not always in line with some of the older generations of feminism.

Why does the museum have a large collection of “feminist” art?

How do you define feminist art? I think it all depends on how it is defined. Certainly, when you start looking you can find new ideas.

How has the definition of feminist art changed over the years? What is it today?

I am not even sure feminism occurred to artists like Marisol, but for artists like Joan Brown and Cindy Sherman, it was a constant reminder and a label that came up time and time again. I think they were probably delighted with the label, but their art addressed many issues and concerns.

What piece in the show resonates most with you?

I am very fond of the GG [Guerrilla Girls] pieces as well as the painting by Joan Brown. I’m also very fond of the photographs by Anne Noggle. The museum owns several of her pieces.

What has the reaction to Girls and Company been so far?

Very positive, especially with women viewers.

What is your goal for the exhibition?

To raise awareness and spark discussion.

Images, courtesy of MMoCA, are Untitled Head (#12) by Jin Lee, The Martyrdom by Frances Myers and St. Petersburg, Florida by Nicholas Nixon.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

University Theatre opens its summer production, The Musicals of Musicals: The Musical, on Friday. Also that day, Artisan Gallery in Paoli unveils two shows: ceramics by Rick Hintze and the group show Contemporary Animal Imagery.

The Spring Green Arts Fair, featuring the work of over two hundred artists, runs Saturday and Sunday in downtown Spring Green, while the Madison Early Music Festival offers a Preview Concert Sunday afternoon.

And Tuesday sees the start of Butterfly Encounters, featuring photographs of local butterflies by Ann Thering at the UW–Madison Arboretum Steinhauer Trust Gallery.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

July Artist: A Natural Progression

Tom Sargeant’s acrylic paintings have a subdued, meditative quality that one doesn’t always find in abstract art. Look closely and you’ll tune into aspects of the natural world and the effects of time—their colors, textures, compositions.

New work by Sargeant is featured July 11 through August 2 at Grace Chosy Gallery on Monroe Street.

The former doctor recently took time out to answer a few questions about his path to painting, artistic choices and his hopes for those who see his work.

You were a doctor for forty years. How, when and why did you make the switch into art?

As long as I can remember I knew someday I would take up art, so with retirement in 1995 I finally got the chance. Though I never had time for a formal art education, I did take several short courses at MATC, UW and the Peninsula Art School in Door County.

How has your experience as a doctor impacted or influenced your artwork?

As far as I can tell my interests in art and medicine developed at the same time but independently with neither one influencing the other.

How would you describe your style? Why do you use acrylic paints and why do you work in the abstract?

Style? Abstract for sure. Minimalistic usually. Expressionistic? Jacob Stockinger referred to my work as Zen-like: Muted colors, balanced asymmetry, textural, subdued, etc.

Why acrylics? I never even tried oils because my first studio had no ventilation, and now I wouldn't use anything other than acrylics. The best thing about them is that they dry so fast, and the only thing wrong with them is that they dry so fast.

Why abstraction? Tried realism first, became bored with it, and then struggled to break the habit. Nature has always been the greatest influence on my work. Not the objects in nature but rather the effects of nature and time on our surroundings and the resulting textures and colors: rusty metal, weathered wood, etc., etc.

What role does nature play in your work?

I believe making art forces one to become keenly observant.

What do you hope viewers get from seeing your paintings?

Your last question is a tough one. Viewers will find no political statement, no social commentary, no narrative and no recognizable subject matter in my paintings. So there is no need for them to ask, “What’s that supposed to be?” because that’s what I’m asking them. Someone said that abstract artists don’t paint answers, they paint questions. I hope viewers will look at my work and ask themselves, “How does that make me feel on a scale of happy to disgusted?”

IN THE MAGAZINE: The July issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the the arts content you’ll find within the pages.

• An Overtones profile on Karlos Moser, a retired UW music professor who recently brought several musical gifts to the town in Brazil where he was raised.
• A Your Town tidbit on how artists are joining the environmental movement in a new program at this year’s Art Fair on the Square.
• The Fabulous Finds page devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandest projects around Madison.
• The annual Best of Madison readers’ poll results featuring the city’s top art galleries, bookstores, DJs, theater companies, performance and music venues, bands, performers, photographers, cinemas, music store, radio stations and hosts, and more.
• The monthly Overtones events calendar with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in July.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

It’s a busy week for special events. The Attic Angel Association Attic Sale takes place Thursday, while the group’s annual House & Garden Tour, this year on Monona’s Tonyawatha Trail, is on Monday. Children and adults alike may enjoy Feast with the Beasts at Henry Vilas Zoo on Saturday. And Olbrich Botanical GardensRhapsody in Bloom benefit, Madison’s largest garden party, also is this Saturday.

The Alliant Energy Center welcomes the National Women’s Music Festival Thursday through Sunday. And the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society moves into its second week of Same Carriage, Fresh Horses with the programs Scaramouche and Souvenirs Friday through Sunday.

American Players Theatre begins its third play of the summer with Henry IV: The Making of the King on Friday. Also on Friday, Broom Street Theater kicks off For What It’s Worth and Verona Area Community Theater starts Brigadoon.

And in the visual arts realm, on Friday UW’s Design Gallery opens the MFA exhibition Harue Shimomoto and the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters unveils Amy Arntson and Bruce Severson’s side-by-side shows of landscapes. Saturday brings the opening of three exhibitions—Fabricated Realms, Cornucopia: Crazy and The Watergate Collective: New Order—at Overture Galleries.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer Traditions—with a Few New Twists

When you think of summer around Madison, a few favorite events likely come to mind. Concerts on the Square. Art Fair on the Square. American Players Theatre.

All three get their start this month and the next, with a combination of what’s made the events perpetually popular and some new twists on the traditions.

American Players Theatre

American Players Theatre offers five shows this summer, one of which started last week.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is APT’s signature production, says communications director Sara Young. The company used to do it annually, starting in its debut year of 1980, but hasn’t taken it on since 2000.

“It’s the quintessential APT experience,” Young says. “Part of it takes place in the woods and we’re in the woods. The magic people expect out of APT is heightened in it.”

And while many theater-goers know the Shakespearean comedy well, Young assures that this production is worth a watch. “You haven’t seen this Midsummer,” she says. “It’s gorgeous and fun.”

Ah, Wilderness! kicks off this week and Young promises the play by Eugene O'Neill will push the envelope further than an
y other play APT has performed has yet. Next week sees the start of Shakespeare’s Henry IV: The Making of a King, which Young describes as a coming-of-age story. In fact, she says, the entire season could be similarly characterized.

APT’s fourth and fifth shows—Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw and The Belle’s Strategem by Hannah Cowley—start in August and represent a mix of old and new. “We do a lot of Shaw out here,” Young says. And she adds that The Belle’s Strategem is the first play written by a woman that the company will perform.

Concerts on the Square

Concerts on the Square celebrates its twenty-fifth season this year, with the first of six Wednesday-evening performances taking place June 25.

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra music director and maestro Andrew Sewell says he planned the season to be memorable and special, and one that longtime Concerts lovers would enjoy. “We really wanted something that would bring everyone together,” he says.

In the Concerts on the Square tradition, a Fourth of July concert (held July 2) will be a patriotic salute to America and feature Hong-En Chen, the pianist who won the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s 2008 Young Artist Concerto Competition.

Guest artists are highlights of the season, and several are newcomers to Concerts on the Square, says Sewell. Trumpeter Ryan Anthony will be featured in July 9’s Sound the Trumpet concert, while Philadelphia violin and bass trio Time for Three performs at the String Fusion concert on July 23.

Sewell says the final concert of the season, July 30’s Our Town, will serve as the ultimate anniversary celebration. The concert will feature mezzo soprano Kitt Foss, soprano Alli Foss, Tracy Silverman on electric violin and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Art Fair on the Square

Art Fair on the Square also celebrates an anniversary this summer: Fifty years of being the ultimate downtown outdoor arts festival, attracting roughly 500 artists and countless art lovers to the Capitol Square.

Art Fair coordinator Katie Hunter says her goal in putting on the event is to make it seem fresh each year. There are surely some changes in store this season.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art made the Art Fair application process almost entirely digital this year. That attracted not only more applicants—more than 1,500 as compared to 1,300 in 2007—but also new ones. Hunter estimates that one-third of artists who will participate in Art Fair on the Square July 12 and 13 are newcomers.

The digital process also contributed to the Art Fair’s effort to go green. Hunter says the event is ramping up its recycling and focusing on biodegradable products. She also posed a Go Green Challenge to participating artists, asking them to create at least one work of art using recycled of biodegradable materials. A jury will view all the eco artwork and choose a winner, who will earn free entry into next year’s fair.

“We’re trying to connect the environment and the arts,” Hunte says. “Art can be used to facilitate a lot of environmental practices.”

Art Fair also has partnered with EnAct, asking artists to decorate rain barrels that will be showcased around the Square and later auctioned off. And they’re working with the Chicago-based Working Bikes Cooperative, which takes donated bicycles and refurbishes them to be used as a power source in developing countries. The group will have a sixteen-foot bicycle-powered fountain on display.

While Art Fair could have used its anniversary season to reflect on past festivals, Hunter says the desire was to look toward the future. She hopes to make the event as environmentally friendly as possible in the years to come.

“We’re not a green event but we’re a greener event,” she says. “It will take a few years.”

Hunter encourages festival-goers to bike, bus or walk to Art Fair. Those who come in on two wheels may park their bicycles at a new bike corral on King Street.

Other changes to this year’s fair include a revamped kids area, which will include art projects led by MFA students. And a strong lineup of food vendors and live entertainment should assure Hunter’s other goal for Art Fair: that anyone, art lover or not, can attend the event and have a great time.

Photos top to bottom are courtesy of American Players Theatre, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Tomorrow, Stage Q begins its annual two-week playfest, Queer Shorts 3, which celebrates LGBT theater and its actors, directors and playwrights at the Bartell Theatre. The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society starts its summer program, Same Carriage, Fresh Horses, on Friday. Performances change weekly and take place at venues throughout the Madison area.

Saturday marks the annual Juneteenth Day Celebration honoring the African American emancipation. The event is held in Penn Park.

And on Monday is Concert on the Green, the Madison Symphony Orchestra outdoor summer concert and picnic at Bishops Bay Country Club in Middleton.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Familiar Images

I always find it intriguing when artists take on plants and animals as their subject matter. Such imagery may seem benign initially, but on so many levels they are chock full of history and symbolism.

Do all artists think of the Garden of Eden or fertility when they paint a scene of flowers? Does a depiction a horse or bear always call to mind the countless cultures that have painted them for thousands of years? Probably not. But for me, these histories become part of the subjects’ contexts.

This month, two separate shows in two different galleries take on these themes.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens presents paintings featuring flowers and other botanical imagery in Five Painters in the Gardens. The five local artists—C.K. Chang, Bonnie Johnson, Donna Miller, David Scheifel and Mary Diman—all have a penchant for color and nature, as well as painting in the realist tradition. They met up more than two decades ago and have exhibited together for the past six years. Yet each shares his or her own impression of flowers, through individual uses of color, medium and style.

The show begins June 8 and continues through September 21. It’s open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At Artisan Gallery in Paoli, a group show called Contemporary Animal Imagery tackles animal subject matter in surprising, beautiful, fun and extremely varied ways. It’s an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, photography and ceramics, but all of the fifteen-plus artists involved explore animal imagery as used in contemporary art.

There’s Randy Richmond’s collection of digital prints combining animals and manmade objects: a swan on a seesaw, a cow approaching a piano; both in moody, almost eerie nighttime settings. Or Audrey Christie’s vibrantly hued hand-colored woodcut of a rooster. Both of those are stark contrasts to Laura Zindel’s ceramic bottles, upon which she presents scientifically precise depictions of snakes, insects and spiders. The show offers so many thought-provoking ways of looking at beings we see almost daily.

The exhibition runs June 27 to August 3, and hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Artwork top to bottom is by Mary Diman, Donna Miller, Randy Richmond and Laura Zindel. 

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Sheryl Crow makes a stop in Madison tonight at the Alliant Energy Center as part of her summer Detours tour, while Ingrid Michaelson plays the Barrymore on Saturday. Also that night, The Kissers offer their final show at the High Noon Saloon.

And festival season is in full swing this weekend, starting with the Isthmus Jazz Festival running Thursday through Sunday at the Memorial Union Terrace. There you can enjoy a century’s worth of jazz styles.

Saturday brings the Clean Lakes Festival at Olin Turville Park, as well as Folk on State, the annual folk music concert series held Saturday afternoons on State Street. And Parade of Homes offers its yearly showcase Saturday through June 22 in four Madison-area neighborhoods.

Also on Saturday, American Players Theatre in Spring Green kicks off its outdoor theater season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs through October 5.