Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Worlds Combine

Infinite, sublime, transcendent, enduring, timeless. These are a few of the words often used to describe landscapes.

Mai Wyn Schantz rejects such nostalgic approaches to this type of artwork. Instead, the Wisconsin native-turned Colorado resident injects her paintings with a sense of time, immediacy and contemporariness.

About ten years ago, around the time she graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design in Denver, Schantz began painting on aluminum. The material provided a frame for her scenes of nature, but it also did more. It placed those scenes in the context of the present-day world.

The juxtaposition isn’t meant to be jarring. Says Schantz in her artist statement, “Despite our fast-paced, industrialized world, we are still innately tied to the land and continually seek to reconnect.”

Her work is about finding a balance between the seemingly opposite forces of the natural and manmade worlds. “It’s the idea that the two can be integrated and the two can be beautiful together or on their own,” she says.

As Schantz has developed her art, she’s made some changes. More aluminum shows through her paintings, say in the space between the trunks of trees. And she’s been focusing on closer-up views of nature than in the past. Instead of vaster and grander imagery, she’s finding—and showing—beauty in water streaming over rocks and lily pads floating on ponds.

“It’s just about stopping and looking at something a little closer,” she says.

Schantz has also been working with a new modern medium: stainless steel. It’s heavier and more durable than aluminum, she says, and it’s more reflective, allowing light to play a stronger role in her works.

A series of Schantz’s recent paintings will be showcased in August at Grace Chosy Gallery. She hopes viewers understand her contemporary approach to the landscape tradition as well as to nature.

“When I did sunsets, people used to say it made them look at skies differently,” she says. “I hope they look at trees a little closer and appreciate the simple beauty.”

Schantz’s work will be showcased at Grace Chosy Gallery, 1825 Monroe St., August 7–29. Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. For more information, call 255-1211 or visit

Images courtesy of Mai Wyn Schantz.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Square Dance

Once again, Art Fair on the Square proved its place as a quintessential summer event in Madison.

From paintings to photography, metal sculpture to glass art, textiles to jewelry, the annual arts extravaganza was a visual feast.

Here are just a few of the artists whose work jumped out at me as I wound my way around the Capitol Square.

Barns, houses and other rural imagery take on an exquisite, quiet beauty when they’re rendered in pastel landscapes by Chicago artist (and UW–Madison grad) Clare Malloy.

One of Colorado photographer Alan Klug’s specialties is beautiful brown-toned photography of scenes in the United States as well as abroad.

Who knew the humble cow could be such a great muse? Illinois painter Sue Skowronski did, and it’s a pleasure to see the animal from her point of view.

From the vibrant colors to the large scale, David Oleski’s paintings of apples, flowers, a cup of coffee and much more are intriguing, playful and impossible to ignore. I’d love to see more from this Pennsylvania artist in years to come.

It’s hard to know what to expect when you look at a work by Justin D. Miller. And that’s part of what makes exploring the whimsical, fantastical paintings by this Chicago artist so enjoyable.

Eric Lee back-paints sheets of glass, creating bold, colorful and expressionistic glass wall hangings and furniture.

Painting and textile traditions meet in the art of Georgia artist Kathrine Allen-Coleman, who creates mixed-media work that often includes actual dresses.

Urban architecture and natural landscapes alike provide inspiration for Ohio photographer Chris Coffey.

Photos courtesy of the artists’ websites:,,,,,, and

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Art for Thought

What is art? For one, it’s probably a question that’s existed as long as people have been making art. Some argue that they know art when they see it. But what about when you don’t think something is art, but you’re told that it is? What if the works of art on display are things you see—and use—in your daily life?

These are just a few of the questions raised and explored in Return to Function, an exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art that opened in May and runs through August 23.

The show features contemporary artists, many from outside the United States, who create functional objects based on theoretical principles ranging from economics to the environment. Their artwork questions preconceptions about and everyday objects as well as sculpture.

MMoCA’s curator of exhibitions Jane Simon acknowledges the exhibition is among the most challenging the museum has presented. The exhibition catalogue provides an insightful introduction to the concepts presented, drawing interesting comparisons to Marcel Duchamp (who famously exhibited a urinal titled Fountain) and his peers of the early twentieth century.

“This show is a dialogue about art,” Simon says.

The work that greets visitors is Jules de Balincourt’s Personal Survival Doom Buggy, a real doonbuggy stocked with supplies essential to survival in “a post-September-eleventh world,” Simon says.

Also taking on the topic of survival, in very different ways, are François Curlet’s North Park #3, an orange Hermès box and bag with compass embedded in it and a comment on navigating the urban jungle of commercialism, and Ralph Borland’s Suited for Subversion. Borland sought to create a way to protest without getting hurt, with the idea that if a person could safely protest he could ensure his voice would be heard. The heart-shaped padded red suit covers a person’s head and torso. An added detail is a heartbeat that emits from it; the idea behind it was that if police heard a human heart they would recognize that the protester is human.

Several works explore the notion of shelter. Michael Rakowitz’s P(lot) is a temporary shelter that can be set up in a parking space and draw heating and cooling from nearby buildings. Huong Ngo’s Pop-Up Studio, a huge and portable square bubble powered by a simple fan, creates a livable and workable space within its soft walls. And Lucy Orta’s Refuge Wear Habitent is a silver poncho that can be worn, folded up and carried or used as a tent. Some models have a whistle or compass and some can be warmed with body heat.

A few objects are quite small in scale but not in impact. Antal Lakner’s Iners is a series of objects aimed to make people more active, such as an extremely heavy cell phone on display. And then there’s Claire Fontaine’s In God They Trust, a quarter which she has fashioned into a box cutter.

Among the most startling works is DIY (Coffin) by Joe Scanlan, an actual homemade coffin made from three Ikea bookcases. Coffins are typically expensive, Simon points out, so a do-it-yourselfer is quite a democratic gesture. Also poignant is Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga’s Vigamundo: A Migrant’s Tale. The main character of this video game is a migrant laborer; in between levels, statistics about migrant workers flash on the screen.

Visitors have responded well to the exhibition since it opened in May, Simon says, adding that a high school tour especially liked it. She hopes people find the show challenging and eye-opening.

“I hope they understand art can be engaged with issues of the day, even the mundane issues of the everyday,” she says. “It’s not just paint on a canvas.”

For more information on Return to Function, visit

Photos of Orta, Borland and Fontaine’s work courtesy of MMoCA.