A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Nov 2, 2010
Coming into Focus
During the years I lived out of state, I always perked up when I’d overhear someone talking about Madison or Wisconsin. I was fascinated to find out what they’d say, what their perceptions of our city and state were, and how accurate a native like me would find their observations.
It’s this same curiosity that drew me to Focus/Madison, an exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art that runs through November 14. The show features paintings, prints and photographs by fourteen artists that all take on Madison as at least part of their subject matter.
Not surprisingly Madison’s icons—the Capitol, State Street, the UW—pop up a lot, as do references to its political activity and natural beauty. But it’s interesting to note how long these themes have defined the city.
John Steuart Curry’s Progressive Party Rally, for instance, is an oil painting from 1938. The small work, with soft brushstrokes and lots of energy, depicts Gov. Philip La Follette standing in front of a large crowd at the first meeting of the National Progressives of America.
Political energy, albeit of a different nature, is also a characteristic of five photographic works (one of which is shown above) by Terry Husebye. In the images, created in the early 1970s, police officers stand guard while crowds of young people gather, protest or celebrate in front of houses near campus.
Other works are quieter, such as Gibson Byrd’s oil painting, Late August Fields. Lush green and gold fields, with blue bluffs in the background, show the calmer—but equally as compelling—side of the Madison area. And East Washington Avenue from Capitol Steps by Dennis Church reveals rows of lights illuminating a deserted street. It’s a lonely, desolate scene that’s also comfortingly familiar.
But perhaps the artist who best sums up the city is Gary Knowles. Twenty-six framed Polaroids, many of which he heated and scratched, line up in two rows. They show slices of Madison life: the Hotel Washington, peppers at Dane County Farmers’ Market, the UW Marching Band, cars stuck in traffic at University and Park, tables at the Memorial Union Terrace, a demonstration, Paul’s book store, a bearded man selling jewelry, the Capitol, a bike covered in snow and State Street. Knowles took the photos from 1977 to 1978, yet they’re likely the sights a photographer would choose today to document the city.
Whether you’re a lifelong Madisonian or a newcomer, take a look at this exhibition. Do the works add up to the Madison you know?
Focus/Madison runs through November 14 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. For more information, visit mmoca.org.
Photo courtesy of MMoCA.