A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Oct 26, 2011
02:25 PM

First Impressions

First Impressions

Like many local arts lovers, I eagerly anticipated the reopening of the Chazen Museum of Art and the reveal of its new expansion. But even though I’d been following the building’s progress over the last year, I wasn’t prepared for what I’d see when I stepped into the new museum at Saturday evening’s opening.

The $43 million addition—an 86,000-square-foot building that connects with the original 1968 museum on University Avenue—doubles the Chazen’s size. It’s sleek and stunning, with an open lobby with expansive windows that sends a more welcoming invitation to both the university and wider community than ever before.

Chazen director Russell Panczenko told me weeks ago that seventy percent of what visitors would see at the new museum would be for the first time. That made me curious about how the new would blend with the old, and a bit nervous about whether beloved items from the museum’s collection would be replaced with never-before-seen works.

It turns out I had no reason to worry. The new wing is a delight to explore and transitions beautifully into the original wing via a third-story bridge. And not only are there plenty of new works to discover, but old favorites are still on display, sometimes in new contexts.

A tour of today’s Chazen should start with the lobby and the adjacent Pleasant T. Rowland Galleries, an impressive two-room space that can showcase both large-scale and more intimate works at their best. Through January 15, Sean Scully Paintings and Watercolors features paintings that loom from floor to ceiling as well as smaller works employing the abstract artist’s signature stripes and blocks of color.

Also open through January 15, The Leslie and Johanna Garfield Collection: A Passion for Prints is the debut exhibition on the second floor’s Leslie and Johanna Garfield Gallery. Featuring prints by German Expressionists and American and British printmakers—including works by Jasper Johns, David Hockney and Max Beckman—the exhibition reveals works collected over six decades.

The third floor echoes the museum’s original building, with a mezzanine around a staircase and galleries emanating from it. Large-scale, eye-catching artwork covers the mezzanine walls and includes Mark Mullhern’s dynamic Crucifixion, Gronk’s beautifully textured Fragments of a Landscape, and works by Judy Pfaff and Madisonians Dennis Nechvatal and TL Solien.

Discerning Taste: Paintings from the Simona and Jerome A. Chazen Collection is on display through March 11. The exhibition highlights late-twentieth-century American and European abstract paintings, including Frank Stella’s vibrant Double Scramble of 1978, Robert Motherwell’s stunning black and white Elegy to the Spanish Republic #125 from 1972 and works by Roy Lichtenstein.

Neary, visitors will find Andy Warhol’s 1967 serigraph Marilyn Monroe featuring the starlet in vibrant shades of green, yellow, red and pink. As you explore the rest of the floor, you’ll encounter the Chazen’s African and Asian collections and a gallery devoted to Midwestern art—including John Steuart Curry’s Our Good Earth, which held a place of prominence in the old museum.

An international twenty-first century collection features several artists who have been highlighted in special exhibitions at the Chazen in recent years. Among them are Filip Dujardin, Nicola Lopez, James Gill and John Wilde

The large collection of European and American art from the twentieth century extends across the south side of the third floor and across the bridge connecting the old and new wings.

Often, the museum presents works in a variety of media by an artist. For instance, a graphite sketch is displayed alongside a three-dimensional study and iron alloy sculpture; all three are by Pablo Picasso. Works on paper by Alexander Calder are shown near several of his mobile sculptures, and a Jean Dubuffet drawing hangs next to a sculpture by the artist. (As a UW–Madison art history graduate, I’m envious the opportunities such arrangements provide current students to explore artists’ depth and breadth.)

In the old building, sketches and a familiar bronze sculpture by Antoine Pevsner from the 1920s greet visitors. From here, you can explore the museum’s ancient collections, European religious art from 1300–1600, Russian icons, sixteenth-century Dutch and Flemish still lifes, American and European portraits, and landscapes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Take the staircase to the fourth floor to revisit Helen Frankenthaler’s Pistachio painting, Deborah Butterfield’s white horse sculpture and the Ruth Cavener Stichter goats that caused a stir back in early 2010. Works by Ray Yoshida, Ed Paschke, Karl Wirsum and Christina Ramburg are a treat if you’ve recently seen the Chicago Imagists show at the Madisom Museum of Contemporary Art

The Chazen has always been a museum worth visiting whenever one has the chance, with subsequent visits allowing for new discoveries. But now more than ever it’s an incredibly rich asset to the community that every Madisonian should see for themselves.

Photos courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.

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About This Blog

As managing editor at Madison Magazine, I'm also an unabashed arts enthusiast. Paintings, plays, music, movies—I'm intrigued by all forms of creative expression. I enjoy talking with artists and sharing their insights, challenges, inspirations and latest endeavors. Check in regularly for details on events, previews and reviews, artist interviews and more! 

– Katie Vaughn
Follow Katie on Twitter @katiemv

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