A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Sep 8, 2010
Dennis Nechvatal is a well-known artist in Madison. Since moving here in 1978, he’s exhibited often at Grace Chosy Gallery and earned a strong and loyal following.
Fans anticipate the characteristics of his paintings and sculptures: his careful arrangement of the landscape, with flowers in the foreground facing viewers and a forest scene behind, and metal masks, often painted in vibrant shades, and arranged in rows.
But come to Dennis Nechvatal Landscapes, the latest exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art, and you’ll see new sides to the artist. The seventeen works on display, most of them made in the past two years, show his hallmarks but some exciting new developments as well.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Hope, a large painting the Chazen commissioned for this show (shown above). The landscape seems to open up before you—take a seat on the nearby bench to absorb it slowly. A vibrant blue sky unfolds above dense foliage and trees. This greenery is looser, more natural, less carefully arranged than most of Nechvatal’s scenes, yet care is still given to how a leaf fans out from a stem or the way a branch gracefully extends from a tree trunk.
This forest setting appears to extend into a painting hanging ninety degrees to the left of Hope. Named Space, the lush scene’s trees are slightly closer to the viewer, the skyline a bit lower. You find yourself examining the painting up close, then backing up to take it all in, then moving close once again, not wanting to miss a thing.
A departure from these forest scenes is Passage, a work made up of nine wood panels. A pattern of dense leaves occupies all the surface space except for two areas where brown shows through. Noticing these spots changes everything: You’re no longer looking at a flat pattern; all of a sudden, you’re standing upright in a claustrophobia-inducing forest.
Nechvatal experiments with his metal masks, too. Silence features thirty silvery metal (they’re made of fabricated tin) masks lined up in rows. On a wood panel backdrop is a geometric pattern of lines. These lines and the repetition of the starkly unadorned masks together create an almost militaristic feel.
In Time, however, the artist embellishes the tin forms. Eighty masks are positioned tightly together and painted pink. A black floral pattern seems to grow from the bottom up the masks, like vines working their way up a wall. The organic pattern on top of such structure is a pleasing juxtaposition—one more surprise in this show that shatters expectations.
Dennis Nechvatal Landscapes runs through October 3 at the Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.
Photos courtesy of the Chazen.