Biennial and Beauty of the Blue China
Wisconsin Visual Artists’ biennial exhibition has interest, but solo show Precarious Possessions rivets with a single piece.
Arguably the most provocative, as well as humorous out of the 52 pieces on view in the Wisconsin Artists 2014 Biennial, is Dean Valadez’s Frolicklegs. It’s an assemblage of blue jeans, a cardboard box and other materials that suggest a couple of crazy kids, legs entwined and sticking out from underneath the box. So what’s going on? Two teens of indeterminate gender — is it a make-out, a hide-out, or the tidiest murder scene you’ve ever seen? The title adds a touch of levity, so probably we can rule out the need for police tape. The narrative here, whatever its specifics, gets at something universal: we’ve all wanted to crawl underneath a box sometimes, steal away for ostrich-like privacy, thinking we’re so cleverly invisible.
The juror and de facto curator, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, is an artist and educator based in Chicago. Entries were drawn from a pool of applicants with membership in WVA, and further narrowed down by the juror’s selection. The media on view ranges from traditional drawing, painting, prints, and photography to found objects reconfigured as sculptural installations.
One of the larger paintings, Tim Black’s A Portrait of Himself, shows a nonchalant, stylish guy in sunglasses and suit, seemingly unprepared for a hike in the wilderness. He’s so cool he seems quite unaware of the enormous black bear padding up the road just behind him. Call the looming beast a spirit guide, a psychological doppelganger, an allusion to man versus nature, or maybe the last moments before Mr. Bear’s lunch begins. The surreal juxtaposition is full of intrigue. It also illuminates a strangely frequent thread in Wisconsin art, the references to Magic Realist painting and the presence of bears as character studies.
The installation of the Biennial provides a gentle rhythm of style and subject, but it’s not easy to corral such a diverse group of artists. There is unevenness in the quality and execution of some pieces, but in group exhibitions that is often the case. It is another update of the state of Wisconsin art, so take a breath between each piece or section, and meander through the varied work to see what you can see.
Something not to be missed is Precarious Possessions, on view in the museum’s ONE Gallery. Sideboard with Blue China, by the nationally known artist Beth Lipman is made of wood and glass and monumental in size, measuring about ten feet high by twenty-five feet wide. Within that expansive structure, fashioned after historic nineteenth-century sideboards, are intricate festoons of foliage, pedestals, figures and ornaments. The glass, textured for varying degrees of opacity and transparency, is abundant yet refrains from crass ostentation. The shimmering play of light over the rolling shapes casts a ghostly demeanor. The material is tangible and tactile yet some imagery ultimately remains elusive.
The impulse for display reflects the Victorian taste for decorating with plenty of pretty, impressive adornments in the home. The suggestions in this glassy work refract this impulse into 21st-century questions about acquisition and consumption. In an interview in MOWA’s newsletter, Lipman described a point of philosophical inspiration: “Its title refers to Oscar Wilde’s quote, ‘I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china,’ alluding to our failure to achieve the moral and aesthetic superiority that our worldly possessions embody.”
There is plenty for consideration in this idea. Does the soul glisten as easily and purely as crystalline glass? Can we use art objects to elevate and alleviate the meanness of existence? Lipman’s work is a locus for contemplating these questions, yes, but also something in which we can visually luxuriate. This is a work of exquisite cohesion, detail, and mystery.
Wisconsin Artists 2014 Biennial continues through March 9 and Beth Lipman: Precarious Possessions through April 13 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend).
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15
Bharatanatyam: South Indian Classical Dance Performance
Transitions in Perspective: Myth and Mirror
1422 N. 4th Street
11am, dance demonstration, lecture, and performance
Free admission, donations accepted
Founder and director of Natyarpana Dance Company, Kripa Baskaran, will present a program of information, artistry, and Indian classical dance. Her presentation complements the current exhibition,Transitions in Perspective: Myth and Mirror, a collaboration of art based in travel and culture by artists Dara Larson and Nirmal Raja.
First Person: Contemporary Cuban Art
Frederick Layton Gallery
273 E. Erie Street
Gallery hours Tues.-Sat., 10am-5pm
Exhibition closes February 15
Contemporary art and Cuban identity are at the forefront of this exhibition by artists Yaima Carrazana, Alejandro Calzada Miranda, Felipe Dulzaides and Glenda León. Through video, sculpture, photography, painting and installations the artists consider culture and the practices of life and creativity in contemporary society.