Drawn from MMoCA’s permanent collection, The Mystery Beneath is a companion exhibition to Real/Surreal in the main galleries. Including paintings, prints, and drawings, it explores the lasting traditions of Surrealism and Magic Realism as they developed in Wisconsin during the twentieth century.
Surrealism, with its inception in France during the 1920s, was the dominant avant-garde movement in the arts in the years between the First and Second World Wars. It aimed, in both realist and abstract styles, to reveal the workings of dream states and the subconscious on human experience. Surrealism’s main strategy in its realist guise was to create fantastical images by odd juxtapositions of precisely detailed figures and things. Magic Realism, which arose at the same time in Europe, likewise used a mixture of realistic and fanciful elements. Yet, the content of Surrealism and Magic Realism was essentially different. Magic Realism imbued material reality—the outer world—with strangeness. Surrealism, on the other hand, was preoccupied with dreams and interior psychological states.Artists often crisscrossed between the two tendencies.
Beginning in the later 1930s, the vocabularies of Surrealism and Magic Realism, which expanded the expressive potential of traditional realist styles, became a compelling choice for Wisconsin artists. These contemporary realist directions were particularly attractive to artists in Madison and Milwaukee, including Aaron Bohrod, Marshall Glasier, Karl Priebe, Alfred Sessler, James Watrous, John Wilde, and Santos Zingale. In Madison, this fostered a lively debate about the proper course of American art. The faculty in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin espoused the values of American Regionalism, as championed by John Steuart Curry, then artist-in-residence in the University’s Agricultural College. Marshall Glasier and his circle of artists countered that the tenets of European Surrealism were the basis for a true modern art in America. In the years following the Second World War and the ensuing decades, the styles of Surrealism and Magic Realism remained a viable choice for such Wisconsin artists as Duane Brisette, Gibson Byrd, and Walter Hamady. Although other art movements would come to the fore, these two movements colored the essential character of much of Wisconsin art for the remainder of the century.
Generous support for The Mystery Beneath has been provided by Dane Arts, with additional support from The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.