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Date of Release: 
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Contact Info: 

Erika Monroe-Kane, Director of Communications
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Taking Sides: Social Critique in Modern and Contemporary Art

Taking Sides: Social Critique in Modern and Contemporary Art

June 10—October 15, 2017

MADISON, WI— The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) will present Taking Sides: Social Critique in Modern and Contemporary Art from June 10 through October 15, 2017. Drawn from MMoCA’s permanent collection, its title is taken from a quote of Salmon Rushdie, the renowned novelist and essayist, who stated, “A poet’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep.”

In the visual arts, this impulse flourished in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions, and with the gradual institution of liberal democracies in Western Europe and the United States. Initially, social protest of this sort took the form of political cartooning and caricature in printed broadsheets and satirical magazines. Activist art that challenges state authority became a hallmark of the modern era in western culture.

Taking Sides picks up this theme of social protest art in the late nineteenth century, with prints by William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, and Honoré Daumier. This introductory section then flows into a special gallery of prints devoted to the works of Käthe Kollwitz and Théophile Steinlen—early modern artists who championed the disenfranchised of society and exposed social ills. The remainder of the exhibition, which in its entirety presents nearly one hundred works of art in all media, focuses on an assortment of themes critical to the notion of art as a platform for political statement.

Violence toward the disenfranchised; group demonstrations; abuses of military power; evils of the authoritarian state; threats to the environment; class and racial inequity; ethnic and gender identity; and compassion for the vulnerable are among the many threads the exhibition calls out. Taking Sides includes Andy Warhol’s charge of intolerable racial prejudice in his Birmingham Race Riot screenprint of 1963; Joan Snyder’s lament for the stigmatized victims of AIDS in Requiem/Let Them Rest, a multimedia print from 1997; and Robert Rauschenberg’s shouting out of political and social wrongdoing in his 1970 screenprint Surface Series 42.

The majority of works in the exhibition date from the 1960s to the present. During this time, demands for humanitarian changes in public policy, continued racial tension, and identity politics have played a major role in accelerating the production of art that begs for social reform. Taking Sides is timely given the current political climate that has in many quarters sanctioned social injustice both here and abroad. The injunction in the Book of Leviticus that “Thou shall not stand idly by” is as urgently true today as it was 2,500 years ago.



Curator's Talk on Taking Sides

June 15, 2017 – 1 to 1:45 pm

MMoCA senior curator Richard H. Axsom will offer an overview of Taking Sides: Social Critique in Modern and Contemporary Art, which explores art as a voice for social change and political action. Dr. Axsom is professor emeritus of art history at the University of Michigan and a nationally recognized art historian, curator, and art writer.


Gallery Talk: Taking Sides in Everyday Life

June 23, 2017 – 6:30 to 7 pm

In conjunction with Taking Sides, Katherine Cramer will discuss the difficulty and importance of ordinary citizens encountering opposing political viewpoints. Dr. Cramer is a professor of political science at the UW-Madison, director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service, and author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.



Generous funding, to date, for Taking Sides has been provided by The DeAtley Family Foundation; Dan and Natalie Erdman; Susan Lloyd; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.


Hours at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are Tuesday–Thursday (noon–5 pm); Friday (noon–8 pm); Saturday (10 am–8 pm); and Sunday (noon–5 pm). The museum is closed on Mondays. 

Admission to exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is free of charge. Housed in a soaring, Cesar Pelli-designed building on State Street, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art offers exhibitions and education programs that engage people in modern and contemporary art. The four galleries offer changing exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden provides an urban oasis with an incredible view. The award-winning Museum Store offers contemporary American craft and fine jewelry, while Fresco, the museum’s rooftop restaurant, features local, seasonal ingredients in fine American cuisine.


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