Press Releases

Date of Release: 
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Contact Info: 

Erika Monroe-Kane, Director of Communications
608.257.0158 x 237 or


Includes Opportunities to Experience Work by Renowned and Emerging Artists

MADISON, WI- The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) announces three upcoming exhibitions. These include an ambitious exhibition, organized by MMoCA, focusing exclusively on the bronze sculptures of renowned artist Joel Shapiro. Additionally, the museum will present an immersive installation by William J. O’Brien, introducing his exuberant work to area audiences. Drawing on its acclaimed collection of Chicago Imagist works, the museum will present an exhibition reflecting this group’s humorous perspective on gender stereotypes present in popular culture.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary provides wide access to these compelling exhibitions, as museum admission is free. Engaging education programs and events will be developed to compliment the exhibitions; details will be released mid-summer.


William J. O’Brien: Reliquary

State Street Gallery • August 18–November 11, 2018

MMoCA Opening Friday, Aug 17 • 6–9 PM

Chicago-based artist William J. O’Brien’s idiosyncratic and exuberant forms are born out of an improvised and intuitive studio practice. Inspired by Modernism, as well as the history of material experimentation characteristic of Outsider Art, O’Brien’s multidisciplinary practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. His beautifully textured ceramic objects—part vessel, part body, and part abstract form—are arranged in tabletop installations. His elaborately patterned felt works and colored pencil drawings marry gestural marks with loosely repeated structures. Vibrant shapes, aggressive loops and marks create a palpable tension between order and chaos.

An immersive installation, William J. O’Brien: Reliquary showcases the artist’s wide range of material experimentation and reflects his continued interest in challenging the traditional boundaries separating fine art from functional craft. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a tent made from muslin and covered with O’Brien’s expressive ink drawings. As suggested by the exhibition’s title, this structure is the artist’s contemporary version of a reliquary, a container for holy relics. The work includes two life-size ceramic totems that guard the tent’s main entrance. Inside, a pedestal displays heavily textured bronze vessels and glazed ceramic sculptures. As a whole, Reliquary translates notions of the spiritual and the secular into a contemporary art context by questioning the preciousness—or sacredness—of the art object.



Henry Street Gallery • August 11 –June 9, 2019

MMoCA Opening Friday, Aug 17 • 6–9 PM


From August 11, 2018 through June 9, 2019 the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) will present an exhibition highlighting their acclaimed collection of works by the Chicago Imagists in Eye Deal: Abstract Bodies of the Chicago Imagists. The exhibition will feature artwork by Sarah Canright, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Suellen Rocca, Barbara Rossi, and Karl Wirsum.

The Imagists were a group of figurative artists that emerged in Chicago in the mid-1960s. They employed the comic book, commercial advertising, and the grotesque to render detailed compositions full of color and sexual innuendo. Poking fun at the extreme silhouettes presented in advertisements of the 1950s and 60s, the Imagists created their own exaggerated, warped bodies that playfully mocked the bulging muscles and tiny waistlines of society’s ideal physique. In Oh Dat Sally (1967-68), Nutt’s densely etched line emphasizes the intensity of the nightmarish grooming ritual taking place. The ghoulish Sally wields a sharp blade to shave her body in adherence with the “shiny ‘n nice” standard reinforced in 1960s advertisements as in those for the hair removal product Nair. In the upper-right corner is the suggestive phrase “take it off!!”—one Nutt takes to the extreme; her blade smooths and preens her body to remove any bumps and imperfections to the point where she has no lips, eyes, hands, or feet.

The Imagists toyed with the bizarre images that inspired and confronted them in their everyday lives. Parodying the odd, unrealistic bodily ideals in printed matter resulted in artworks that are a witty commentary on the extreme modifications required to transform the body into the consumer ideal. The works presented in Eye Deal reveal the unhinged oddities of the human form when left to the wild imaginations of this humorous and colorful group of Chicago artists.



Main Galleries • September 23, 2018–January 13, 2019 (closing date tentative)

MMoCA Opening Saturday, September 22 • 6–9 PM


The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has organized Joel Shapiro: The Bronzes, an ambitious exhibition that seeks to connect broad audiences with one of the most influential sculptors working today. This major project will survey 15 of Shapiro's bronze sculptures from 1983 to 2015. The exhibition will occupy more than 8,000 square feet in MMoCA’s main galleries—the only venue where this exhibition can be seen.

Joel Shapiro has enjoyed a long and distinguished career. Shapiro's work can be found in numerous public collections in the United States and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Tate Gallery, London; IVAM Centre Julio González, Valencia; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

This exhibition provides an opportunity to introduce Shapiro’s work to a new generation of artists, students, and museumgoers. Joel Shapiro: The Bronzes will be on view at MMoCA from September 23, 2018-January 13, 2019 (date tentative). The exhibition features bronze sculptures that vary in size, including several large-scale works that are rarely seen indoors. Through bold geometric form, Shapiro's works explore the permeable boundary between abstraction and figuration. Shapiro's gravity-defying geometric constructions are suggestive of bodies in motion or holding dynamic poses.

To fully document Joel Shapiro: The Bronzes, MMoCA will publish a substantial and richly illustrated hardbound catalogue of the same title. It will contain a foreword by the exhibition’s curator and MMoCA director, Stephen Fleischman. The publication will also contain a major essay by the art historian and scholar, Peter Boswell.



The House of Sparkling Glasses: a Celluloid Experience by M.J. Paggie

Imprint Gallery • On view through September, 2018

The independent cinema of M.J. Paggie takes center stage in The House of Sparkling Glasses, an exhibition of twelve short films from the late 1960s to the early 1970s that are intimately linked both to the history of Madison and to MMoCA. In 1970, the museum’s then director Cham Hendon hired Paggie to start a new film program, which evolved into a robust series of instructional filmmaking courses using the Super 8mm format, in addition to avant-garde screenings of landmark developments in underground film.

The works included in The House of Sparkling Glasses were either created by Paggie in conjunction with the Film Study Program at the museum or produced independently as an expression of his interest in cinematic experimentation. In both instances, Paggie’s films embody the spirit of independent filmmaking—a creative approach that employs film as “a medium of and for the individual, as explorer and as artist,” according to the artist Produced and based in Madison, these films capture the city’s inhabitants and cultural happenings during an era defined by political radicalism and artistic experimentation. Paying homage to this much-reminisced era, the exhibition title references Madison’s former 602 Club, a tavern known to attract the loyal patronage of intellectuals, lefties, artists, and other creatives.



Main galleries • On view through September 2, 2018

Far Out: Art from the 1960s explores art from a decade that introduced such movements as Pop, Op, Minimalism, Kinetic, Fluxus, and Conceptual Art, while weaving in the social and historical narrative of that time. The exhibition includes works by Calvin Burnett, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Miriam Schapiro, Victor Vasarely, and the Chicago Imagists. Featuring works pulled from MMoCA’s permanent collection, Far Out will be on view in the museum’s main galleries through September 2.

The Sixties was a decade of radical experimentation that witnessed an incredible cultural and artistic revolution. The consumer-fueled optimism of the beginning of the decade was quickly dissolved by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, world-wide student protests, and nightmarish assassinations—all broadcast into homes through the dominant medium of the time: television. A counterculture soon formed that rejected the conservative norms imposed by the previous generation and embraced inclusivity.

While the social and political turmoil of the decade prompted artists to create politicized works of art, artists were also in the process of rejecting their own art historical precedents and developing a counterculture of their very own. Seeking to reject the “artist as hero” mentality and the emotive and gestural brushstrokes that dominated Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, artists began to look at popular culture and play with more formal elements in art. Artists experimented with optics, reincorporated the modernist grid, and downgraded the role of the artist’s hand in the creation of an art object—thereby rejecting the autobiographical and spiritual aspects imbued into the history of art. Instead, artists sought to incorporate the physical world around them bringing life into art and art into life.



State Street Gallery • On view through August 5, 2018

Irene Grau is a Spanish conceptual artist who challenges the boundaries of contemporary painting, the perception of color, and the limits of space. Taking the act of painting beyond the studio and off the canvas, she enters into the landscape to discover moments when the power of pure color alters our awareness of the world around us. In Irene Grau: construction season, on view in MMoCA's State Street Gallery from May 5 through August 5, 2018, Grau presents a new body of work she began last summer during her five-week artist residency in Madison.

Grau's work is grounded in the history of plein air painting, an in-situ practice of outdoor landscape painting based on direct observation, initiated by artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro in the late 19th century. These Impressionist leaders ushered in future experimentations in modernist art-making, including the most simplified expression of formal abstraction: the painted monochrome.

Playing with the concept and process of plein air painting, Grau traversed the Madison landscape not to recreate specific scenes with pigment on canvas, but to identify existing instances of monochromatic abstraction. She discovered a vernacular form of mark-making in the vibrant, color-coded lines and shapes spray-painted across the streets and sidewalks by utility workers. Appearing random and cryptic to the untrained eye, this sanctioned graffiti points to the subterranean infrastructure of pipes and wires that powers our city. By reframing the overlooked details within our everyday surroundings, Grau transforms a standardized mode of communication used by public works departments across the country into a series of monochrome paintings—plein air paintings not of landscape, but in it.



Henry Street Gallery • On view through July 29, 2018

In 1912, when Picasso and Braque glued newspaper clippings onto their cubist still-lifes they unwittingly ushered in a new era of wordplay into the history of modern art. The written word was abstracted from the structure of language and introduced as a graphic, artistic element. From the fragmented “word salads” of the Dadaists to the speech balloons of mid-century Pop art, artists have frequently used language, often ironic or enigmatic, to enhance the resonance of their work. In his screenprint Sin (1970), Ed Ruscha transforms the word into a mountainous object that looms over a trompe l’oeil rendering of an olive. According to Ruscha, “words are pattern-like, and in their horizontality they answer my investigation into landscape. They’re almost not words—they are objects that become words.” Art/Word/Image examines the use of language in art through selections from the permanent collection including works by Robert Cottingham, Bruce Nauman, Fred Stonehouse, and John Wilde.


Housed in a soaring, Cesar Pelli-designed building, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art provides free exhibitions and education programs that engage people in modern and contemporary art. The museum’s four galleries offer changing exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden provides an urban oasis with an incredible view. The museum is open: Tuesday through Thursday, noon–5 pm; Friday, noon–8 pm; Saturday, 10 am–8 pm; Sunday, noon–5 pm; and is closed on Mondays.

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