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California Context

August 4, 2007 – September 23, 2007

mixed media illustration of a rabbit riding a spider with a baby's face, floating abstract faces or masks, a hand with lucha libre masks on the finger tips, and at least three birds in the scene
Rob Clayton, Welcome Home, 1998. Mixed media on canvas, 36 x 72 inches. Gift of Howard A. and Judith Tullman, Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
a person seated on a chair with their legs crossed and their hands grab either side of the seat. they wear jeans and a button-up shirt.
John R. Coplans, Marcella, 1981. Gelatin silver print, 17 x 14 inches. Gift of Mr. Roger Smith, Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
three people, perhaps a family, are pictured. one person rests their arm on another person's shoulder. this person wraps their arm around a younger individual.
John R. Coplans, Rotko Family, 1981. Gelatin silver print, 17 1/2 x 22 inches. Gift of Mr. Roger Smith, Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.


California Context accompanies Jess: To and From the Printed Page, a major exhibition exploring work by the artist known simply as “Jess” (1923–2004) and is organized by iCI (Independent Curators International). This complementary exhibition, drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, demonstrates the artistic energy that surrounded Jess’s life and work in his home state.

Although Jess was an important artistic figure throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, he often worked against dominant artistic trends. California Context shows the range of styles and approaches to art making—some similar to Jess’s, others very different—that prevailed in the expansive and populous state of California during that time, and includes works by a number of important figures in American art.

Ed Ruscha, for example, is known as one of the first Pop artists because of his interest in popular icons such as gas stations. Like Jess, Ruscha infused his imagery with written words; in Jess’s case, he created collages based in narratives, while Ruscha’s works are often rendered in a fashion referencing sign painting or commercial arts. One of Ruscha’s seminal prints, Cheese Mold Standard Olive, 1969, will be included in the exhibition. Joan Brown’s The Search, 1977, which will also be on view, demonstrates her interest in using symbolic figures to explore emotions and spirituality buried deep within the self. Brown, Manuel Neri, and Jess were all members of the Bay Area artist collective known as the Rat Bastard Protective Association, founded by Bruce Conner. Works by Neri and Conner will be shown alongside works by Robert Bechtle, Larry Bell, John Coplans, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Hockney. California Context will also highlight contemporary artistic trends in California through works by Rob Clayton, Jason Jägel, and Amir Zaki.

Exhibition Support

Generous support for California Context has been provided by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin; and the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.