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imaginary i

November 11, 2023 – April 7, 2024

Artwork with wavy lines formed by dots.
Michelle Grabner, Untitled, c. 2005. Painting, 44 x 45 inches. Gift of Nancy Mladenoff and J.J. Murphy, Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.


imaginary i compares how artists and mathematicians utilize constructs of the imaginary, or complex numbers, to envision the future and reclaim, retrace, and reveal past patterns. When examining MMoCA’s collecting patterns, there emerges a history of acquisitions that dovetails with explorations of science and math.

Together, art, math, and science explore and seek out unknown worlds and concepts projecting future and undiscovered realities. Artists utilizing mathematical iterative processes, such as Charles Gaines, those exploring modeling the infinite, such as Bruce Conner, and Erika Blumenfeld, who reflects the scientific realm, reveal new ways of looking that open dialogues on potentialities.

Pairing works from the MMoCA collection with contemporary artists engaged in similar pursuits, the exhibition postulates that science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), have coalesced within the collection for the last half-century. Further research into the history of donors and the relationship with the University of Wisconsin-Madison infers an inherent interest in seeking out the mathematical and scientific in art. For example, renowned mathematician and professor at UW-Madison Rudolph Langer provided the founding gift of artwork that established MMoCA’s collection.

Complemented by humanities-based programming, collaboration with K-12 educators, and onsite activities for families in the Learning and Activity Centers, the exhibition will utilize data visualization techniques to develop conversations around the vital role of the arts and humanities in conjunction with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Programming & Events

Blessed is the Machine

As part of imaginary i, Culture Industry [dot] Club will present “Blessed is the Machine”, an interactive installation that examines our relationship to artificial intelligence in the Imprint Gallery. Culture Industry [dot] Club is an ongoing collaboration between artists Zach Kaiser and Gabi Schaffzin.

Within the space, visitors are presented with the avatar of an always-listening artificial intelligence. By conversing with the AI, it infers the content, emotion, and expression of the visitor before sending this new data through a product recommendation algorithm. The process is visualized in the space through an instantaneous display of shifting information. The real-time data harvesting is manifested in a cacophony of screens flashing code, flip boards rattling out information, and printers spitting out a record into a growing pile of paper. Meanwhile, the avatar talks to the viewer about the social and political system that produces a reliance on—and the strange consequences that accompany—the seeming convenience of AI-powered services. Visitors can, nonetheless, take home a receipt that includes a personalized product recommendation, complete with a convenient QR code.


Alice Aycock, Maxime Banks, Erika Blumenfeld, John Cage, Suzanne Caporeal, Bruce Conner, Richard Diebenkorn, William Dole, Olafur Eliasson, Charles Gaines, Martha Glowacki, Michelle Grabner, Mary Heilmann, Al Held, Dame Barbara Hepworth, John Hughes, Richard Hunt, Zach Kaiser & Gabi Schaffzin, Rockne Krebs, Annette Lawrence, Anne Lindberg, Truman Lowe, George Maciunas, Brice Marden, Owen Morrel, Alan J. Shields, Eric Staller, Richard Tuttle

Virtual Tour



Major sponsorship for imaginary i is provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc. Generous support for exhibition programming is provided by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of the Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. 

Artworks from the Permanent Collection