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Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt: The Absent City

August 2, 2008 – November 16, 2008

installation view of The Absent City, meant to be an interactive installation modeled as a public living room, with large checkerboard cushions, a floating credenza with various objects, and a poster of a world map
exterior view of the Museum, featuring long colorful ribbons down the glass facade and passersby
installation view of an artwork titled masks, which consists of colorful ribbons hanging down the museum's glass facade, past the glass staircase
Photo by Martha Busse.


A three-part installation by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt will be on view in the State Street Gallery and lobby of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt: The Absent City examines scale, transparency, and language while drawing attention to the function of the Museum and its relationship to the community.

Behar and Marquardt, who were originally trained as architects in Argentina and are now based in Miami, have collaborated to create art in museum and public settings for years. Their works have been shown internationally at venues that include the Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL; the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, Denver, CO; and the International Centre for Urbanism, Architecture, and Landscape, Brussels, Belgium.

The most prominent component of the artists’ site-specific installation at MMoCA is a curtain of brightly colored “ribbons” running the entire height of the museum’s three-story glass prow. Made from a vinyl material often used in industrial and retail settings, the ribbons alternately cover and expose the prow’s glass panels. By obscuring the museum’s transparent membrane and highlighting the grand scale of the prow, the artists raise questions—both cultural and architectural—about the relationship between the city and the Museum.

A second component of the installation, also in MMoCA’s lobby, is a public living room, complete with bookcase, ottomans, and coffee table, and adorned with a two-dimensional work titled World Poetical Map. The map depicts the seven continents of the world in an inverted fashion, mocking assumptions of political, economic, and cultural order, while emphasizing the importance of linguistic and visual choices in the creation of informational media. Because it situates South America and Africa as the visual center of the world, the map also poses old and new questions about geography and globalism. The reading room is designed for visitors to reflect, relax, and explore within an architectural scale akin to one they experience on a daily basis.

The final component of the installation, in the Museum’s State Street Gallery, employs industrial ribbons to suggest the center of a pre-Renaissance Italian city. Dense groupings of ribbons recreate the city’s organic layout, with the central piazza visible from State Street—Madison’s own pedestrian thoroughfare. By presenting the gallery as a stage to be viewed from the street, Behar and Marquardt create a spectacle for passersby. In doing so, they effectively dissolve the line between the Museum and the city, while also drawing attention to the small scale of the recreated city.

According to MMoCA’s curator of exhibitions Jane Simon, who organized the show, the artists’ use of varying scale is key to the visitor’s experience. “The transition from the very large to the smaller-than-normal exposes the experiential affect of scale. At the same time, the implications of urban planning and geopolitical order posed by the exhibition become a subject for discussion.”

Exhibition Support

Generous support for Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt: The Absent City has been provided by Potter Lawson, Inc.; Cosmic Debris;; the Terry Family Foundation; the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; and a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

First Fridays at MMoCA are generously sponsored by Newcomb Construction Co.; J.P. Cullen & Sons, Inc.; and Isthmus|