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The Mystery Beneath

January 25, 2014 – April 13, 2014

installation view of "the mystery beneath" showing the title wall text
installation view of "the mystery beneath" showing framed artworks on the wall


Drawn from MMoCA’s permanent collection, The Mystery Beneath is a companion exhibition to Real/Surreal currently on view in the main galleries. Including paintings, prints, and drawings by Aaron Bohrod, Marshall Glasier, Walter Hamady, and John Wilde, among others, the exhibition explores the lasting traditions of Surrealism and Magic Realism as they developed in Wisconsin during the twentieth century.

Beginning in the later 1930s, the vocabularies of Surrealism and Magic Realism, which expanded the expressive potential of traditional realist styles, became a compelling choice for Wisconsin artists. Surrealism, with its inception in France during the 1920s, was the dominant avant-garde movement in the arts in the years between the First and Second World Wars. By creating fantastical imagery through odd juxtapositions of precisely detailed figures, objects, and settings, artists working within this vein aimed to reveal the workings of dream states and the subconscious. Magic Realism arose during the same time in Europe, and likewise embodied a mixture of realistic and fanciful elements. In contrast to the Surrealists’ preoccupation with Freudian psychological states, Magic Realist artists imbued material reality—the outer world—with strangeness.

During the 1940s, lively debates ensued in Madison, both within the University of Wisconsin and the larger art community, about the proper course for American art. Marshall Glasier and likeminded supporters led the charge against the more conservative thrust of American Regionalism. In developing a critical alternative to Midwestern realist traditions, these artists championed Surrealism and Magic Realism in their search for a true modern art in America. Although other art movements would come to the fore in succeeding years, these two directions came to color the essential character of much of Wisconsin art for the remainder of the twentieth century.

installation view of "the mystery beneath" showing framed artworks on the wall and a vitrine display case

Exhibition Support

Generous support for The Mystery Beneath has been provided by Dane Arts, with additional support from The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.