Turn Turn Turn
May 24, 2014 to August 24, 2014

Turn Turn Turn is an anthology of life’s joys and sorrows as visualized in modern and contemporary art. Inspired by the lyrical language of Ecclesiastes 3, which meditates on the circular nature of time as reflected in the seasons, the exhibition addresses the ongoing cycle of changing circumstances in the course of human events. Its title is taken from Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season), a song Pete Seeger wrote in the late 1950s and whose lyrics came from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible. The Byrds, an American folk rock band, immortalized the song in 1965. In the context of the politically turbulent 1960s in America, Seeger’s lyrics implied that time might be at hand for change and social justice. Although the title of the song is not found in Scripture, it suggests the passage of time and the medieval rota fortunae or wheel of fortune, an emblem of the recurring nature of life’s blessings and losses.

Ecclesiastes is a canonical book of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament. The introduction to its third chapter is one of the most eloquent expressions of life’s mutability in all of sacred literature. In poetry rather than prose, it starts with “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Turn Turn Turn, likewise, begins with Grant Wood’s “Calendar Prints” that chronicle the changing seasons of the agricultural Midwest. Each of the seven verses following this initial statement in Ecclesiastes 3 is a thematic section of the exhibition. These lines, set forth in binary opposites, proclaim that there are specific times in the circle of life that may be cause for jubilation or anguish.

Turn Turn Turn illuminates these decisive times in life with works of art drawn primarily from the museum’s permanent collection. It gives image to Ecclesiastes 3 through the lens of modern and contemporary art. With wild abandon, a woman gyrates to a jazz band in Karl Wirsum’s Fire Lady or Monk’s Key Broad (1969). “A time to kill” is evoked in Claes Oldenburg’s Ray Gun (1972), while Ed Paschke’s stark and frightening duo, Kontato and Kontata, declare “A time to hate.” On a more poignant note, Archie Lieberman’s Mrs. Holland with granddaughter, rural Wisconsin (1985) captures “A time to embrace.”

The narrator of the Book of Ecclesiastes, proverbially King Solomon but now thought to be an anonymous author, asks an essential question: “Is life worth living?” Modern commentators largely see Ecclesiastes as uplifting. As an antidote to life’s reversals, the celebrated wisdom text counsels, as does Turn Turn Turn, a joy in work and life's simple pleasures.

Generous funding for Turn Turn Turn has been provided by Shirley A. Kubly; J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Dane Arts; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.

Related Programming

Friday, June 6, 6:30–7:15 pm

To Everything There is a Season

MMoCA curator Richard H. Axsom and associate curator Leah Kolb will offer a curatorial overview of Turn Turn Turn, an exhibition drawn from the museum’s permanent collection. Seven lines from the third book of Ecclesiastes serve as organizing principles for the exhibition, which also makes reference to Pete Seeger’s popular song, Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything there is a Season), and its contemporary expression of ancient Biblical teachings. Axsom and Kolb will highlight a selection of works in Turn Turn Turn that articulate the life circumstances described in Ecclesiastes. Main galleries. $10 MMoCA Nights admission.

Friday, June 13, 6:30–7 pm

“a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted”

Focusing on works by such artists as Luis Beltrán, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood in Turn Turn Turn, Professor Jeremy M. Hutton will present a talk on Qohelet and the work ethic of agricultural laborers as expressed in Ecclesiastes 3.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes, often called Qohelet, is typically portrayed as a cynic, viewing the fate of humanity as one of constant toil, “vanity” (ephemerality), and of “chasing after the wind.” Despite the more negative connotations of these ideas in our society, Professor Hutton will present a more positive picture of Qohelet’s philosophy: it is one of quiet, stalwart resignation, in which laborers must learn to accept their fate, but are nonetheless encouraged to appreciate—and even to love—the hard work of the agricultural lifestyle, and the benefits that come with it.

Jeremy Hutton is an assistant professor of classical Hebrew language and Biblical literature in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. Main galleries.

Thursday, June 26, 12:30–1 pm

"A Time to Plant, Pluck, and Sing!"

Sociologist, agroecologist, and musician Michael Bell will speak and sing about the enduring place of growing in culture. Accompanying himself on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, he will cultivate connections between the art and the practice of our most fundamental basis of livelihood.

Michael Bell is professor of Community and Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. A scholar with broad research and teaching interests in the field of sociology, Bell is also an accomplished musician. Main galleries.

learning Resources

For Everyone

The Song: Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)
Watch performances of Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season) by The Byrds, Pete Seeger, and Judy Collins, and hear Pete Seeger talk about the evolution of the song.

For Families

Learning Center
The Learning Center offers families a variety of resources for exploring MMoCA's exhibitions. A range of children’s books, word-association games, a drawing kit, magnetic poetry, and other child-centered activities promote imaginative engagement with exhibition themes. Visitors may also listen to recordings of Pete Seeger and The Byrds performing Seeger's song, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season).

MMoCAkids ArtPack
Stop by the reception desk in the lobby and ask for the MMoCAkids ArtPack, the museum’s hands-on discovery kit for exploring art. The ArtPack is filled with activities that tap into thoughts and feelings about a work of art, or encourage close looking at artists' creative decisions. Also included are drawing materials and other interactive tools for use in the galleries or rooftop sculpture garden. Don't miss the chance to dance to Karl Wirsum's painting, Fire Lady or Monk's Key Broad!

Let’s look
These interactive handouts help parents talk about art with their children, encouraging them to think imaginatively about what they see while learning about art and artists. Use Let's look to explore works by Romare Bearden and Archie Lieberman on view in Turn Turn Turn.