Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diverse trio of shows at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Diana Parker, grade 12, Surreal
One of the three very different shows currently on display as you enter MMoCA from State Street is immediately visible through the glass wall on your left. Maybe it’s my years of experience in teaching, but I love seeing art made by young people and I’m always delighted when distinguished institutions like this one provide space and therefore support for children’s creativity. In a time of fiscal austerity (and, in my opinion, misguided priorities that demote the arts in education, if not eliminating them altogether) it is most important to proclaim artistic achievements in our schools. Young at Art opened March 20. It showcases the complete range – from kindergarten through grade 12 – students from the Madison Metropolitan School District. According to their website, “the exhibition is the result of a long-standing collaboration between MMoCA and the school district’s Fine Arts Department.” Long may it continue! The show runs through May 15.

Alfred Leslie, self-portrait
A small but delightful show drawn from the permanent collection is tucked away in the museum’s Henry Street Gallery. True Self: The Search for Identity in Modern and Contemporary Art “explores the ways artists have understood and conveyed the essence of the self—through facial expression, body language, dress, and the particulars of setting—in a selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs.” I rarely tire of this fundamental genre and this show includes a wide variety of approaches to portraiture as well as the variety of media listed.

“The notion of the “self,” the essential quality that makes a person distinct from all others, is a core theme in modern and contemporary art. Its primary formats are the portrait and self-portrait, which focus on the identity and psychology of the model. For the artist, the true self is fluid, not fixed; layered, not clearly evident. The true self is both innate and determined by experience and culture. Never consistent, it is often self-contradictory.” True Self runs until June.

Bale, variant no. 17
The featured exhibition, Menagerie by Shinique Smith, fills the vast, open spaces of the second floor gallery. Her output is remarkable, not only for her facility with diverse materials and methods, but for how well they all integrate into a unified ensemble. There are nearly fifty installations that include paintings, photographs, sculptures, drawings, and videos. Many of the pieces are mixed media assemblages of found materials. Bundles of cast off clothing are made into totemic sculptures, inspired by donations commonly made to African countries. Much of the show is composed of site-specific installations that combine the organic forms of these bundles with painting on the gallery walls. Their impact cannot be transferred to images online or in a gallery brochure. The show’s flamboyant visual energy could be overwhelming in a smaller space. With a less deft combination of concept and technique the work’s vibrancy might also threaten to swerve into pure sensual fantasy. But it packs a hefty emotional punch as well. 

In one video the artist herself becomes the bundle. Her face is never revealed, her identity hidden within the folds of fabric, as she struggles with the cords that will leave her bound and mute. You have until May 8 to check this one out. I heartily recommend it.

Shinique Smith, from Menagerie
For more information go to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your wonderful reviews, Eddee! We will be heading up to Madison on April 8th and will be sure to allow time at the MMoCA. I'll be jurying the Visual Arts Classic in the morning.