“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s newest exhibition, is a lively compendium of pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries that investigates representations of evil to a highly evocative degree.
Beginning Jan. 24 and continuing through April 12, the exhibit’s name is derived of the warning stated by one of the three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The title for the exhibition was also invoked a few hundred years later in 1962 as the title of Ray Bradbury’s fantastical novel, which symbolizes the continuous human and artistic fascination with immorality. With 96 pieces, MMoCA’s curator of collections, Rick Axsom, has delivered a vigorous range of convincing expression that explores multiple themes and manifestations of evil and arguably human nature as well. Capitalism, religion, politics, violence, greed and art itself are all critical themes that resonate intensely throughout the wide variety of pieces.
The first piece museum-goers encounter is by William T. Wiley called “Mugging.” Its abstract shape and skeletal Munchian figure is a severe but interesting introduction to the exhibition. “Ray Gun,” by Claes Oldenburg, is a simple contrast of black and white, while sinister efforts to visually embody children’s dreams through photography add a serious, real-life element to the collection.
A few eerie photographs taken in Wisconsin really bring the collection’s examination of evil very earnestly close to home.
While some pieces are graphically violent, many others evoke cartoon-like affections as well as the notion of the carnival-esque. Indeed, Jeffery Allan Russell’s “Homage to Hieronymous Bosch” is a complex black and white web of sharp angles and occasional rounded figures that suggest a complicated concern for technology.
Also included in the collection is American painter Leon Golub, who has created over a hundred portraits of political leaders, religious figures and dictators. His pieces “Mao Tse Tsung (1971) VII” and “Mao Tse Tung in Sarcophagus (1971)” are beautiful depictions of the man that somehow seem to suggest a distinct vulnerability and humanity despite the Chinese leader’s horrific legacy.
Andy Warhol’s “$1” is a portfolio of screenprints that fits interestingly and colorfully into the theme of evil. Larry Clark’s haunting photographs traverse extraordinarily raw themes of youthful drug use and violence that really exude a sentiment of loneliness and desperation. Don LaViere Turner’s “Apocalypse” is a blunt allusion to the Bible’s Book of Revelation that gracefully displays Pestilence, Famine, War and Death.
This exhibition asks a lot of questions about countless social and moral issues, but it also really probes the notion of power and its distortive effects. While it may be a seemingly dark exhibition, the wide variety of themes, images and colors showcased in “Something Wicked This Way Comes” are profoundly arresting and ultimately very compelling for viewers able to leisurely observe the stirring pieces in a sterile museum environment.
An opening reception to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is scheduled to take place on Fri., Feb. 6 from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and it will feature a gallery talk by Axsom. Daily admission to the museum is free.