The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting the bi-annual Design MMoCA event, featuring a variety of works from regional artists. MMoCA hosted a Preview Gala Wednesday to kick off the event, and the gallery is open for about two weeks.

The Preview Gala presents all of the expected attractions of an opening night, with many of the artists in attendance, plenty of food and drink, live music and a silent auction. Perched on the steps by the State Street entrance, a band played above the crowd filtering through the main lobby.

Attendees represented a cross-section of common museum-goers, with donors, artists, critics and other types making an appearance. The event drew a considerable crowd, filling much of the building.

Design MMoCA boasted a variety of artistic mediums, from fashion to interior design to even industrial design. The gallery’s artists are mostly regional, coming from a variety of Midwestern locales, and some even from Madison. Some of the works were produced by independent artists, and others by design firms.

The works of art didn’t occupy the whole building, but they were spread across a number of rooms and galleries. On the Henry Street side of the building, numerous works composed a simple, if eclectic, gallery of two- and three-dimensional works of visual art. Closer to State Street, there were multiple examples of interior design, with some functional pieces that invited the audience to sit and experience the space created. These pieces ranged greatly in style, but all possessed a baseline level of functionality. The gallery groupings allowed for the range of styles present while still creating a sense of unity, and were well planned.

Among these interior design pieces was an installation called “w?d.” The exhibit was a collection of objects fashioned from untreated wood, including items like instant “w?d,” so customers could have wood anywhere. There was a chart of intended customers, which made it clear that the concept was mocking the many versions of pseudo-outdoorsmen types. From “beardos” to even “dads,” w?d was a critical, but also humorous and gentle, parody. It also added balance to the interior design gallery, slotting in well but serving as contrast.

One team of artists revealed how some of this balance was achieved. Christina Robotka, Aaron White and John Ford teamed up to produce “Cohesion,” an installation in Design MMoCA.
Robotka, a 10-year veteran of interior design, submitted an application for the first time to produce a work for the event, and the trio began working just after their application was accepted. To Robotka, the most satisfying part of the experience was “solidifying a design concept and delving into the actual construction.” While working in a group created the challenge of finding a common vision, they overcame this obstacle to create an impressively detailed and conceptual work.

While Design MMoCA appears to be a diverse but straightforward exhibit, a number of features are stand-out and commendable. For one, drawing on artistic talent from the region is an admirable venture. Some of the works in the exhibit clearly have ties to the area. “Alma, Wisconsin [After Soth]” is an artist’s documented journey around Wisconsin, trying to find the location where a photograph was taken. The focal point of the piece, a vinyl map, is annotated with anecdotes from stops and sights. While there aren’t many pieces so clearly tied to the Midwest, there is still a sense of pride in knowing that most of the artists are relatively local, instead of coming from areas of the country known for their high levels of artistic output.

Equally impressive is the size and scope of the show. For its third bi-annual event, the coordinators of Design MMoCA managed to draw hundreds to the Preview Gala and will likely draw thousands to the gallery in under two weeks. In the coming years, the show’s future looks promising, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.