The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art debuted a new exhibit on Jan. 25, entitled “The Mystery Beneath.” This collection of paintings, drawings, etchings and prints focuses on the products of the Surrealist and Magic Realist movements, specifically within Wisconsin, from 1940 to 1975. The exhibit features works done by artists such as Alfred Sessler, Aaron Bohrod, Gibson Byrd and John Wilde – to name a few – all of whom were somehow connected to the great state of Wisconsin, whether they were born here, professors at University of Wisconsin or simply working out of Madison.
As many of these artists were based out of Madison, it is not surprising that much of their work was thought of as both progressive and inventive. The exhibit’s artists defied their times’ more traditional realist style by stimulating the audience’s imagination with unexpected colors and juxtapositions. Essentially, they strove to create dream-like pieces rather than simply depicting a physical landscape and, as a result, much of their work was highly criticized at the time.
All in all, the exhibit is intriguing, given its homegrown pieces and controversial goal of capturing one’s subconscious. Its pieces are full of character, featuring odd colorings, unexpected textures and juxtapositions.
“Spring Bonnet,” by Sessler, a Milwaukee native and former UW professor, is a great example of the collective pieces’ nature. The etching features a woman wearing a bonnet overflowing with flowers–innocent in theory. Yet the lady’s unsettling facial expression and grotesque image leaves a lasting impression certainly unfit for that of a spring portrait. Many of the exhibit’s works include juxtapositions that are equally as creative.
For example, one of the works, by Bohrod, who was born in Chicago before eventually settling in Madison, is similarly as startling. Meticulously painted, baby angels fly over gruesome brains and the lone head of a deceased man in “Sprouts,” maintaining the theme of beauty and gore coexisting in one painting, striking the viewer in a manner that just might tap into his or her ingenuities.
More contemplative is Bohrod’s piece “Reflection in a Shop Window.” This drawing depicts a store window, featuring various goods and such on its other side. The real beauty of the piece, however, lies in the window’s reflection, which shows a small-town cityscape. This unique concept almost forces its viewer to dazedly stare at the drawing in such a way that one cannot help but daydream for a moment. This was one of the most fitting works of “The Mystery Beneath” exhibit.
That said, the pieces viewable to the public seem to be hit or miss. Some have real value and undoubtedly succeed in striking its viewer in a special way, while others are simply too abstract to do so.
The exhibit displays a multitude of other works not mentioned in this article, most notably Gibson Byrd’s “Liberation” and a slew of pieces done by John Wilde, which will be on display with the rest of “The Mystery Beneath” until Apr. 13.