Real/Surreal Art Whitney Museum of American Art traveling exhibit, 1/25-4/27, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA Nights: 6-9 pm, 1/24, with music, talk by curators Carter Foster & Richard Axsom; and 6-9 pm, 3/7, with lecture by Michael Jay McClure, readings by Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, music by Venice Gas House Trolley, $10/each; gallery talks by Anna Andrzejewski 12:30 pm, 2/6; Richard Axsom 12:30 pm, 2/20). 608-257-0158
This exhibition explores the interconnections between the real and the imagined in early modern American art, with an emphasis on surrealism and magical realism. Real/Surreal will be on view in the museum's main galleries January 25, 2014 to April 27, 2014.
Real/Surreal is a circulating loan exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, and prints by Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Paul Cadmus, Philip Evergood, Jared French, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, George Tooker, John Wilde, and Grant Wood among others. MMoCA has added works from its own permanent collection, including a major watercolor by Andrew Wyeth and a significant painting by Marsden Hartley.
This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. To date, support for the Wisconsin presentation has been provided by Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner, Ellen S. Rosner and Paul J. Reckwerdt, JoAnne Robbins and David Falk, Nancy Doll and Michael Bernhard, and Hooper Corporation/General Heating & Air Conditioning.
The Mystery Beneath
January 25, 2014-April 13, 2014
As a complement to Real/Surreal, MMoCA has developed The Mystery Beneath, drawing from the particular strengths of MMoCA's permanent collection. Including paintings, prints, and drawings by Aaron Bohrod, Marshall Glasier, Walter Hamady, and John Wilde among others, The Mystery Beneath explores the lasting traditions of Surrealism and Magic Realism as they developed in Wisconsin during the twentieth century.
Real/Surreal Exhibition Detail
Real/Surreal draws from the significant holdings of the Whitney Museum's permanent collection in American art. The exhibition features seventy works in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, photography, and printmaking. The exhibition boasts important works of art by well-known American artists, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Marsden Hartley, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, John Wilde, and Grant Wood. Among the jewels in the exhibition are two exceptional paintings: Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Sunset (1934) and Andrew Wyeth's Winter Fields (1942). The exhibition has been expanded to include five works from MMoCA's permanent collection, notably a major landscape painting by Hartley.
Real/Surreal Exhibition Background
Real/Surreal explores the interconnections between the real and the imagined in American art in the years before, during, and immediately after the Second World War (1939-1945). Surrealism was an international movement in literature and art originating in Paris in the mid-1920s. Through the incorporation of chance effects and unexpected juxtapositions, its practitioners wished to visualize the imaginative workings of the inner mind, particularly of dreams. While some employed abstraction and used the subconscious to directly influence the structure of their work, others developed a meticulously detailed realism with strong roots in representational painting. This latter vein of Surrealism flourished most famously in the art of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, and it influenced a host of artists in the United States, many of whom are represented in Real/Surreal. As the movement spread internationally and some of its major figures moved to America during the upheavals of war, its ideas became more diffuse and infiltrated both art and popular culture.
The term "realism" has many connotations but generally refers to a basic connection to the observable world. Most of the artists in Real/Surreal were academically trained in the realist tradition and had a full command of illusionistic painting and drawing techniques. Those American artists directly connected to European Surrealism or strongly influenced by it, such as Peter Blume, Federico Castellón, and Man Ray, used these techniques to subvert and alter the observable world and create fanciful imagery. Castellón, for example, in The Dark Figure (1938), presents a mysterious woman shrouded entirely in black. With hands clutched, she presides over a cluster of strange figures and body parts, including a giant head of the artist in self-portrait, disembodied arms whose hands support misshapen hoops. Presenting an incongruous event that springs from the subconscious rather than from everyday reality, The Dark Figure poses unanswerable riddles.
Harder to categorize are those artists whose work has certain qualities in common with Surrealism but who tinkered more subtly with reality rather than dramatically changing it, creating a plausible vision that is nevertheless peculiar. Many of these artists, including Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and George Tooker, have been referred to as Magic Realists. In Tooker's The Subway (1950), an anxious woman walks through a claustrophobic maze of passageways, stalked and spied upon, if only in her anxious imagination, by a number of men who eerily seem to be the same person.
Other artists, like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, who eschewed the overtly fantastic may still be associated with the Surrealists and Magic Realists in their creation of enigmatic, often haunting, works of art. In Hopper's painting Cape Cod Sunset (1934), a tall, white clapboard house with red brick chimneys sits isolated with no apparent human presence. Although illuminated by the falling light of the day, the house stands vulnerable against the dark grove of trees behind it.
All of the artists in Real/Surreal, in their various ways, wished to find an uncanny space between reality and the improbable. Sigmund Freud, who pioneered modern ideas about the psyche and whose theories were seminal to Surrealism, stated in a 1919 essay that the uncanny happens when “the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced,” a fitting description of the work in this exhibition.
Real/Surreal Exhibition Credit and Sponsorship
Real/Surreal was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Unless otherwise noted, all works are from the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Additions to the exhibition are drawn from the permanent collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition will be on view at MMoCA through April 27, 2014.
Generous support for Real/Surreal has been provided by Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner; Mildred and Marv Conney; Ellen S. Rosner and Paul J. Reckwerdt; James and Sylvia Vaccaro; Peggy and Tom Pyle; Marvin J. Levy; the Steinhauer Charitable Trust; Nancy Doll and Michael Bernhard; Deirdre Garton; JoAnne Robbins and David Falk; Hooper Corporation/General Heating and Air Conditioning; McGladrey; Webcrafters-Frautschi Foundation; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.
The Mystery Beneath Exhibition Detail
Drawn from MMoCA's permanent collection, The Mystery Beneath is a complementary exhibition to Real/Surreal in the main galleries. Including paintings, prints, and drawings by Aaron Bohrod, Marshall Glasier, Walter Hamady, and John Wilde, among others, the exhibition explores the lasting traditions of Surrealism and Magic Realism as they developed in Wisconsin during the twentieth century.
Beginning in the late 1930s, the vocabularies of Surrealism and Magic Realism, which expanded the expressive potential of traditional realist styles, became a compelling choice for Wisconsin artists. Surrealism, with its inception in France during the 1920s, was the dominant avant-garde movement in the arts in the years between the First and Second World Wars. By creating fantastical imagery through odd juxtapositions of precisely detailed figures, objects, and settings, artists working within this vein aimed to reveal the workings of dream states and the subconscious. Magic Realism arose during the same time in Europe, and likewise embodied a mixture of realistic and fanciful elements. In contrast to the Surrealists' preoccupation with Freudian psychological states, Magic Realist artists imbued material reality--the outer world--with strangeness.
During the 1940s, lively debates ensued in Madison, both within the University and the larger art community, about the proper course for American art. Marshall Glasier and like-minded supporters led the charge against the conservative thrust of American Regionalism. In developing a critical alternative to Midwestern realist traditions, the artists represented in The Mystery Beneath championed the ideals of Surrealism and Magic Realism as a lively alternate for a true modern art in America.
The Mystery Beneath Credit and Sponsorship
Generous support for The Mystery Beneath has been provided by Dane Arts, with additional support from The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.
Exhibition Opening Event and Lecture
Friday, January 24 6-9 pm MMoCA Nights
The public is invited to celebrate the opening of the major exhibition, Real/Surreal, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This MMoCA Nights will begin at 6:00 pm with an opportunity to preview the exhibition. At 6:30 pm, guests will be invited to the lecture hall to hear a dialogue between MMoCA's curator, Richard H. Axsom, and Carter Foster, the exhibition’s curator from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Mark Adkins, singer-songwriter for subvocal, will perform live. Hors d'oeuvres from Fresco will round out the evening. Members free/$10 MMoCA Nights admission.
MMoCA Nights are sponsored by Newcomb Construction Company; The Alexander Company; and BMO Harris Bank; with additional support from Fresco and media support from Isthmus|TheDailyPage.com.
Friday, January 24 6:30-7:30 pm Lecture hall
Curator to Curator: Making an Exhibition
A Lussier Family Lecture
Carter Foster and Richard Axsom will discuss curatorial decision-making in defining, honing, and installing a major traveling exhibition. As originating curator for Real/Surreal, Foster conceived of and selected works for the exhibition and was instrumental in designing its presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Richard Axsom coordinated the installation at MMoCA, including the addition of several works from the museum's permanent collection. They will offer their perspectives on how curators from different institutions stage an exhibition and the considerations that inform their decisions.
Carter E. Foster is the Steven and Ann Ames curator of drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Most recently, he organized the Whitney's major exhibition Hopper Drawing, devoted to the drawings and working process of Edward Hopper, and authored the accompanying catalogue. Richard H. Axsom is curator at MMoCA and professor emeritus of art history, University of Michigan. He has published extensively in the area of modern and contemporary American prints. Lecture hall; Members free/$10 MMoCA Nights admission.
Thursday, February 6 · 12:30-1 pm
Anna Andrzejewski on Surrealism and Landscapes
Anna Andrzejewski will examine the ways in which American artists of the 1920s and 1930s represented the changing landscape of modern America. Working under the impact of surrealism, American artists struggled to make sense of the numerous modern changes on the land, which ranged from the ceaselessly growing industrial sites (such as Ford's River Rouge manufacturing complex) to the drought-ridden landscapes of the midwest and dustbowl. The talk will consider how surrealism gave artists a tool through which they could express their varied and often mixed feelings about these rapidly changing landscapes. Anna Andrzejewski is professor of art history at the UW-Madison. Main galleries.
Saturday, February 8 · 1–1:30 pm · Meet in lobby Drop-In Tour
Explore how a mixture of fantasy and realism can be experienced differently by each viewer, in a guided discussion of Real/Surreal by MMoCA docent Gil Hillman. This free, drop-in tour meets in the MMoCA lobby.
Thursday, February 20 · 12:30-1:15 pm
Richard H. Axsom on Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Sunset and Andrew Wyeth's "Winter Fields"
The human figure isolated in its setting is a recurring theme in the art of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, two artists who figure importantly in the exhibition Real/Surreal. Settings act as foils to the inner states of Hopper's and Wyeth's subjects, who are often marked by introspection or alienation. MMoCA curator Rick Axsom discusses how these two master American artists could treat this theme without recourse to the human figure. In Hopper's Cape Cod Sunset, for example, the subject is a house in the area of the artist's summer retreat in Truro, Massachusetts; Wyeth's is a dead crow in the rural landscape of the artist's hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Adopting a metaphorical approach to inanimate things in these two paintings-and in keeping with the essential character of their art-Hopper and Wyeth created poignant meditations on human loneliness and separation. Main galleries.
Friday, March 7 · 6:30- 7 pm
Michael Jay McClure on Under, In, On: The Topography of the Real
This talk aims to reposition Surrealism not just as an excavation of subconscious imagery, but as a movement that sought to expose the incongruity contiguous with the everyday. Instead of equating reality with normalcy, Surrealists redefined it as those moments of shock where one's sense of normalcy fails. Michael Jay McClure is assistant professor at the UW-Madison where he teaches the history and theory of modern and contemporary art. Main galleries. $10 MMoCA Nights admission.
Friday, March 7 · 7:30-8:15 pm
Exquisite Poems and Parlor Games: An Evening of Poetry
In this special evening of poetry, members of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFoP) and Madison's Poets Laureate will read original poems inspired by Real/Surreal, including collaborative works written using the Exquisite Corpse, a Surrealist parlor game and creative device. The reading is part of an MMoCA Nights celebration for Real/Surreal and The Mystery Beneath that also includes live music by Venice Gas House Trolley. $10 MMoCA Nights admission.
Exquisite Poems and Parlor Games:
An Evening of Poetry at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA)
227 State Street, March 7, 2014, 7:30–8:15 p.m.
Be amused and amazed at MMoCA on the first Friday in March. This MMoCA Nights event will pay tribute to Surrealism, represented in both The Mystery Beneath and Real/Surreal exhibitions, with collaborative Surrealist parlor games and live poetry. WFOP members Jeannie Bergmann, Ron Czerwien, Morgan Harlow, Gary Powell, James P. Roberts, Richard Swanson, Wendy Vardaman, Sarah Bussee, Guy Throvaldsen, Ronnie Hess, Alice D’ Alessio, Jackie Langetieg, Sandy Stark, Kathy Miner, Mary Rowin, Martha Kaplan, Jeanie Tomasko, Steve Tomasko, Susan Elbe, Robin Chapman, Sara Parrell, and Marilyn Annucci, along with other Madison area poets, will respond--as individuals or as a group--to the themes of Realism and Surrealism with readings, in the galleries, from 7:30-8:15pm.. Guests may view the exhibitions beginning at 6:00 p.m., then enjoy a gallery talk with Michael Jay McClure at 6:30 p.m. Venice Gas House Trolley will perform live throughout the evening. Admission is $10.00.
The Real/Surreal Learning Center offers adults and families a variety of resources for exploring its exhibitions. A range of children's books, poetry and word-association games, a kid-friendly collaborative drawing experience, and other child-centered activities promote imaginative engagement with works of art. Families may also use the MMoCAkids ArtPack, a shoulder bag filled with interactive tools for use in the galleries.
Monographs and documentary videos on featured artists are available for adults, who may also make a collaborative drawing using the Exquisite Corpse, a Surrealist parlor game and creative device.
Real/Surreal Lets look Family Guide
Explore the real and the surreal by comparing Andrew Wyeth's painting, "Winter Fields," with Philip Evergood's painting, Lily and the Sparrows. Let's look is an interactive family guide available in the Real/Surreal learning center.
Stop by the reception desk in the MMoCA lobby and ask for the MMoCAkids ArtPack, the museum's hands-on discovery kit for exploring art. Designed for family members to use together, the ArtPack contains a variety of activities, including that promote observation and imaginative thinking about visual art. Imagine what a curious group of people are thinking in Peter Blume's painting, Light of the World.
Teaching pages provide analysis of a selection of works of art on view at the museum, biographical information on featured artists, discussion questions, and links to additional resources. Effective as an introduction to a museum visit, the pages also are valuable as an ongoing classroom resource. A teaching page on a selection of artists represented in Real/Surreal will be available in January.