11 art shows to check out now

From explorations of femininity and abstraction...
11 art shows to check out now
Photo courtesy of MMoCA
"Drawing" by Claire Stigliani at MMoCA

Imagery from fairy tales bump into suggestions of sex. References to Biblical scenes play out near moments of violence. Fiction blurs into reality, while innocence and vulnerability mingle with subversion and danger.

Never have I seen such a truthful and powerful representation of the dualities, contradictions and complexities of modern-day femininity as in “Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick of Shadows,” a new exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Through mixed-media drawings, paintings, dioramas and stop-motion video, the New York-based Stigliani overlaps the stories, lessons, myths and metaphors we were often fed and sometimes eagerly consumed as girls, mixing them with the feelings–naivety, playfulness, desire and darkness–that naturally ebb and flow in us as women.

While Stigliani inserts her own image into the deeply layered worlds she’s created, the struggles, questions and reflections she offers through her art transcend just one person’s experiences, presenting “many sides of contemporary feminine identity,” as an introduction to the exhibition states.

“Half-Sick of Shadows” runs through Sept. 4 at MMoCA.

Dolls & Deviants,” the latest exhibition at Gallery Marzen, also juxtaposes ideas about femininity with a variety of forces.

The show, which continues through July 1, features colored pencil and mixed media drawings by Molly Carter, who dissects imagery of rituals of femininity and fashion and stitches them back together to probe the roles of female gender and sexuality. Finely detailed drawings of braided hair or a ruffled skirt hang hear compositions filled with dresses, lipstick, high heels and the female form.

“In both contemporary and historical contexts, girls and women often conform to societal ideals of beauty and sexuality,” she writes in a statement. “My work examines female identity and sexuality through a sociological investigation of fashion and adornment.”

Also showcased are mixed-media collages by Jason Ruhl, whose small and tightly composed scenes are filled with curious happenings–a man resting his face on a windowsill or a person snorkeling inside a car. They’re based on songs that he’s invited friends and others to send him through an ongoing project.

A Focus on Japan
The Chazen Museum of Art has earned a reputation for its strong collection of Japanese woodblock prints, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison museum puts more than a hundred of them on display in “Japanese Masterworks: Woodblock Prints from the Chazen Museum of Art Collection.”

This survey of Japanese printmaking features works from the last half of the 18th century through the 20th. Serene landscapes, detailed portrayals of women and actors and dramatic scenes of shipwrecks and martial arts reveal ways the medium has evolved over time–and proves it’s always worth another look.

“Japanese Masterworks” is on view through Aug. 14.

An appreciation for Japanese art is also at the core of a new exhibition at Promega. “Floating on Waves” celebrates relationships both artistic and personal that have been formed between artists “across the lakes and seas between Japan and Wisconsin.”

The relationships between these 16 artists have led to collaborative exhibitions, home stays and travels, as well this incredibly diverse showcase of contemporary artwork, up through Sept. 23, that ranges from prints to photography to mixed media and beyond.

Natural Wonders
It’s tempting to think of “Our Good Earth” as an exhibition of landscapes. But step into this new show at MMoCA and you’ll likely be surprised by the immense breadth and depth of artwork inspired by the natural world.

Sure, there’s a lithograph of John Steuart Curry’s famous “Our Good Earth,” featuring a farmer and two children in a windswept field. And other regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood are represented. But so are a wide variety of local, national and internationally known artists who convey concerns for nature. Prints, paintings, photography, sculpture and more working in everything from realism to abstract, pop and conceptual styles.

The works, which are drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, show the beauty and fragility of the environment and make a compelling case for the need to protect it.

The show continues through Aug. 21.

A lovely sense of place runs through the work of Grace Lorentz,
highlighted this month at Hatch Art House. The digital mixed-media artist uses bold color and a beautiful sense of line to portray scenes of flowers, bees, birds and animals, as well as homes in Wisconsin and abroad. Her mix of realism and abstraction create vivid, almost dreamlike images.

And pushing the concept of animal art to a different dimension is Cassie Marie Edwards, who showcases “Inanimate” on the first floor of the Madison Public Library’s Central branch.

The Oshkosh-based artist’s recent paintings explore boundaries. “They float in the space between the genres of landscapes, portraiture and still life,” she states. They are colorful, slightly pop-esque renderings of glossy figurines–cats, dogs, deer, birds, a squirrel, a horse and more–that sit perfectly still yet brim with character.

“I am attracted to the figurines because of their personalities–they are strange, comical and slightly discomforting,” Edwards writes. “I choose to isolate the figurines in a simple environment to focus on conveying the personalities of these non-living objects.”

Abstraction Approaches
Fans of abstract art have lots of excellent options this month, including 40 new collages by Kevin Henkes at the Diane Ballweg Gallery on the top floor of the Central Library.

In “40: Collages by Kevin Henkes,” the Madisonian best known for authoring award-winning children’s books shows another creative side. He uses paper saved from the 1980s, when he was an undergraduate at UW-Madison, and arranges them in ways that highlight stark and jagged lines, curved forms, muted shades and texture. Presented in long, tidy rows, with uniform white matting and frames, the collages offer an opportunity for quiet and contemplation.

Down a floor at the Central Library, Ray Easley takes a colorful, abstract and unique approach to sharing the story of four sisters who live down the road from the Spiro Mounds, a Native American archeological site in Oklahoma.

In “Those Four Sisters ‘Next to the Mounds,'” he offers paintings and fabric collages that stunningly reduce faces down to assemblages of simple shapes and bold colors.

Over at Gallery 1308 at UW-Madison’s Union South, Monroe-based Amy Carani uses simple shapes and upbeat colors in a series of abstract acrylic paintings inspired by sounds and music. “Volume One” features square canvases packed with circles and stripes outlined with black.

“Purple Rain” is a group of four canvases utilizing various shades of purple, while “Here Comes the Sun” bursts with rays of yellow and “Float On” is made up of two canvases with white, blue and purple bubbles.

The show runs through July 26.

And abstraction goes in an expressive direction in “Either Way” at the James Watrous Gallery. Gwen Avant uses palette knives and oil paints to create her works that range from dynamic to moody. The idea of opposing forces carries into the show’s title as well as the act of creating the art.

“The experience of painting is one of spontaneous action and reaction, outside of thought or reason,” she states. “It is direct and immediate expression.”

“Either Way” runs through July 3.