4 major exhibitions you need to check out now

A blockbuster and three other big shows
4 major exhibitions you need to check out now

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Wisconsin Triennial” is always eye-opening. Through drawings, paintings, installations, photographs, sculptures and videos, the exhibition reveals the topics currently on Wisconsin artists’ minds and the techniques they deem best to express them.

While the work of the roughly 40 artists from around the state hand-picked to participate in the show is extremely varied, a focus on the environment emerged this year as a strong theme.

You notice it immediately as you step into the first-floor State Street Gallery and see drawings by Colin Matthes. Part of the Milwaukee artist’s “Essential Knowledge” series, a dozen works employ dark humor to share the skills you’ll need to survive should society fall. Through sketches and text, Matthes explains how to survive a grizzly attack, how to make a boat from the ruins of a gas station and other apocalyptic-tinged lessons. The works are entertaining, but their serious message is not lost.

Across the room, Amy Fichter’s three “Remnants” photographs are quiet but deeply impactful. The artist from Menominee photographed specimens of birds that are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. She used a toy camera that allowed leaks of light and other “accidents” to cause bars, blurs and other imperfections in the perfectly still, close-up images.

Made up of three installations spread across the exhibition, Meg Mitchell’s “The Fern Stations” feature hand-sewn horns that direct ambient soundscapes into a fern perched on a wooden stand. Also incorporated are letterpress poster prints with illustrations of ferns. The Madison artist drew inspiration from the fern craze that swept Victorian England and used it as a means of exploring colonialism and, as in much of her past work, female sexuality.

The exhibition runs through January 8.

Nearby at the James Watrous Gallery, “Beading Culture” is a testament of the power of art in uniting and defining community.

The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, tribe is known for its intricate raised beadwork, a tradition that was popular from the 1850s to 1950s in areas such as Niagara Falls. But as tourism declined, fewer artists continued the practice–until the 1990s, when several artists started a resurgence of the craft, working to teach and share techniques in classes, workshops and beading circles.

Today, the beadwork is a marker of tribal identity for the Iroquois in New York and Ontario, as well as the Wisconsin Oneida.

The story of the beading renaissance is brought vividly to life through the stunningly detailed raised beadwork on clothing, bags and pouches, moccasins, hats, pincushions and other items made by Wisconsin Oneida artists. Motifs range from flowers and leaves to butterflies and birds, with swirling lines and vibrant colors adding to the visual appeal.

The show continues through November 6.

In “More Time than Life/Hay Mas Tiempo que la Vida,” Gallery Marzen carries on a tradition started at the Edgewood College Gallery of celebrating Dia de los Muertos through art.

The exhibition features a collection of colorful, eclectic and deeply personal shrines dedicated to loved ones who have passed away. It’s both exciting and moving to see these creative and detailed works inspired by a practice undertaken annually in Mexico.

“More Time than Life” also highlights modern Mexican art–and the diversity that exists within the genre. Textiles by master weaver Erasto “Tito” Mendoza from Oaxaca, Mexico, mingle with more conceptual textiles by Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn.

The two collaborate on an installation that combines a weaving featuring rich colors and strong patterns with rocks and plantlike forms on the ground and a cloud with glass raindrops suspended in the air. The artists’ respect for their shared medium and their commanding use of space make this piece a showstopper.

Eye-catching paintings by Edgar Salguero of Guanajuato, Mexico, appear as prints or even tapestries from afar; a closer look reveals they’re made with meticulous dots and lines that create depth and texture.

Completing the show are pottery works from Mata Ortiz, a small pueblo located in northwest Chihuahua, Mexico, that’s home to a group of potters. The artists hand-build their pottery and embellish their works with precise, intricate and graphic patterns that embodies the exhibition’s interplay between tradition and modern creativity.

The show runs through November 19.

And over at Hatch Art House, “Weather Patterns” brings together two Madison artists becoming more popular by the day. Sarah Eichhorn showcases weavings and textile works alongside prints by Lesley Numbers. The colorful, collaborative show runs through the end of the month.