Art for Every Purpose Under Heaven at MMoCA

Art for Every Purpose Under Heaven at MMoCA
''Mifflin Street #1'' by Terry Husebye

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

The opening verse of Ecclesiastes 3 greets visitors to Turn Turn Turn at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Serendipitously, as I read the Bible verse, the Byrds’ 1965 folk song interpretation rang out from the back of the gallery.

The cyclical nature of life, the ebb and flow of the old and the new, the give and take of highs and lows, connects the paintings, prints and photography in this exhibition, an “anthology of life’s joys and sorrows as visualized in modern and contemporary art.”

With works drawn mainly from the museum’s permanent collection, the show is organized in themes based on the following seven verses of Ecclesiastes 3.

Turn Turn Turn opens with Grant Wood’s “Calendar Prints” lithographs from 1937 to 1941 featuring fields, barns, storms, farmers and other elements that showcase the Midwest’s inexorable connection to the cycle of the seasons—or “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

Nearby, Fritz Eichenberg’s wood engravings detail scenes of harvest festivals from the Jewish calendar while Roy Lichtenstein’s “Haystack #3” is a graphic, abstracted agricultural scene made up of black and white dots.

Claes Oldenburg’s “Ray Gun” screenprint stands out in the “A time to kill” section, which also features works showcasing the construction of skyscrapers and the Panama Canal, dramatic examples of “a time to build up.”

Next, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” includes Luis Alfonso Jiménez’s dynamic “Honky Tonk” showing people dancing in a rowdy bar. 

A Jim Dine work of two figures morphing, with a red heart in the center, as well as Ben Shahn lithographs of a couple in an embrace and two shaking hands are standout examples of “a time to embrace.”

The “A time to get and a time to lose” segment includes six 1973 portraits of flood victims by Terry Husebye, plus Charles Munch’s “Fire Signs” oil painting of 1989, a scene of repeating red and blue tress and yellow and orange fires.

Husebye’s “Mifflin Street #1” of 1971 documenting a political protest in Madison is one of several works taking on themes of shouting, talking and quiet in a section devoted to “a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”

And “A time of love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” reveals James Van Der Zee’s “Wedding Day, Harlem” photograph of 1924 [pictured above, right] and Ed Paschke’s “Kontanto,” a colorful lithograph of a policeman.

Much of Turn Turn Turn features works that carry immediate and literal connections to the Bible verses, yet the show also offers some looser, more thought-provoking pairings. And a highlight is the combination of such major, internationally renowned artists as Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Käthe Kollwitz and Andy Warhol with artists with local connections, from Munch Husebye to Warrington Colescott. The interplay reinforces the idea that these seasons of life are both universal and deeply personal.

Turn Turn Turn runs through August 24 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. For more information, visit