Six art shows with shifting realities

Sept. Artscape gallery
“The Beginning” by Tracy Harris at the Madison Public Library.

There are plenty of words one could use to describe the 16 large-scale works in “FACADES: Photographs by Markus Brunetti,” a new exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art. Intricate. Ornate. Detailed. Mesmerizing. But nothing quite captures the images or the experience of seeing these incredible works in person.

In 2005, Brunetti and his partner Betty Schoener began traveling across Europe and photographing the façades of historic cathedrals and churches in great, precise and regulated detail through hundreds or thousands of frames.

Brunetti, who had worked in digital imaging for two decades prior to starting the project, reconstructs the buildings they document in hyper-realistic detail, including visual information only normally seen by birds and perspectives not feasible for those standing on the ground.

His structures, which come from Germany, Spain, France, England and beyond and range in architectural style from Romanesque to Baroque, seem to pop off the walls of the Chazen’s main-floor gallery. The detail is so incredible that the eye sees it as texture or dimension.

The buildings rise straight up from the ground, with modern details stripped away and overcast skies serving as non-distracting backdrops, and appear almost like architectural renderings brought vividly to life—although not one entirely of this world.

“FACADES” continues through Dec. 31.

Slices of Real Life
If Brunetti’s images transport viewers to an alternate, heightened reality, the paintings and drawings on display at Gallery Marzen pull you in to meditate on the beauty of everyday life. 

Figuratively Speaking: Portraiture by Jerry Jordan” showcases roughly 20 of the Madison artist’s portraits. They’re mostly of women, but from that commonality the works veer in diverse directions. There’s a woman standing with a book to her chest, another at an ironing board, a teacher leaning against a desk, someone holding a cup of iced coffee.

A rare male-focused piece in the show, “Just a Kid” packs an emotional punch. The painting shows three versions of a young African American man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a backpack. It was part of the “Justified Art” showcase at Overture Galleries in spring 2015.

Whether he’s making a statement or reflecting simple moments of life, the way Jordan captures his subjects feels casual, and there’s an undeniable beauty in his authenticity.

The show runs through Oct. 8.

Authenticity meets graphic playfulness at the Madison Public Library’s central branch, where the “Wisconsin Storytime” gallery show by Project Wisconsin reveals the history of the state through the lens of designers.

In 2014, Project Wisconsin collaborated with 52 different Wisconsin designers, with a different artist presenting his or her take on an important state story or event each week. The prints line the walls of the library’s third-floor gallery, with a story accompanying each.

The show kicks off with Tracy Harris’ “The Beginning,” a blue and white print featuring a mastodon and a representation of the last glaciers that passed through the state. Next comes a vibrant yellow “Holey Schmikes!” print, Nate Garn’s ode to late actor Chris Farley, a Madison native. The prints go on to commemorate Wisconsin becoming the 30th state in the union, the birth of the labor movement, McCarthyism, the Green Bay Packers, the Apostle Islands, Milwaukee breweries in what must be one of the most aesthetically pleasing ways to learn state history.

The show is up through the end of the month.

Dynamic Duos
Two collaborative exhibitions make the case of an artistic whole being more than the sum of two parts. 

At Drunk Lunch, “New Work by Meg Fransee and Lance Marchel” combines works on paper and sculpture by two Wisconsin-born artists who met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While they’ve since gone separate ways—she lives in Oakland, he in New York City—they continue to inform and inspire each other’s work.

In this show, both artists mix objects that are recognizable with items that are more abstract. In her colorful gouache and pencil works, Fransee overlaps imagery in interiors and spaces; people, tables, plants, stairs, cups, hands and more coexist.

Marchel, meanwhile, packs a lot of elements into small spaces; a striped towel and stool, for instance, are identifiable as their original selves, even when mixed with an old pillow case and urethane foam in a stacked sculpture.

The shifting back and forth between what’s straightforwardly understood and what’s more abstractedly comprehended creates an interesting rhythm that runs through the show, which closes Sept. 18.

Helen Hawley and Chele Isaac come together in “Like a Striking Smile” at the Arts + Literature Lab. The two accomplished Madison artists maintain studios just a block away from one another and have noticed parallel ideas emerge over the years. In this exhibition, they explore how, when carefully observed, materials and objects that are overlooked in everyday life can begin to suggest new meaning.

The show is filled with intriguingly eclectic works. Six light boxes are arranged vertically on a brick wall, relaying the message “your teeth like gently falling snow.” A pile of logs hangs suspended with string. A photograph of horses with their eyes covered is displayed near a wooden horse and cark block on a white pedestal. A barren tree is painted on a large swath of cloth. Scenes of nature are projected onto a large round and two small rectangular screens.

A feeling of experimentation runs through the show, with elements of the natural world mingling with memories and, more so, with a sense of new possibilities.

The show runs through Oct. 1.

Surreal Meets Real
Moody surrealism meets a distinct appreciation for nature in “Karen Halt: When Your Dreams are Bigger than You Are,” an exhibition at Artisan Gallery in Paoli. Human forms mingle with exquisitely rendered birds and animals in darkened rooms and landscapes. For Halt, her subjects “attempt to bridge the gap between what is natural and what is civilized,” encouraging viewers to ask questions that might lead to new ways of being. 

While at Artisan, don’t miss the “13th Annual Ceramics Invitational,” which continues the gallery’s tradition of completely busting any lingering stereotypes about what ceramic art can or should be. The work of 16 artists ranges from figurative to functional, geometric to whimsical. And the gallery’s unique In the Cooler space features Craig Clifford’s “Wisconsin Bird Project” sculptures that serve as both portraits of birds he’s encountered and markers of the place and time he saw them.

The shows run through Oct. 30.