The Chazen Museum of Art has long showcased art by UW-Madison faculty. And this year, in celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary, the faculty show is bringing artists from across the university together to showcase everything from painting to modern dance and even cooking.
Chazen director Amy Gilman said the art world and art making have become multidisciplinary. So instead of the traditional focus on art department faculty, Gilman invited all UW-Madison faculty to participate.
“I quickly learned that at this university there are faculty in areas in addition to the art department who are working artists and whose teaching and research revolves around art making,” Gilman said. “We felt that they could bring a different kind of voice to the dialogue between their work and the museum’s collection.”
Li Chiao-Ping, the renowned UW-Madison dance professor who has been performing modern dance in Madison for more than 25 years, took Gilman up on her invitation. She is bringing her company, Li Chiao-Ping Dance, with 11 dancers including herself, to dance throughout the museum’s galleries. They, along with guest artists, will perform Saturday, with a scaled-back preview performance Friday night.
“There’s not always been that sense of welcome into that kind of space,” Li said. “So I was really excited that culture is changing.”
Li said the same thing is happening in art museums elsewhere, citing the Tate Modern in London and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“It’s an important statement that dance is seen as a contemporary art form next to the other fine arts — that we’re being represented,” she said.
The 70-minute performance, “Dancing the Chazen,” will incorporate solos, duets and group works choreographed and directed by Li, in many of the museum’s galleries, starting in the original Elvehjem building and ending in the newer building, which nearly doubled the museum’s size when it opened in 2011. The two buildings are joined by a walkway gallery.
The free museum at 750 University Ave., near Park Street, was founded as the Elvehjem Art Center in 1970 and became the Elvehjem Museum of Art in 1978. It was renamed the Chazen in 2005 after university alumni Simona and Jerome Chazen, chairman emeritus and co-founder of Liz Claiborne Inc. The couple donated $25 million to the expansion. The Chazen is the largest collecting museum in the Big 10 and the second-largest art museum in Wisconsin, Gilman said.
Russell Panczenko, the museum’s director for 33 years, oversaw the $43 million expansion.
During his tenure, Panczenko increased the museum’s collection from about 12,000 objects to more than 21,000. That number is closer to 23,000 now, Gilman said.
Panczenko said he built relationships with art collectors who sought to “put this museum on the map.”
In 2010, the museum received a $30 million collection from the estate of Terese and Alvin S. Lane that included works by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Christo.
In 2014, artist Jim Dine gave 67 of his pieces to the Chazen. In 2015, Stephen and Pamela Hootkin donated a $5 million collection of contemporary ceramic sculptures. In 2015, the Chazens made an additional $28 million gift that included artwork, money for building expenses, and endowed chairs in the art history and art departments.
When Panczenko retired in 2017, the museum drew 110,000 visitors a year, a number that Gilman said has been “historically very consistent.” In September, the museum greatly expanded its hours and opened a coffee shop on the ground floor.
That, Gilman said, has increased visitors to the building, though she won’t get an annual count until the end of the year.
Kirstin Pires, the museum’s editor, said total attendance for September through December 2019 was 63,210. In 2018, attendance during the same time period was 40,209.
“It’s a wonderful trend,” Pires said.
Instead of being confined to one gallery, Faculty Exhibition 2020 is spread across both buildings. That way, it exposes visitors to parts of the permanent collection and areas that can get neglected.
The museum hired Gary Garrido Schneider, director of the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, to review the proposals. Thirty-one submissions were accepted from 26 artists representing 10 departments on campus.
Fifteen of the faculty came from the art department, two from UW-Madison’s Tandem Press, two from the department of human ecology, and one each from communication sciences and disorders, Wheelhouse Studios at the Wisconsin Union, gender and women’s studies, history and women’s studies, Asian languages and cultures, dance and music.
Gilman said her goal was to feature faculty work, but framed in a way that would entice them “to engage with the museum’s collection and its architecture.”
Li’s dance performance tries to do exactly that. It begins with a duet that works interactively with sculptor Aristotle Georgiades’ curious dramatic piece “Viewpoints,” where winding stairs lead up to doors in mid-air, inviting visitors to see the museum and each other from different perspectives as they climb.
Marianne Fairbanks, an assistant professor in the School of Human Ecology, has a colorful, cheerful work, “Radiant Indeterminacy,” in the show that also requires viewers to consider perspective. Fairbanks installed brightly colored plastic flagging tape over a window on the Chazen’s third floor so sunlight shines through it. The work is designed to complement a piece in the permanent collection, “God from Inward Eye” by Richard Anuszkiew.
Visitors can chance upon art professor Derek Buisch’s five brightly colored “Peripheral Paintings” in narrow spaces around the museum where viewers aren’t expecting to see art.
Fred Stonehouse, also an art professor, has a collection of mixed media, “Death Enters the Golden City,” led by Jesus on a donkey making a peace sign. The pieces provide an interesting, sometimes jarring, juxtaposition with the works on display in Gallery II, many of which address the Passion of Jesus.
Also part of the exhibit are four performance art pieces by Spatula & Barcode, aka art professors Laurie Beth Clark and Michael Peterson, whose art developed out of the kitchen and around the dinner table.
Their exhibit contributions, “Come to the Table,” will be dinner parties centering on the themes of “Care,” “Hospitality,” “Philanthropy” and “Refuge,” with the Chazen’s art as the backdrop.
As the museum celebrates 50 years, Gilman said the time is right to think about the ways the Chazen can be relevant and contribute to the university and Madison communities, and also to the national museum environment.
“This year, we are really rethinking something that has deep traditional roots within the museum and within the university, but also is being presented in a new way,” she said.
Gilman said the Chazen’s approach is to ground what it’s doing in its history, but also to think about what the future entails.
“We are the university art museum of one of the best research universities in the world, and we need to be working at that level.”
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