Last week my daughter Lucy and I visited the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Wisconsin Triennial. Every three years the Museum in downtown Madison chooses artists from around the state to showcase the depth and breadth of talent to be found throughout Wisconsin. I was excited to explore the many works from artists who were both familiar and unknown to me. There was a great variety of work. Michael Kautzer’s piece “The Blue Little Red Barn” was a favorite of Lucy's. But beyond this large interactive “playhouse” we saw a great variety of work including some compelling photographs of Suzanne Rose depicting industrial buildings presumably taken at dusk or dawn, the light fading in the background and the artificial light from the buildings ablaze. The quirky latch hook “paintings” of Christopher Rowley also caught my eye. These works play with a material often thought of as a hobby craft and more often sold in kits to direct the maker to create a predictable finished product, but the artist is creating his own playful pop art inspired compositions.
I was also excited to see the ceramic sculptures of Craig Clifford at the Triennial. It is nice to see artists you know and admire get recognition in the Wisconsin art scene at large. In addition to the show at MMOCA Clifford also has a wonderful show in the Cooler at Artisan. His collection of works from his “Wisconsin Bird Project” include carved wall sculptures of birds found throughout the state. Some of the works are sound sculptures with motion activated bird calls which resonate through the space.
Of all the wonderful works to be found in the Cooler I am most drawn to Clifford’s “Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series.” Each sculpture is comprised of dozens of slip cast forms of found objects, often bird figurines which can be found on the shelves of your local thrift store or your grandmother's curio cabinet. These cast forms combined with and other bits of ephemera create undulating textural compositions in clay, which is set off by ceramic frames covered in rich velvety black flocking. One composition comprises of birds all pushing their heads beak first out of the frame as if stuck together buy the sheer volume of this mixed up flock trying to push through a too small opening. You can almost imagine hundreds of other birds behind those shown waiting for their chance to push past the frame and into the open air. The reverse can be found in “Tails” which displays the tail feathers of these same birds as they push and struggle through the open frame seemingly flying back into the space behind the frame. The center panel is a jumble of familiar objects which could be found around the home, miniature teapots, doll parts, ceramic shards. These elements evoke ideas of the “nests” we make in our personal lives. Birds work hard to make nests that are unique within individual species, choosing particular materials and arranging those materials in specific ways to create individual spaces to raise their young. But the nesting Clifford is displaying is more reminiscent of the nests humans make when choosing items to decorate our home and create an environment that is individual to us through the items we choose to display. For me these three panels elicit feelings of my personal nest and the need to sometimes push out of its confines while at the same time knowing there is a familiar place to return to that is safe and familiar.
- Ann Orlowski
Assistant Art Director