The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is located in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Within the museum are galleries, a gift shop, lecture hall, and a roof-top restaurant and bar, all partially enclosed by glass walls on a corner of iconic State Street. One fall evening, I walked into the gallery showing the art of Joel Shapiro’s Bronzes. How fun! His pieces of sculpture are massive and seem either a little off balance or meticulously constructed to keep balanced despite their appearance. It was a challenge to imagine how Shapiro got the bronze beams to stand upright without fear of them falling over. The size of these sculptures are also huge; every piece could stand its own in the outdoor landscape. Comparing the heights of people viewing the show with the art structures empathized their monumental quality. Besides the impression that the medium of bronze gives; looking at them, the viewer finds they also suggest figures that may be dancing or walking. The show continues through January 13th, 2019 at MMOC. The artist Joel Shapiro has created a gallery space which is fun and is interactive simply by looking.
It is interesting to know that Shapiro was influenced by Indian sculpture when he served as a Peace Corp volunteer in India. He felt that sculpture depicted
” the dynamism of human form”.
Robert Morris, Richard Serra and Donald Judd also influenced his art.
Joel Shapiro, according to an interview with the Brooklynrail.org, grew up in a leftist, well-educated neighborhood of New York city. Briefly, he and his family moved to Texas during WWII but then moved back to Sunnyside Gardens, a planned community expressing utopian ideals through architecture in New York city. After 2 years in India during the 60’s , he returned to graduate school at NYU. His art moves back and forth between abstraction and representation.
” I think abstraction is simply an act of tremendous faith and very difficult and painful to sustain.” Joel Shapiro
Shapiro’s reputation extends internationally, having shown his work at 160 solo exhibits. Currently, perhaps, Joel Shapiro is exploring the idea of : “the projection of thought into space without the constraint of architecture.”
This past week, an exhibit “Faces of Incarceration” was taken down from the walls of the Playhouse Gallery of the Overture Center of the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. The creators of this moving exhibit are Pat Dillon, a writer, and Phillip Salamone, studio owner of Atwood Atelier at Winnebago studios, also of Madison. When Pat Dillon discovered a “loved one” who was father to her grandson and incarcerated, she felt moved to raise awareness about several issues of incarceration in Madison and the state of Wisconsin. One issue is the rising number of African American boys and men becoming incarcerated and the other is about the difficulties reintegration after release involves.
Phillip Salamone, an oil painter in the classical tradition, put up several of his portraits of incarcerated men along with those of participating artists in a Winnebago Studio show several years ago. The response was overwhelming and very encouraging. So for the past year, Phillip has invited former inmates to his studio to model sitting for three to four hours per session while artists applied themselves to the artistry and craft of painting a realistic portrait. Working in oil, drawing media,and watercolor, we artists learned the stories, listened to poems and became acquainted with these models who previously were only known as a statistic.
Concurrent with the Faces show at the Overture Center during July and August, two movies were shown about Incarceration. “13th”, an oscar-nominated movie, is about how oppressors get around the 13th Amendment which outlaws slavery in the U.S. By putting more people and especially Blacks in jail and labeling them criminals, there becomes a loop-hole of using “criminality” as way to perpetuate slavery. The second movie shown in August was “Milwaukee 53206”, a documentary about America’s most incarcerated zip code: 53206, which is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A sell out crowd then stayed for a following discussion of the movie. Also, after the opening of the Faces of Incarceration show, a panel of the models stayed and discussed issues around the topic. As each model spoke, it was emphasized that the passion for reform should come from themselves, the men and women who have been sentenced to
Prisons are systems that are run by men and male dominated . Sensitive issues for women like a woman’s menstruation are ignored and the health needs of women are not met adequately. A third issue concerns awareness of how there is a growing pipeline of African American boys going directly from high school to prison. Providing safe homes for children, especially boys, is part of the answer as mentioned in this panel discussion.
Not to exclude in anyway, another exhibit “Captured” was shown in Gallery ll of the Overture also in 2017. “Captured” is a photo essay focusing on the incarcerated youth of the Dane County Juvenile Center, which is nearby the Overture Center in Madison. Amber Sowards, photographer, is a member of GSAFE team, a Wisconsin nonprofit working with LGBTQ and youth. Her photos may be seen on the website: www.ambersowards.com.
Statistics are only numbers until the public can hear the narratives and see the faces of the men, women, and children who are incarcerated. For example, Rudy was imprisoned for 20 years before being proven innocent of the crime he allegedly committed. He is one of many who leave the prison system and struggle to reintegrate themselves into their communities and neighborhoods. Rudy had several portraits painted of him. A document written by Pat Dillon next to one of these portraits featured Rudy Bankston’s book of poetry Snippets of Soul in 17 Syllables. In these poems, he expresses “the brokenness” of the self he experienced in prison. Writing became a means of expression while living in the very rigid system of the prison. Rudy explains that the 17 syllables refer to haiku which is composed of 17 syllables. His poetry reaches that kind of brevity. “Strapped for Life”, a pen and ink with watercolor wash by Louise L. Uttech, shows an ankle strap which had to be worn after the inmate was released from prison. The ankle strap was not part of a jury or judge’s conviction but a disciplinary measure inflicted by prison officials. Yet the strap is to be worn after his release without any judge or jury making that decision. Lastly, to meet someone like Jerome, who has worked to become the statewide leader of EXPO, the Ex Prisoners Organizing, is amazing. Jerome is involved with a grassroots network of leaders and faithful people in the task of reforming the system of Incarceration in Wisconsin. The paint brushes, canvases, and paint tubes were certainly worth it to be honored to paint these amazing portraits!
Every May in
Madison, Wisconsin, the city holds an open gallery night. This spring was one of the last gallery nights of the Winnebago studios due to the demolition of the building in 2018. None-the-less,the artists continue to paint and produce portrait paintings in the classical tradition as well as watercolors and drawings. Other studios in the Winnebago building include photography, welding, sculpture, and printing. This is creative mix of artists from the Madison area.