Real and Surreal Collide in new Madison Exhibit
woman in painting seems anxious as she makes her way through tiled passages
that end in oddly angled forced perspectives. Gates, turnstyles and stairway
railings form a cage while men in trench coats, many sharing the same face,
lurk all around her.
Despite its highly realistic style, the visual context in George Tooker’s The Subway, painted in 1950, may well be product of the woman’s fearful mind. The painting is one of the cornerstone pieces in “Real/Surreal,” the new exhibit at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).
The exhibit, which opened Jan. 25, offers 70 works that explore the collision between realistic style and imagined concept. On loan from New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, the exhibit features some of the more imaginative works by familiar American artists such as Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Hart Benton and others.
The Whitney collection occupies the second floor of the museum, located in Overture Center for the Arts west end. The first floor showcases work by Wisconsin surrealists such as Aaron Bohrod, Marshall Glasier, Walter Hamady and John Wilde drawn from MMoCA’s collection. The companion exhibit explores the lasting traditions of Surrealism and Magic Realism as they developed in Wisconsin during the 20th Century.
“The exhibition takes an unusual approach,” says MMoCA curator Richard Axsom. Rather than featuring just one well-known art movement, “Real/Surreal” focuses on the tension and connections between two powerful currents in 20th century art.”
The term realism broadly refers to believable depictions of what is seen, while at the heart of Surrealism lays the subversion of reality through the imagination and subconscious. These approaches are different and even oppositional; however, their convergence encourages new ways of looking at American art of the 1930s and ‘40s, Axsom says.
The curator even reconfigured the gallery space in ways that highlight the works while creating its own surrealistic environment. The exhibit, which runs through April 27, was possible only because the Whitney is moving to new quarters in New York and decided to send part of its collection on tour. MMoCA’s “Real/Surreal” exhibition is the collection’s only Wisconsin appearance.