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Monday, March 30, 2009

Myths and Memories

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Photographs form the centerpiece of a pair of new exhibitions opening this April at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA). Two men, decades apart in their careers, examine the art of photography through historical and contemporary lenses that portray memories from the early 20th century and myths reflecting American-Indian life.

The main gallery hosts "Perfectly Pictorial: The Photographs of Edwin F. Casper" from April 8 through June 22. Born in Rockfield, Wis., in 1884, Casper pioneered the field of photography before the medium became acceptable to the world of fine art, taking pictures from the age of 16 and demonstrating the beauty that this then-revolutionary technology could create.

His paper negatives that produce gum bichromate prints beginning in 1902 remain timeless and appealing, with softly focused, almost sepia-toned images of popular subjects: landscapes, children and portraits exposing forgotten memories. But many contain the abstract allure of modern-day photographers, with complex compositions revealing the interplay of light and dark, passing emotions and moments, remembered from the camera's viewpoint.

For more than 40 years, from 1906-1946, Casper's artwork garnered honors in prestigious salons and shows, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. A generous gift of photographs donated to the MWA by Casper's granddaughter, Dianne E. Steinglass, allows the museum to exhibit nearly 30 of these award-winning prints. A reception on Sunday, April 16, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., celebrates this collection from one of the 100 charter members of the Photographic Society of America. It's a long-overdue tribute to Casper.

The MWA's One from Wisconsin Gallery showcases contemporary photographer Tom Jones, a UW-Madison art professor of American-Indian heritage, from April 1 through April 26. His large, digital archive prints address stereotypes and romanticized myths that many people still retain about American-Indian culture. He also captures historical re-enactments perpetuating these nostalgic adventures.

Jones photographs these re-enactments, visualizing the "white man" in American-Indian attire living out a fantasy, similar to contemporary civil war camps, where outsiders disappear into alternate worlds. This juxtaposition of ethnicity and cultural myth challenges viewer assumptions on what national heritage means to modern lifestyles. At the reception on Saturday, April 4, beginning at 2 p.m., Jones will offer additional insight into these photographs.

2009-03-30