Every three years, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art puts out a call for what is considered one of the most important showcases of contemporary Wisconsin art: the Wisconsin Triennial.
This year, that call garnered more than 600 applications from emerging artists eager to introduce their work to new audiences and from established artists ready to present the new directions they are exploring in their art practice. By the time the museum’s curatorial staff selected and organized the works, just 34 individual artists and three pairs of artists were selected for the show, which welcomed more than 1,200 visitors to its opening reception in September.
Among those 40 artists are Door County photographers Jim Cagle and Suzanne Rose, whose photographs have been installed alongside a variety of media that address topical issues of environmental destruction, social and cultural identity, and the current political and racial climate – as the museum’s website explains, “all hallmarks of artistic concerns in the twenty-first century.”
A trained painter who stepped away from that artistic endeavor in pursuit of a medium on the move, Jim Cagle has spent the past 20 years capturing objects, buildings and landscapes that evoke mysterious, puzzling qualities.
This is the second consecutive Wisconsin Triennial that Cagle has been part of. In 2013, he was accepted for his series Industrial Still Life, documenting the dilapidated remnants of Manitowoc’s Portland Cement Company, which was once celebrated as the “most modern in the country.” His images of crumbling structures and cast-off industrial equipment, he found, were reminiscent of “19th century expeditionary photography, particularly documentary photographs of Egyptian ruins.”
During the past few years, Cagle has aimed his lens inward, capturing the objects and spaces of his immediate daily environment in a photographic series titled Domestic Image. By framing stills of a laundry cart, a hallway scene in his apartment, or a glass jar on the edge of a table, Cagle’s work helps the viewer connect with commonplace objects in a way they ordinarily would not.
“Anytime any person looks at a piece of art, there’s a connection that occurs, there’s a relationship that occurs between the person and the object they’re looking at,” Cagle explained. “…In that particular case with that jar, it’s sort of a hyper-consciousness which makes you, as an observer, look at that jar in a way that you wouldn’t normally look at it. Meaning there’s something about it that’s different than if you were to experience it in daily life…there’s a mysterious quality to it; it seems to be more than just a jar in your house that would be sitting on the edge of the table that you may or may not look at. That’s because of the way it’s framed, the way it’s isolated, the quality of light, how you transform it.”
Dark of the Night
The 2016 Wisconsin Triennial represents a big shift in the typical creative output of photographer Suzanne Rose. Though taken at various stages of darkness – at dusk, in the dead of night, during the first signs of dawn – Night Vision is the debut of her first body of color photography.
For the past two decades, Rose has worked as a black-and-white photographer. In 2013, after 15 years as a photographer, she began writing a photography column for Door County Magazine and was asked to begin making color images.
“It was a big deal because I have always thought that color was very seductive and wasn’t part of my vision or part of my visual vernacular,” Rose said. “I felt that it wasn’t necessary for me to gather color and to display it.”
Color bled outside of her magazine work and into her fine art photography, where she decided to begin employing it in a subdued manner by shooting at night and using manmade light to expose the color. The result is a photographic collection of the ambiguous and mysterious places of the Door Peninsula.
“I’ve always been a night owl ever since I can remember, and I love everything about this work because when you come to it, I want my viewer to almost feel like they’re entering into a moment that is a portal of sanctuary, just to feel like the quality of the observation that I had captured and just to be in it and to feel the quietness of night,” Rose said.
The 2016 Wisconsin Triennial is on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St. in Madison through Jan. 8, 2017. For more on the exhibition, visit MMoCA.org.