Eyes on the prize

A $10,000 award puts the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s inaugural exhibit on the map


WMOCA founder David Hummer says the first exhibit is attracting artists from across the U.S. The museum, located in the former Wausau Club building, will open Oct. 7.

A firm opening date of Oct. 7 is set for the new Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, now in the process of being built within the long-vacant, historic former Wausau Club building in downtown Wausau.

Local artist and museum founder David Hummer wanted to debut the museum with a big splash, and that’s likely to happen thanks to a huge incentive for contemporary artists hoping to get into the inaugural exhibit: a $10,000 Best of Show award for the winning artist.

That’s huge. WMOCA is one of only a handful of arts organizations in the U.S. offering that type of award, Hummer says. It creates a lot of competition and buzz, and attracts artists who might otherwise forego expending the time and resources to enter a juried exhibit because they’re getting so much exposure already.

But those successful artists are submitting to the WMOCA. An award like that ups both the quality and quantity of submissions, Hummer says.

Submissions have come from all over the country—many from the East Coast, plus Iowa and California. “The quality level if phenomenal,” Hummer says.

Posting a $10,000 award doesn’t guarantee a good show, because it could have turned into a “grab bag” exhibition, on which the public may, or may not, judge their first exposure to the museum, Hummer worried. Now that he’s seen the level of art in the submissions so far, “I’m not worried anymore,” he says.

The prize money was donated by two local business people eager to support the new museum: Sarah Ruffi of Ruffi Law Office in Wausau, and another anonymous donor expected to be announced publicly in the coming weeks.

The juror of WMOCA’s 2017 National Juried Art Exhibition will herself create a big splash. New York artist Alyssa Monks is known as the “Queen of Modern Art,” and in addition to jurying the exhibit, will attend and speak at the opening gala Saturday evening, Oct. 7. She’s also giving painting workshops in the weeks before and after the opening. People from as far away as Chicago and Minneapolis are coming to Wausau to attend these sessions, Hummer says.

Monks is “the most sought-after lecturer, speaker, presenter of art in the U.S. now,” and was just named the top 30 most influential female artists in this lifetime, Hummer says.

Hummer befriended Monks about seven years ago. It started when he saw her painting “Think” that “literally stopped me in my tracks.” He wrote to her asking if he could meet her and see her at work in the studio. He felt awkward because he had never done anything like that before. A few months went by, and she replied curtly: Send me your portfolio. When he did, she immediately replied and invited him to her Brooklyn studio.

They spent several days painting together and sharing techniques, and Monks opened up about her life experiences, struggles and everything that got her to this point. “It forever changed me. I learned what it means to be a painter,” Hummer says.


David Hummer at the Bauhaus

Hummer at that point had never thought about teaching art, but his time with Monks revealed to him the power of sharing. So he took on a pupil, then a few more, and that led him to opening his art classroom, The Bauhaus.

And the Bauhaus in turn led him to launch the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art.

And now the artist connection comes full circle when Monks juries WMOCA’s inaugural exhibit and appears personally to help kick it off.

Construction at the museum is on track, largely because previous renovations to the century old building addressed major issues. Mechanical and drywall work is happening now. Home Depot is providing volunteers to paint exterior and interior, with paint donated by paint company Behr. Hummer says Home Depot’s interest lies in the company’s support of programs that benefit military veterans in their stores’ communities. WMOCA is offering free memberships to veterans and their families for life, “So they’ll get the VIP treatment,” and Hummer plans to offer free art workshops for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress, alcohol/drug abuse and other struggles. The therapeutic benefit of art is well documented, he says.

Contemporary artists around the country who are scheduled to appear at upcoming exhibits in 2018 and 2019 have expressed excitement to Hummer about WMOCA. “These are artists you’d have to go to the East or West Coasts or Europe to see… They’re up-and-coming stars of contemporary art,” Hummer says. What they’re excited about is that WMOCA is a venue that exposes their work to “middle America,” he says.

See wmoca.org for more information about the museum, and for details about submitting work for the exhibit opening Oct. 7. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 18.