Figuratively speaking

(First published in the June 21, 2018 issue of City Pages)

The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art expects to host its biggest show yet, bringing in the work of contemporary figure painters from around the world.


Alessandro Tomassetti’s “Lie to Me” will be among the dozens of figurative paintings from world-renowned artists exhibited next month at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art.

David Hummer doesn’t mince words about the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s next upcoming exhibit: It should be front-page news.

He’s not exactly wrong. WMOCA’s next exhibit, Painting the Figure NOW, will bring in the work of some of the top contemporary figure painters in the world to Wausau July 7-Sept. 28. The exhibit will be one of the largest of its kind in North America, displaying the work of nearly 40 artists, from throughout the country, and from Germany, the UK and Spain; from the abstract-ish work of Denise Fulton to the bright, bold textures of Susannah Martin.

The show is attracting the attention of the art world, from major art magazines to the New York Times, Hummer says. While people generally know the work of the famous artists like Picasso, Monet or Van Gogh, this exhibit will highlight “the biggest and brightest contemporary figure painters in the world,” Hummer says.

“These guys are actually paving their way into the history books, much like Picasso and Monet once did,” Hummer says.

The seeds of the exhibit started during WMOCA’s inaugural juried exhibit. A high caliber of artists submitted work to the juried exhibit, including from Nadine Robins, an artist from upstate New York and part of the Count-Ibex collection. (Her piece “I will survive” appeared in the show.)

That drew the attention of Didi Menendez, who runs poets and artists magazine in Chicago. Many of the artists she works with, including Robbins, had submitted to the show. One of her features in the magazine includes “Painting the Figure NOW,” in which she interviews contemporary figure painters about their work.

Menendez offered to help curate a show for the museum, before WMOCA had even opened. The show, of the same name as the feature, is the result of that partnership.

And it’s a needed one. Venues for contemporary artists painting figures are pretty slim in the U.S., Hummer says. It’s one of the reasons Hummer and Menendez wanted to partner on the exhibit.

Each piece submitted will be a brand new work, never seen by the public before, Hummer says. The exhibit is attracting attention of major collectors, and some pieces are selling before they ever make it to the museum, Hummer says.

Two of those collectors expected to be present for the opening are Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt and Steven Alan Bennett. In addition to being major collectors of female contemporary figure paintings, the two are the founders of the The Bennett Prize, which awards $50,000 to a female artist to create a solo, touring exhibition. The prize is meant to both promote the work of female artists and raise awareness of female figure painters in general. WMOCA is hoping to lock down a spot on the tour in 2021, bringing the Bennett Prize exhibition to Wausau.

One of the reasons the exhibit has been so successful at attracting artists is that, as well-known artists sign up, it inspires other big names in the art world to submit their work too. It’s important because it helps artists build their curriculum vitae (Latin for resume), Hummer says.

Hummer hopes that the exhibit can help combat the flyover effect, as most of the art world focuses on the two coasts and Europe. “It’s not just about affording the community the opportunity to see these works without having to travel to New York, or Germany, or Spain,” Hummer says. “It’ll attract people from around the region to see it.”

Nearly half of the artists featured in the show are expected to be on hand for the VIP reception on July 13, which is open to those who are members of the museum. Becoming a member costs a minimum annual donation of $250, which includes access to free or discounted special events and all exhibits. To become a member, log on to

Clarification: Additional information about becoming a member of WMOCA was added to this post.