Go figure

(First published in the August 1, 2019 issue of City Pages)

You’ll want to spend hours gazing through Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s current exhibit


“Inside A Dance” by Christopher Cart, one of 50+ paintings on view at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s Painting the Figure Now exhibit on view through Sept. 28.

It’s all about the people in Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s current exhibition, Painting the Figure Now. WMOCA calls it the largest single exhibit of contemporary figurative painting this year in the U.S., and the breadth and depth of the works on display can fascinate even casual art connoisseurs.

     WMOCA director David Hummer, chief curator Didi Menendez of Bloomington, Ill., from the art magazine PoetsArtists, and several guest curators have brought in some of the top contemporary figure painters in the world—from Wisconsin and New York, to Singapore and Spain, and all around the globe. You’ll see works from an array of painters including young emerging artists, mid-career artists and the internationally famed such as Vincent Desiderio, Bo Bartlett, and Nick Alm.

     According to guest curator John Dalton, of Kerry, Ireland, the exhibit is “a yearly snapshot of where figurative painting is at, and how we are doing with portraying the oldest of subjects, ourselves.”

     The 50+ paintings investigate the many ways we see the human figure today, including contemporary approaches to portraiture, narrative, and any and all visualizations of the human form in life, action, play, work and leisure.

     The fresh, original artworks radiate the attitudes of modern life. These aren’t overly posed portraits of people dressed in their best clothes. The people depicted feel authentic and magnificently real—paintings of people with tattoos, purple hair, stretch marks and wrinkles.

     Viewing these paintings provides a glimpse of the present and of the beauty in the ordinary mundanity of daily life. In “Alluring” by Kimberly Dow, you’ll see a woman dressed in a robe, her hair in a towel, as she applies lipstick while a nude woman in the background fixes her hair. The painting perfectly captures the standard task of getting ready for the day, but the artist finds a way to make it artful and exquisite.

     Many other works present moments of everyday life, such as Mark Hein’s “Be Patient” of a woman doing a younger girl’s hair as they relax outside. “The Shopper” by Amy Werntz shows an older woman holding a stack of books at a store. In “Ecstasy in Grey” Peter Lupkin paints a man clutching a beer can as he slouches against a wall.

     These representations of modern, every-day people creates an exhibition that appeals to everyone. You don’t have to be an art guru to appreciate the vibrant colors and blissful figures shown throughout the delightful, aesthetically pleasing and approachable exhibit—you’d want many of these pieces hanging on the walls of your home.

     Some of the paintings spark curiosity about who these subjects are, what they’re thinking or what they’re doing. In Gayle Madeira’s “Young American Dreaming,” viewers may wonder what the girl holding the coffee cup is fantasizing about during her commute. “Anxious Contemplation” by Barbara Hack, makes you want to know what is causing the worry and concern in the woman curled up in a chair and staring into the distance. In the rambunctious piece “Onward” by F. Scott Hess, viewers will marvel at the people marching around holding museum busts and waving dinosaur bones in the air.

     One of the largest and most dramatic paintings is “Inside A Dance.” You could stare at this perhaps bittersweet piece for ages, losing yourself in the colorful dancing bodies as they swirl, collide and disappear into each other, seeming ghostlike.

     If you viewed the exhibit during the first few weeks it was open, head back. There was a shipping problem with the largest piece of the exhibit, “The Flood,” an 82 x 100-inch  painting by Bo Bartlett, one of the most famed artists in the show. Hummer himself traveled to New York to pick up the piece and bring it to the museum. The large-scale painting depicts what first appears to be a pleasant family boat ride, but when you look closer, you’ll see the flooding in the background, making the scene more chilling than it originally appeared.

Painting the Figure Now is on view thru Sept. 28 at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, located on McClellan Street in downtown Wausau, just north of the 400 Block. Gallery hours Tues.-Sat. noon-5 pm. Admission is free. 715-298-4470, Wmoca.org.