Modern art. Sentimental art.

(First published in the December 12, 2019 issue of City Pages)

The Museum of Contemporary Art showcases both modern art, and the art of marketing from Wausau Insurance (plus video of Regis Philbin loving Wausau!)


“Framed” by O’Neil Scott

You’ll see two vastly different exhibits on display now at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art. And the contrast is exhilarating.

     The National Juried Exhibition is full of modern, fresh and contemporary artwork in a range of styles and mediums—from paintings and photographs to woodcuts and sculptures.

     Step into the other gallery to The Wausau Story…Revisited and you’ll view art from the 1970s depicting the Wausau train depot building that was made famous in Wausau Insurance Companies’ well-known national advertising campaign.

     The WMOCA opened two years ago with the inaugural National Juried Exhibition, which is now in its third year. In this extraordinary exhibition, you’ll see work by artists from around the country, all selected by juror John Dalton, an artist and podcaster from County Kerry, Ireland.

     According to Dalton, the paintings in the exhibit “represent a wonderful snapshot of the artistic output for the last year and are a testament to the technical excellence and creativity of American artists.”

     You’ll see a wide range of styles, from abstract to hyperrealism and everything in between from 45 magnificent artists. Most of the pieces are bold oil paintings, including “Framed” by O’Neil Scott, which was awarded Best of Show. The painting has a 3D quality, as the dapperly-dressed man appears to be emerging from his frame. The deep and bright red tones of the subject’s suit jacket pop out amongst the white background and his dark skin.

     The exhibit features two striking sculptures. The glass sculpture “Congruent Cresent” by Karsten Oaks sits right in front of a large window and the way the light hits it allows viewers to see the gorgeous blue, yellow and green hues of the glass.

     The clay sculpture “In Veil” by Kong Boon Oh shows incredible craftsmanship and artistry, with the clay veil appearing soft and delicate as it’s pulled over the face and hands of the subject.

     “Instar” by Catherine Lucas and “The Constellation Crater” by Fred Wessel shine in this exhibition with their bright and glittery use of gold leaf, giving each piece a celestial ambiance.

     Some pieces are charming and delightful, like “Flicker” by Rachel Linnemeir of a woman in a bright yellow jacket holding a fiery sparkler and “Mia Loves Murakami” by Jenny Abraham of a child in front of a background of funky, colorful and smiling flowers. Other pieces like “Ascend” by Christopher Isaacs, of a person floating and melting into the background mid-air, are more thought-provoking and perplexing.


“Untitled” depiction of the Wausau depot by C.L. Peterson

You might assume that the old, almost Norman Rockwell-feeling art in the next gallery would be boring in comparison to the modern energy of the adjacent exhibit. Yet, The Wausau Story…Revisited is fascinating.

     In the 1970s, Wausau Insurance Companies commissioned artwork to commemorate the iconic train depot that made Wausau and the insurance company famous through its national advertising campaign of TV commercials and magazine ads. It was wildly successful marketing, built around the emotions associated with small town history.

     Liberty Mutual Insurance acquired Wausau Insurance in 1998 and recently donated these depot-themed paintings to the Marathon County Historical Society, which is presenting the exhibit at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art.

     The train depot became the trademark logo used in Wausau Insurance Companies’ advertising campaign, often aired on 60 Minutes and other national television programs in the 1960s and 70s. The advertisement put Wausau on the national map and carried the small-town charm of Wisconsin to Americans across the country.

     The exhibit features 14 paintings by well-known and talented artists from all over the United States, including the original depot illustration by Everett McNear that became the logo of Wausau Insurance Companies. Each painting is unique, featuring the depot from a different angle or during different times of the year. Viewers will see painting of the depot in the sun, snow, fog and surrounded by autumn leaves.

     One of the most iconic pieces in the exhibit is the watercolor by Charles (C.L.) Peterson, who is most known for his “ghost images” showcasing disappearing people. Another outstanding piece is the untitled work by Frederick Aman of a stunning metal relief of the train depot.

     It’s not just an art exhibit. You’ll learn about the famous advertising campaign and the insurance company and can watch original television commercials featuring the depot, in a looping video that plays on a few screens scattered around the gallery. Did you know “Wausau” was a Jeopardy game show question? And there’s a comical aspect to the exhibit as you see multiple clips of popular TV host Regis Philbin talking about Wausau and the insurance company commercials. Apparently, Regis loved those train depot images.

The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art is located in downtown, at Fourth and McClellan streets. Annual National Juried Exhibition is on view thru Dec. 28 and The Wausau Story…Revisited is on view thru March 2020. Gallery hours: Tues.-Sat. noon-5 pm., 715-298-4470.