Roger Brown and the Chicago Imagists at Madison MOCA

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has a superb exhibit of Chicago Imagism up through January 15, 2012.  I saw the Roger Brown exhibition at the Hirshhorn in DC when I was in high school, and his paintings have stuck in my mind ever since.  He’s sort of a cross between De Chirico and a Sunday newspaper comic.  And there’s some kind of Zenoistic “stillness within motion” thing going on.  He paints a lot of disasters and a lot of skyscrapers, and sometimes disasters involving skyscrapers (as in “Sudden Avalanche” at left, or “World’s Tallest Disaster,” at right (which, by the way, is the cover image of Cate Marvin’s great poetry book of the same title.) Even the skyscrapers which don’t have disasters happening to them carry a certain sense of foreboding.

Many of the paintings in this show were gifts from the family of UW bacteriologist Bill McClain.  McClain credits the Imagists with inspiring him to have good ideas about biochemistry.  One more reason to go see this show!

CJ really liked it.  We have a new thing we do at art museums — I tell him he should look at a painting and say to himself, “What question does this make me want to ask?”  When he saw Brown’s “Skyscraper with Pyramid” (pictured in the linked profile of McClain) he asked why one of the people in the skyscraper was in color when all the rest were in silhouette.  Good question!

Anyway, great show, you can see everything in a half hour (though many of the paintings are worth spending longer on) and it’s free.  We’re lucky to have this museum in Madison and I encourage people to take advantage of it!

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