Press Release  October 9, 2019

A Truly Modern Material: Plastic as Fine Art

Courtesy of Victori + Mo Gallery

Steve McPherson, Wavelengths, 2012-13. Unaltered marine plastic objects.

Madison, Wis. – Sixty works exploring the complex story of plastic, from drawings and photographs to video installations and sculptures fabricated from found plastic, will be featured in Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials at the Chazen Museum of Art, on view through January. 5, 2020. The exhibition examines the environmental, aesthetic and technological implications of plastic and how it infiltrates virtually every aspect of our lives.

Courtesy of the artist

Aurora Robson, Isla, 2014. Plastic debris (PET + HDPE), aluminum rivets, tinted polycrylic, and mica powder.

“With the constantly changing landscape of our environment, deeper awareness of the materials we as humans are creating, and leaving, on the planet is increasingly important,” said Amy Gilman, director at the Chazen Museum of Art. “Plastic Entanglements reminds viewers that a material we often use fleetingly has a lifetime much longer than our own, and that it also has nearly endless possibilities for creativity and innovation. The Chazen is proud to present exhibitions such as Plastic Entanglements that encourage discourse around timely issues and provide unique learning opportunities for our campus and community visitors.”

Plastic Entanglements unfolds in three sections, past, present and future, charting a timeline of our relationship with plastic. “The Archive” examines the ways in which plastic objects make up an inadvertent record of daily life from the mid-20th century onwards. “The Entangled Present” reveals the ways in which plastic binds people, plants and animals together across diverse geographical locations and through global systems. The works of art in this section focus attention on the complex effects of the reach of plastic on ecological networks as well as on current artistic practice. The exhibition concludes with a section dedicated to “Speculative Futures,” asking what unknown worlds are emerging from the omnipresence of plastic, including new geologic and biologic forms. 

Organized by the Palmer Museum of Art, this exhibition includes work by 30 emerging and mid-career contemporary artists from around the globe, including Mark Dion, Marina Zurkow, Zanele Muholi, Vik Muniz, Jessica Stockholder, Chris Jordan, Brian Jungen, Aurora Robson, Willie Cole, Pinar Yoldas, Tejal Shah and Moreshin Allahyari.

Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials was curated by Joyce Robinson, curator at the Palmer Museum of Art; Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and English at Penn State; and Heather Davis, independent scholar.

Courtesy of the artist

Dianna Cohen, postconsumer mandala, 2001. Plastic bags, handles, thread, and pushpins.

“Part of the excitement around Plastic Entanglements will emerge from the fact that plastic is ubiquitous,” states Robinson. “Those who might be intimidated by a ‘contemporary art’ exhibition will find themselves immediately drawn in by the familiarity of plastic, which actually makes the world we live in possible.”

Wagner-Lawlor adds, “We hope the exhibition offers viewers a new perspective — more than one, actually — on a material so common that we don't think about where it comes from, how we use it, how it is impacting the environment, local and global ecologies, and even our own health. The exhibition explores different sides of our lives with plastic, balancing the ecological concerns many artists bring to their work, with their simultaneous appreciation of the versatile material properties of plastic.”


Directors Conversation | Oct. 26, noon | Chazen Auditorium

Chazen Director Amy Gilman will facilitate a conversation with Erin Coe, Director of the Palmer Museum of Art.

The Chazen Museum of Art makes its home between two lakes on the beautiful campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Within walking distance of the state capitol, it sits squarely in the heart of a vibrant college town. Featuring one of the best views on campus, an art-filled bridge connects the historic Elvehjem building, built in 1970, with the Chazen building, built in 2011. This connection represents both a physical and intellectual joining of human art history and the most dynamic artistic explorers of today.

With a permanent collection of more than 22,000 objects, from vessels of ancient Greece to prints by Kara Walker, the Chazen is the second largest museum in Wisconsin. Two expansive buildings encompass more than 163,000 square feet, making it the largest collecting museum in the Big Ten. More than 100,000 visitors come through the Chazen’s doors each year to enjoy the permanent collection and special exhibitions. The Chazen is the most-open museum among its peers, with open hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Admission is free for all visitors and includes programs for students, families and community members, all provided with the museum’s unique brand of Wisconsin hospitality.

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