Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, WI showcasing new acquisitions in lieu of exhibitions

By now, the Chazen Museum of Art in on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison should be more than a year into a grand experiment. In July 2019, the Chazen introduced new open hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days per week, making it the most-open museum among its peers. For seven months, staff saw the results, as more students, faculty and community members stopped by to visit the museum or its newly opened café.

New exhibitions and a celebration of the Chazen’s 50thanniversary were planned.

However, in March, along with museums and universities across the country, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the UW–Madison campus and the Chazen Museum of Art. Now, more than six months later, changes in the Museum are reflecting a new reality.

“For the last three years, we’ve challenged ourselves to think differently about our role as a university museum, and the pandemic is adding another layer to that,” Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen, said. “Long-term planning is harder, but in the short term, there are opportunities to try new things.”

One result of this new thinking is an untitled installation of more than 30 new acquisitions added to the Chazen’s collection over the last three years. It is currently on view in the Chazen’s Pleasant Rowland Gallery, where, in normal times, touring exhibitions are presented. Works featured include Face to Face (2018) by mixed-media American artist Deborah Roberts, multiple prints by Japanese conceptual artist Kenji Nakahashi; Western Landscape (1935) from Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, the younger sister of Georgia O’Keeffe; and Paysage au ciel clair (Landscape with Clear Sky) (1956) by French painter Jean DuBuffet.

“We are working on a plan for a major reinstallation of the entire permanent collection, but that is a few years away,” said Katherine Alcauskas, chief curator at the Chazen. “Since the pandemic upended our current exhibition schedule, we realized we could do something exciting with a portion of our first floor gallery. It’s a chance to introduce our audience to some of our new acquisitions and invite our students and visitors into the process of how we add new works to the collection.”

The Chazen’s permanent collection had an unusual beginning.

Before a museum existed on the University of Wisconsin campus, artworks had been donated or acquired by the University without a focused plan for collecting. After the Museum opened in 1970, thoughtful donors broadened the permanent collection, often through gifts of their entire collections – creating and enhancing pockets of strength and depth. Now unlike any other, this “collection of collections” encompasses vastly different, yet equally inspiring, artistic periods and genres.

The installation of this selection of new acquisitions signals the Chazen shifting from the eclectic early collection strategy to a more traditional style of accessioning new works into the permanent collection and integrating them into the galleries.

ABOUT THE CHAZEN

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 23,000 objects, from vessels of ancient Greece to prints by Kara Walker, the Chazen is the second largest museum in Wisconsin. Two expansive buildings encompass 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 currently open Tuesday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., with online reservations required. Admission is free for all and includes programs for students, families and community members. 

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