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Expressive Photography at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s ‘Reconfigured Reality’

May. 2, 2017
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Artists argue that, in the right hands, paint far exceeds mere pigment in its ability to express intellect and emotion. So, too, with photographers who see cameras as more than just visual recording devices.

The work of 18 photographers argues this thesis quite effectively in “Reconfigured Realty,” a modest exhibit of 18 images on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s intimate Henry Street Gallery.

The color and black-and-white works, drawn from MMOCA’s permanent collection, feature people, places and things caught up in specific moments of time. Technological advances since the 1970s have given this slate of visual artists new ways of exploring older techniques, many of which result in compelling imagery.

Jan Groover’s fanciful Untitled (1989) offers a still life tableau of household objects and mannequin arms and hands. The dye coupler print tells its tale by suggestion, driven by the inclusion of a revolver, which appears to have too many bullet chambers.

Color images continue with Carl Corey’s At Random-Milwaukee From the Series Tavern League (2008). The interior of the Bay View cocktail lounge is a scarlet splash of light and décor, communicating strong emotions without the presence of any human life forms. Cindy Sherman creates one of the most compelling images with Untitled Film Still #30 (1979), part of a lengthy series of female stereotypes in which the photographer herself is the subject. The image is a head-and-shoulders shot of the subject’s battered face, an obvious victim of domestic violence. The frightened woman’s image emerges from a darkened room, the windows behind her blackened to opacity, creating a film noir impression through the monochromatic imagery.

Other images bring other content and emotions to the surface, including a 2011 photograph of a Queens, N.Y., playground that is a riot of lines and color. In reality, the print by Paul Baker Prindle and Julio Rivera chronicles the location of a violent criminal assault, making the viewer wonder what other backstories lie beneath the surface of these reconfigured realities. 

Through Nov. 12 at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison.

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