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Aberrance and Artifice: The Norton Collection

June 5 - July 28, 2013

 

Many of the works that comprise the Norton Collection were made in the mid-1990s by then-emerging American artists, including Gregory Crewdson, Tim Ebner, Elliott Green, Tom Knechtel, Judy Pfaff and Alexis Rockman. The group of photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculpture included in this exhibition rupture visual and cultural boundaries to interrogate perceptions of what is considered "normal" or "natural." By playfully fusing conflicting things or ideas, the artists explore the contradictory relationships between repulsion and desire, earthly and immaterial, fascination and dread.

Tom Knechtel's painting, Lessons in the Theatre: Ejaculation, is one of twenty eight contemporary works of art that is on view as part of the exhibition Aberrance and Artifice: The Norton Collection, a group of paintings, sculpture, drawings and photographs donated to the Haggerty Museum in 2000 by Eileen and Peter Norton. Los Angeles-based artist Knechtel delivered an opening night lecture at the museum on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. The lecture can be found online as a YouTube video (45:34).

Knechtel's paintings juxtapose beautifully rendered, naturalistic imagery of humans and animals with elaborately detailed ornamentation and abstract elements. These carefully orchestrated spectacles are rife with meaning, and Knechtel's wide ranging interests in various genres of theater, from puppet to kabuki, and literature, from poetry to folklore, inform his aesthetic choices. The ironic and open ended narratives that unfold in his paintings can be considered embodiments of Knechtel's imagination and personal experience, in which fantasy and reality are compressed and complex issues of identity, artifice, sexuality, morality, and memory are explored. Free and open to the public.

This exhibition and accompanying programs are sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Introductory text for the exhibition

Aberrance and Artifice: The Norton Collection

 
Peter and Eileen Norton began seriously collecting contemporary art in the 1980s, and in 1998 they expanded their already substantial collection with the purchase of an 800-piece collection from Clyde and Karen Beswick. This acquisition served as the impetus for the Nortons to subdivide nearly 1,000 works of art into groupings organized by theme and subject matter. These mini-collections were donated to museums across the country to increase appreciation for contemporary art and strengthen the permanent collection holdings of the recipient institutions. The works that comprise the Norton Collection at the Haggerty Museum were created in the 1980s and 1990s by a group of then-emerging American artists.
 
The twenty eight photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculpture included in this exhibition share a common visual principle: the grotesque. While the popular definition of the term has been narrowed to signal disgust, it was historically employed to describe fanciful wall decorations -- combinations of plants, mythical figures, architectural elements, and human forms -- discovered during the fifteenth century excavation of the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea. Eventually, connotations of the grotesque began to shift away from the whimsical and ornamental toward the caricatured and carnivalesque, finally resulting in the present association with the repellent and horrible.
 
Though considered a continuous artistic tradition, the grotesque cannot be reduced to a particular style, genre, or subject. Rather, it must be characterized by its relationship to boundaries, specifically its unique capacity to playfully fuse seemingly irreconcilable things or feelings. Discrete identities are intermixed in the hybrid human-animal forms produced by Deborah Brown, Tim Ebner and Elliott Green; the distinction between fantasy and reality collapses in the dreamscapes conjured by Tom Knechtel and Tom Wudl; natural motifs merge with the artificial and alien in the elaborately constructed tableaus of Alexis Rockman and Gregory Crewdson.
 
A grotesque image is mutable and impure by definition or, as Frances Connelly argues, "it always represents a state of change, breaking open what we know and merging it with the unknown. As such, the one consistent visual attribute of the grotesque is that of flux. Whether aberrant, metaphoric, or combinatory, grotesques are all in a transitional, in-between state of being."
 
It is the grotesque's ambiguous status that holds revelatory value, that is, a grotesque image has the potential to elicit meaning by simultaneously undermining and expanding our understanding of the categorical, familiar, and undisputed. By rupturing visual and cultural distinctions, grotesque images trigger confusion and destabilize the absolute. This deliberate distortion of accepted realities produces emotional and intellectual conflicts, compelling the viewer to consider the relationships between repulsion and desire; earthly and immaterial; fascination and dread; sacred and profane; horrific and humorous. An effective grotesque creates the conditions for this tension, prompting some level of self- awareness or reflection on larger existential issues, including perceptions of identity, propriety, established social roles and hierarchies, and cultural conventions.
 
Frances S. Connelly, The Grotesque in Western Art and Culture: The Image at Play (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 5.

 

Gallery guide for the exhibition

To view the gallery guide please click here.
 

Images and captions of artworks in the exhibition

To view images and captions please click here.

 

Checklist for the exhibition

Ayhens Olive
American, b. 1943
Phyllis Shafer
American, b. 1958
Paul Pratchenko
American, b. 1944
Cadavre Exquis Drawing #465, 1993
Mixed media collage on paper
14 1/4 x 10 1/2 in
2000.10.1
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Deborah Brown
American, b. 1968
Untitled (Mushroom Centaur), 1994
Mixed media
9 1/2 x 9 x 5 1/2 in
2000.10.2
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Deborah Brown
American, b. 1968
Queen Hog, 1996
Assemblage of gold leaf over taxidermy mold, rubber, and tulle
19 1/2 x 21 x 18 in
2000.10.3 a&b
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Shayne Chandler
American, b. 1967
Coronation (Carnation), 1991
Mixed media assemblage
6 3/4 x 4 1/4 x 1 in
2000.10.4
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Gregory Crewdson
American, b. 1962
Untitled (Dead Fox with Grapes), 1994
C-print
27 3/4 x 35 3/4 in
2001.13.1
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Michele Oka Doner
American, b. 1945
Winged Chair, 1989
Bronze
24 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 15 1/2 in
2001.12
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Robert Dunlavey
American, b. 1955
Winged Devil, 1984
Wood, bronze, and oil paint
6 1/2 x 10 3/4 in
2000.10.6
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Tim Ebner
American, b. 1953
Untitled (Wolf, Alligator and Fish), 1997
Oil on canvas
48 x 42 x 2 in
2000.10.7
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Chris Finley
American, b. 1971
Untitled (Sugarfoot Brown), 1993
Mixed media assemblage
7 x 12 x 12 in
2000.10.8
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Michael Gonzalez
American, b. 1953
Untitled, 1991
Assemblage of silicone, tin plated copper grounding braids, and suction cups
14 x 11 x 1/2 in
2000.10.10
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Michael Gonzalez
American, b. 1953
Untitled, 1991
Assemblage of tin plates, copper grounding braids with push pins
82 in
2000.10.9
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Robert Helm
American, b. 1943
Garden Wind, 1991
Oil on panel
19 1/4 x 26 3/4 x 2 1/2 in
2001.13.2
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Biff Henrich
American, b. 1953
Untitled (Turkey), 1989
Ektacolor print
42 1/4 x 31 1/8 x 1 1/8 in
2000.11.4
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Elliott Green
American, b. 1960
Untitled #104, 1990
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 31 1/2 x 1 1/8 in
2000.11.1
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Elliott Green
American, b. 1960
Emergence 46, 1993
Acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 in
2000.11.2
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Elliott Green
American, b. 1960
Untitled, 1995
Acrylic paint with collage on panel
23 7/8 x 35 3/4 x 3/4 in
2000.11.3
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Mark Heresy
American, b. 1965
Will to Power, 1992
Ink on paper
28 x 22 in
2000.11.5
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Michael Jenkins
American, b. 1957
Balancing Boy, 1991
Assemblage of steel, wire, felt, buttons, and wood with paint and ink
72 x 8 in
2000.11.6a-c
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
DeLoss McGraw
American, b. 1945
Citizens Dressed Up as Herbert Hoover's Dog, 1989
Gouache on paper
10 3/4 x 13 1/4 in
2001.13.4
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Tom Knechtel
American, b. 1952
Lessons in the Theatre: Ejaculation, 1991
Oil on panel with wire sculpture
40 3/4 x 50 x 1 1/2 in Irregular
2001.13.3
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Ann Page
American, b. 1940
Green Snake, 1989
Mixed media
24 1/2 x 25 x 12 in
2000.10.11
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Judy Pfaff
American, b. 1946
Kids, 1990
Assemblage of adhesive paper on glass
8 x 6 x 1/2 in
2000.10.12a-d
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Alexis Rockman
American, b. 1962
Untitled (JG92), 1994
Ink and watercolor on paper
21 1/4 x 27 x 1 3/8 in
2001.13.6
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Alexis Rockman
American, b. 1962
Kapok Tree, 1995
Oil on panel
96 x 63 3/4 x 1 3/4 in
2001.13.7
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Anna-Maria Sircello
American, b. 1965
Cornucopia, 1993
Assemblage of wicker cornucopia and hair
11 x 13 x 9 in
2000.10.13
Gift of Eileen and Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Tom Wudl
Bolivian, b. 1948
Taoist Immortals at Home, 1991
Oil on canvas
23 7/8 x 17 3/4 in
2001.13.8
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Tom Wudl
Bolivian, b. 1948
Circumstances Leading to the Discovery of the Unconscious, 1992
Oil on canvas
46 1/2 x 38 1/2 x 2 1/2 in
2001.13.9
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art
 
 
Alexis Rockman
American, b. 1962
Untitled (Apple and Worm), 1991
Ink and watercolor on paper
31 x 25 x 1 1/2 in
2001.13.5
Gift of Peter Norton
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art

 


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