Milwaukee Artist Mark Klassen Wins 2018 Wisconsin Artists Biennial MOWA Prize  

MOWA Prize consists of $5,000 and a solo exhibition at MOWA

February 12, 2018
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The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) is pleased to announce that Milwaukee artist Mark Klassen has been selected as the winner of the 2018 Wisconsin Artists Biennial MOWA Prize for his work titled, Air Conditioner. A total of 53 works by 46 artists were selected by guest jurors Katherine Chang Liu and Scott Zieher. The exhibition opened with a party on Saturday, February 3, 2018, where Klassen received his prize of $5,000 and a future solo exhibition at MOWA.

Klassen’s Air Conditioner is made entirely out of wood, even the cardboard, masking tape, screws, and all the internal workings visible through the vents. At first glance, one might easily assume the piece is a real, functional air conditioner positioned high up on the wall. Klassen is interested in this type of deception. He comments, “Objects so pervasive become forgettable. To re-create such a common object, I need to stop and study it, resulting in a kind of devotion to the object … its physical presence in a museum raises awareness in the viewer, who just might look harder and think about what the object actually is, and what sets it apart from all the other visual minutia of our daily lives.”

The artist’s work is rooted within the context of societal anxieties. It is intended to be unsettling and ironic—an understated tableau designed to remind the viewer that danger is universal. “In 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry attended a climate conference in Vienna. During his remarks to the delegation, he was reported to have said that the use of hydrofluorocarbons in air conditioners is as big a threat to life as terrorism. Around this same time, the Wisconsin legislature began debating the concealed carry law that allows citizens to hide guns and knives on their person. While people’s fears are fueled by the relatively rare high-profile mass shooting or terrorist act highlighted by the media, I try to remind the viewer through my work that ordinary things in the world around us are more appropriate targets for our anxieties.” he says. “Door stickers (banning weapons) are constant reminders of the prevalence of weapons in American society—a source of anxiety to many—and so is the notion that something as seemingly innocuous and banal as an air conditioner could be a threat to life.”

“The Biennial exhibit was so beautifully installed, and it was wonderful to see the work in person.” said juror Katherine Chang Liu. “Scott and I had a complete understanding of our mission, and we reached unanimous decisions on the awards within an hour. I am very satisfied with the results.”

“MOWA is really excited to support Mark Klassen and his work. Art Conditioner is not only a tour de force of craftsmanship, it is also timely and evocative commentary on environmental politics today.” remarks MOWA Executive Director | CEO Laurie Winters. There was a total of eight prizes awarded at the exhibition opening party.

Wisconsin Visual Artists (WVA) funded and awarded the remaining seven prizes making the total prize monies totaling over $10,000—the largest amount of for a juried exhibition in the state. Additional prize winners include:
  • WVA (Southeast Chapter) 2nd Place | $2,000 | Glenn Williams, Prosthetic Bike
  • WVA (Southcentral Chapter) 3rd Place |$1,250 | Sarah O’Farrell, Skin Horse (Becoming Real)
  • WVA (Northeast Chapter) 4th Place | $750 | Stephen Hilyard, Катюша (Katyusha) 
  • Merit Award | $500 | Keven Brunett and Kristin Thielking, Voices: A Tribute to the Dictionary of American Regional English 
  • Merit Award | $350 | Michael Velliquette, Untitled 4 (Sankhara)
  • Honorable Mention | $200 | Helen Lee, Words Are Not Things
  • Honorable Mention | $200 | Sandra Cipollone, Anonymous Iconic

The 2018 Biennial is on view at the Museum of Wisconsin Art from February 3 to April 8. Meet Klassen, 2016 Biennial winner S.V. Medaris, and other 2018 Biennial prize winners at a panel discussion on Saturday, March 17 from 2:00–3:00 at MOWA.

The Wisconsin Artists Biennial is co-sponsored and organized by Wisconsin Visual Artists and Museum of Wisconsin Art. The Biennial is a competitive exhibition open to all artists living in Wisconsin and age 18 and older. Previous Biennial winners include S.V. Medaris, Warrington Colescott, and Tom Uttech. The Biennial committee is led by WVA co-chairs Christine Style and Victoria Tasch.
Jessica Wildes, Director of Communications and Marketing
jwildes@wisconsinart.org, 262.247.2266