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About the Exhibition

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

  —Aldo Leopold


October 22, 2022–January 15, 2023

MOWA | West Bend

It is no coincidence that humanity’s most enduring fairy tales take place in the forest. “The forest allows for enchantment and disenchantment,” explains folklore scholar Jack Zipes, “for it is a place where society’s conventions no longer hold true.” Magic Wilderness: Dreamscapes of the Forest features work by sixteen artists who present the Wisconsin wilderness in all its rebellious, bewitching glory.

Installed as an imagined ecosystem, the exhibition pays homage to the opposites that coexist in nature. The lyrical and the weird, the magical and the mathematical, the micro and the macro are in evidence across paintings, sculptures, photographs, and mixed media.

Highlights include an extraordinary, immense mural by longtime University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee professor John Colt. The 22 1/2-by-8 1/2-foot canvas was commissioned in 1958 to honor the Rev. John J. Walsh, SJ, who put Marquette University’s theater program on the map. Not seen by the public in decades and now owned by the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Colt’s mural is an evocative composition of variations on themes drawn from natural forms. The leaf of the wild mandrake is a recurring motif, rendered in Colt’s mid-century palette of ethereal orange, green, yellow, and black.

Several works by celebrated painter Tom Uttech are also featured, including the surreal diptych included in the 1975 Whitney Biennial, which emphatically announced Uttech’s arrival on the national stage. Also on view is Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, a spectral scene depicting the encounter of a woman-deer hybrid and a musk ox, a woolly breed native to the arctic tundra. Additional works by Jacob Bautista, Theodore Czebotar, Kyoung Ae Cho, Maureen Fritchen, Kevin Giese, Mary Hood, Andrew Khitsun, Gloriann Langva, Barbara Manger, Shane McAdams, Cassandra Smith, Fred Stonehouse, Brooke Thiele, and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein create an immersive forest setting worthy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

At the outset of A Sand County Almanac (1949), his literary love letter to Wisconsin wilderness, Aldo Leopold wrote: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”  Magic Wilderness: Dreamscapes of the Forest celebrates nature’s bounty and those artists who can’t live without it.

Top: Exhibition Installation image by A. Waala
Side: Andrew Khitsun, Lycoperdon marginatum (detail)

Support for this exhibition
generously provided by

Support provided by 2022 exhibition sponsors

James and Karen Hyde

RDK Foundation

Thomas J. Rolfs Family Foundation

—Media Sponsor—