Stichter's work has a bracing, visceral strangeness.
Whew! Just when I thought an angry mob might form PANTS - People Against Naughty, Terrible Sculptures - it appears the flap over the Chazen Museum of Art's sculpture by Beth Cavener Stichter has wound down.
Stichter's A Rush of Blood to the Head, as you might know by now, depicts two male goats locked in a passionate kiss. Their penises are erect and anthropomorphized. When Isthmus asked me to comment on it, I nearly declined, thinking the moment had passed.
But, on second thought, the sculpture is still relevant for two reasons. First, good art is always relevant, and Stichter, 37, is a talented contemporary artist with something worthwhile to say.
Second, the controversy felt forced to me. On March 25, Channel 3 reported that a lone patron had complained about the sculpture. That barely seems like news to me. Channel 3's online story quoted other unnamed patrons who were supposedly offended but did not complain to the museum. Online commenters have fallen into predictable camps, from defenders of artistic freedom to those calling it "pure sick garbage."
The outrage fails to acknowledge that Madison is filled with thousands of art objects on public view every day, at museums, commercial art galleries, coffee shops and on and on. If you don't like something, don't hyperventilate; just move along. It's a big world out there, and not everything will be to your liking.
The Chazen's offer to partially conceal the sculpture when groups of young children tour the museum is a gracious and reasonable gesture. However, let's not forget that the Chazen is a university art museum, on a campus populated largely by people over the age of 18. Adults deserve an engaging, challenging experience with art, not just a child-proof one. The piece deals frankly with sexual desire, particularly gay male desire, which is certainly a part of human experience.
If you're at all curious about the sculpture, go see it. In person, it is more subtle and well crafted than you might expect. Looking at this piece and others on Stichter's website, I'm intrigued by the way she anthropomorphizes animals, yet not in the sweet, Disney-fied way we've come to expect in our culture. Her work possesses a bracing, visceral strangeness, a sense of humanity, and impressive technical skill.
The Chazen is Madison's only comprehensive art museum, with a collection spanning antiquity to the 21st century. As such, it's good to see that the Chazen has a real stake in the contemporary and is not just sticking to "safe" art, even though Stichter's aim is not to shock.