Besides the many treasures currently on display, Madison is home to a host of valuable artworks that are not always on view. Space limitations and curatorial concerns require a carefully planned rotation of exhibitions. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chazen Museum of Art feature changing, thematically arranged displays, while the UW Union prefers to curate based on tastes of students and Union staff. Long-term preservation of valuable pieces is also a priority.
"Art itself deteriorates," says the Union's Robin Schmoldt. "Canvas dries, paint can crack and flake. No one thought about acid-free paper when matting turn-of-the-century prints."
Among the pieces currently receiving special care behind the scenes at the Union are works by Bruce Nauman and Diego Rivera.
At MMoCA, concern for art preservation influenced the construction of the facility. "All of the new gallery spaces were designed for the health of works on paper," says curator Jane Simon. "Light levels are completely controllable."
MMoCA's Henry Street space is devoted to works from the museum's permanent collection (including paintings by Frida Kahlo and Roger Brown). Other works drawn from the collection are thematically organized in the Works on Paper Study Center, which is in turn arranged to complement current exhibitions.
Of the Chazen's 18,000-plus art objects, only 800 to 900 are on display at any given time. Thematic exhibitions, available space and preservation are factors in determining what works will be accessible to the public.
One valuable painting not currently on view is 17th-century Dutch artist Franz Post's "The Village of Olinda, Brazil," which curator Maria Saffiotti Dale says is notable for its rarity (fewer than 200 works by Post survive) and its unusual subject matter. Also currently not on display are works by DeChirico and Picasso.
A large percentage of the Chazen's collection is made up of works on paper, an especially delicate medium.
"Many works on paper - our Japanese prints, for example - are made with vegetable dyes, which are very susceptible to light," says director Russell Panczenko. "A print can lose thousands of dollars in value based on fading alone. We're trying to protect the pristine quality of that print, so that visitors to the museum are seeing the work at its best."