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What we choose to save, to showcase, to explain or to honor reveals much about how we see ourselves – and there's no better way to get a good look at who we were and who we are today than at one of Wisconsin's 200-plus museums.
From small but exquisite tool collections at county historical societies to great displays of art treasures in our major urban centers, Wisconsin's museums house much wonder and surprise. They are also repositories for those delightful eccentricities and obsessions so integral to the Wisconsin psyche. How else can we explain the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum or The Chalet of the Golden Fleece in New Glarus?
The bleak days of late winter, when inspiration sags like a gutter blocked with ice, are especially good candidates for a rejuvenating museum visit. Here are a few recent exhibits you may find intriguing:
The Madison Art Center's ExtraOrdinary: American Place in Recent Photography presents the work of photographers exploring how the built environment has altered America's natural landscape. Surreal and sublime photos of suburbia, Las Vegas, freeways and halls of government spark questions about the physical and psychological makeup of the American landscape. The photo exhibit is open through February 24. Every three years, the center hosts the Wisconsin Triennial – an exhibition featuring emerging and established artists from around the state in a variety of media. The Triennial runs from March 10 - May 19. Madison Art Center, 211 State St., Madison. (608) 257-0158. Free admission.
Quench your thirst for knowledge at the Neville Public Museum's 2,500 sq. ft. homage to Wisconsin's second most exalted beverage (milk being the first, of course). Best Beer in Any Case: A History of Brewing in Northeast Wisconsin tells the story of the brewing industry in the region. Visitors in the know will savor memorabilia from Green Bay breweries of yore: Blesch, Shantytown, Hochgreve, Rahr, Hagemeister, and Van Dyke. Those less intimate with the intricacies of barley pop will appreciate the interactive model showing how beer is made. And if you call yourself a true Wisconsinite, you'll easily recognize the features in the diorama depicting the interior of a typical local tavern from around 1950-1960, including lighted signs and other nostalgic items. Open through February 10. Neville Public Museum, 210 Museum Place, Green Bay. (920) 448-4460. Admission is free.
Museums often place the commonplace in a new light. When was the last time you really thought about a chair, for instance? Visit Chair Show 4/Sitting Pretty: Contemporary Wisconsin Chairs and you'll never sit down in quite the same way again. Chair Show 4 showcases 35 functional, sculptural and conceptual contemporary artworks based on the chair, in media ranging from clay to steel, all crafted by members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild of Asheville, NC. Sitting Pretty is a complementary exhibit featuring 12 chair-inspired pieces from Wisconsin artists. Take a seat through April 7th at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum , Franklin & 12th streets, Wausau.(715) 845-7010. Admission is free.
Round out your museum visits with a fresh look at another everyday item. In SurROUNDed! Circles All Around Us, the Milwaukee Public Museum examines the prevalence of circles in nature, religion, technology and popular culture. Explore the world of circles from the sun to the moon, language to religion, prayer beads to architecture, timepieces to toys, and rocks to clocks. Through March 31. Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 West Wells St. (414) 278-2702. Adults $6.50; seniors 60+ $5.00; students (ages 4-17) $4.00; children 3 and under, free.