Watrous Show Dissapointing

by Doug E. L. Haynes

I was disappointed by a recent exhibition at the Wisconsin Academy’s Watrous Gallery in Madison. The show is a two-person exhibit by UW Madison faculty members Jennifer Angus and John Hitchcock. Angus presents a series of bug assemblages and Hitchcock shows an array of printed works also following the bug theme. My impression on entering the gallery was that the show felt sparse and somewhat monotonous. I had seen several lively installations of Angus’ work in the past and found this collection was not nearly as engaging or forceful as previous exhibitions. A couple of years ago Angus wowed audiences at the Triennial and the Chazen simultaneously with wall sized installations of bugs. The show here only presents a few specimens under glass. Hitchcock’s work was a series of printed sheets that spanned the north wall of the gallery. Each sheet contained the same repeated pattern images done in muted tones. On top of this and often spanning sheets were slightly raised black images of bugs made from a textured material resembling velvet. Similar black bugs were also applied to the courtyard windows. The repetition of pattern and bug images tied the sheets together to create a single unified work. Having come away cold from Hitchock’s drab installation, I stopped to read the wall panels. Hitchcock’s artist statement explains that the pattern imagery is enlarged views of virus and bacteria. While some viewers may appreciate the layers of meaning, I find it irritating to be lead directly to the message of a work that apparently has trouble speaking for itself. The panels referenced SARS, which might have held some cachet when that virus was a big story, but here only reinforced my impression that I was looking at some dusty old work that a faculty member had hauled out in order to get their ticket punched on the way to tenure. Knowing the stir that Angus created two years ago, I am sure that the exhibit proposal presented to the academy was impressive, but I can’t help but wonder if the academy would have done better to take a chance on someone new. The show is on view until March 8th.