Thursday, April 26, 2012


It's a long tale of how we came to be involved in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Design MMoCA event. This is an event that the museum does every other year and this is the third time they've hosted the bi-annual event. Previously it was a shout out to the interior and architectural design community in the Madison area. Local architects and interior designers were asked to design spaces not exceeding twelve feet by twelve feet inspired by a work of art from the museum's permanent collection.  I only mention the dimensions because it reinforces the notion that the final designs were three dimensional spaces.The interpretations ranged from literal to fanciful to extraordinary feats of engineering. We were stoked to have our chance at creating the same. That was two years ago. We sought out the museum organizers at various events in hopes that they would be charmed by our skills and enchanted by our personalities. They immediately took a liking to us and we to them. They told us the invitations to participate would be going out in the fall before the event. We began planning and mapping out what we had to work with and who we'd have to hit up for some help. Then the invitations came. The invitations that now went out to not only architects and interior designers but to anyone who could attach the word designer to the end of their title. That meant jewelry designers, video designers, and fashion designers were now being included, our enthusiasm started to wane. We were worried the audience coming to see the exhibit might not be the audience we were hoping to reach. We now had to weigh if the expense of putting together a design was worth the exposure we might or might not get. We decided to back out. What was the point? Weeks went by. We got a few emails form the organizers but our fervor to participate had really diminished. Then we went to see Connie at Iconic, another home design and retail store here in Madison. Connie is someone we respected. She had done the show before. She encouraged us to reconsider. So we did.
Once we had signed up we had to pick a piece of art for inspiration. You're not given access to their entire collection. They culled out about fifty pieces to pick from. Each design team was given a place in the queue for their selection time. We ended up some where around last. We were escorted to the museum's basement where the culled pieces were on display on wire walls. Our guide pulled out rack after rack and every time we saw something we thought we could use we'd find that it had a pink post-it attached meaning some other designer had chosen it. Then our guide pulled out the last wire storage tray and there was the photograph, "The Random, Milwaukee" by Carl Corey. We've always been drawn to photography so it was no surprise that our choice would end up being a still image. The blast of red immediately drew us in and its architectural subject matter was another plus. There was a stillness to the image, devoid of any physical human presence but filled with emotion. The image was all about pride and decay. Carl's crusade was to document a culture of disappearing taverns, centers of community in towns and neighborhoods where the local bar was where you went to meet friends and strangers for a beer and a moment of interaction with other human beings. Our concept was to take the decay, make it the external envelope of our space and then replicate the beauty of the tavern culture with lush furnishings and lighting, an homage to the beauty of the people who occupy the barstools and vinyl booths of Wisconsin's tavern league.

Like the substructure of a well-made sofa we first decided on building a tufted wall but instead of covering it up with expensive fabric we decided to leave it in it's raw burlap state.
For a ceiling we chose reclaimed lath laid bare the way you'd see it after the plaster had been pulled off during demolition.
For a floor we had a platform built that we edged in upholsterer's webbing and then laid slabs of wonderboard painted to look like raw concrete. This was our decay, the underbelly.
The part of a room or a piece of furniture that is usually covered over, we left exposed. Then we added our patrons, our colorful characters that sat in our space and attached themselves to our walls.
The beautiful lighting fixtures of Zia-Priven kissed the room with red.
Our center dining table by Black Wolf Design with its cerused base and faux parchment top added grace to our space.
The Emmy chairs from our own collection where trussed up the back like lonely women sitting at the edge of the bar waiting for a smile. Carl"s photo hung in observance of everything in our supper club somewhere on the outskirts of town. Our goal was to expose the beauty inside the grit and make everyone feel welcome and enticed to enter the community of the tavern league.

Most Madisonians are very prompt. If an invitation says opening at six then most of the invitees will be standing outside the door at 5:59. Being perennially late I have a bit of problem with this but I'm learning. The museum, designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, was on fire thanks to Mother Nature painting a flame colored sunset as a backdrop for the reception area. Sparkling wine and mini BLT's were passed around the room.
Musicians played on the mezzanine landing above the crowd, and there was a crowd.
The galleries were packed with a wide assortment of attendees: young and old, party-goers and art critiques, women dripping pearls and boys in un-ironed shirts with magenta plastic glasses.
The breath of approaches to the challenge was evident from the textile hanging country village uprooted by Doug and Kate Pahl
to the lush hydrangea dripping garden room done by Iconic.
Our space stood in the center of the main gallery. We hope that anyone in the Madison area or beyond will find the time to go see the exhibit. It is open from now until May 6th. Entry to the museum is free.
There will be a meet the designers event on Sunday, April 29th from 2pm to pm. We will be doing a talk on, "Why use a Designer?", on Saturday, May 5th at 11:00am.


Tavern League
Photography book by Carl Corey
Aired on PBS Newshour  March 18, 2011

1 comment:

  1. It's beautiful work! David's shirt was indeed un-ironed; that's his fashion :)