Monday, April 28, 2008

Chazen Celebrates The Circus

It's spring, and the circus is coming to town -- in the form of two new art shows that will open Saturday at the University of Wisconsin's Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave.

The shows are "Ringmaster: Judy Onofrio and the Art of the Circus" in the large Brittingham Galleries VI and VII and "Harry A. Atwell: Circus Photographer" in the smaller Mayer Gallery.

Both exhibitions will be on view through June 29. Admission is free and open to the public.

The Chazen will also host a special weekend of circus celebrations, featuring performers, music and food, on May 9 and 10. Information about these events and other exhibition-related programming will follow. (For more information, including parking and gallery hours, call 263-2246 or visit

The Onofrio show features life-sized sculptures of performers, animals and circus acts and will be exhibited alongside examples of banners, posters and carvings drawn from the Circus World Museum collection that have inspired her work.

Onofrio constructions are carved, molded, painted and assembled from wood, fiberglass, beads, ceramic shards and collected objects. A documentary of the 1920s and 1930s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and a filmed interview with artist Onofrio will be available in the Ringmaster exhibition.

"Harry A. Atwell: Circus Photographer" features 42 black-and-white photographs by Harry A. Atwell (1879-1957). It is a survey of his career photographing the golden age of America's tented shows. Atwell, a prominent Chicago publicity photographer, was hired for his first circus assignment around 1910 to travel with the Ringling Bros. Circus. Over the next 40 years he amassed more than 5,000 negatives, now in the collection of Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

Atwell's images of roustabouts, Big Top crowds, sideshow performers, and center ring stars capture "Circus Day," when shops, schools and factories shut their doors so that everyone could enjoy the fleeting pageantry of the traveling shows.

Related events include Circus Celebrations on May 9 and 10 and Onofrio's artist's talk on Friday, May 9, at 6 p.m., Room L-140. Admission is free.

There will be a "Big Top Gala" -- with circus band music, aerial acrobats and contortionists -- the same night, May 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is $8 for museum members, $12 for non-members. Refreshments, circus treats and a cash bar will be available.

On Saturday, May 10, the Chazen will host "Circus Day: A Family Event" from noon to 4 p.m. in Paige Court. Admission is free. Entertainment includes the Mazo Movement Arts Center, Cycropia Aerial Dance, Truly Remarkable Loon and other performances, activities and a chance to try out circus acts. There will be circus snacks and exhibition tours. (Children ages 4-12 should be accompanied by an adult.)

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Room L-140, UW-Madison Professor Jill H. Casid will lecture on "Circus, Circus: Repeat Performance in the History of Photography." (Gallery hours will be extended to 7 p.m.)

On Saturday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., there will be a screening of Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus" (1928) and short films. Seating is limited. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

On Monday, April 28, at 5:30 p.m. in Room L-140, guest lecturer Murray Zimiles of the State University New York-Purchase will speak about "Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: From the Synagogue to the Carousel, from the Sacred to the Secular."

On Thursday, May 1, at 4:30 p.m. in Room L-140, UW-Madison Professor Henry Drewal will lecture about "The Odyssey of an Image: Circus Snake Charmer Becomes African Water Goddess!"

On Friday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m. in Room L-140, show curator Cassie Wilkins will give a gallery tour of and talk about the Onofrio show.

Free drop-in tours of both shows will be given on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. from April 29 through June 24. Meet in Paige Court. Exhibitions curator Cassie Wilkins will lead the May 6 tour. Other tours will be led by docents