Twice, I’ve been to the current exhibit at the Madison Art Center — featuring 87 works collected by 24 Dane County residents and companies — and I can’t stop looking at the bubble gum piece and chewing on its significance. Are we being challenged by an artist or is he mocking us?
The whole work features a wad of gum stuck to the ceiling and stretched as thin as a pin to the floor, where there’s the wad’s other end.
It’s called “Untitled (Bubble Gum).”
A Bazooka joke, perhaps? Not so fast.
Toby Kamps, the Art Center’s curator of exhibitions, selected the piece from the collection of Madison’s Ivan Moskowitz. Kamps gave the piece a fairly prominent location in the exhibit, which ends Sunday.
Does Kamps mind the laughs that the work gets?
“Absolutely not,” he says. “A lot of people think contemporary art is smarter than you – I think people come in and feel intimidated.
“That’s the beauty of this piece. It’s a piece of bubble gum, for goodness sake. It’s just a juvenile material to make a pretty sophisticated piece. There’s the tension between the sophomoric and transcendent.”
He adds, “It becomes a very beautiful thing, which hovers right on the border of visibility and absolute banality.”
Tom Friedman, who did the piece, is a prominent contemporary artist. When Kamps mentioned Friedman’s show at the Art Institute of Chicago last summer, I realized I had seen that exhibit. (I recall one work that featured countless minutely rolled Play-Doh balls inside a cold tablet.)
Moskowitz won’t say how much he paid for the rights to the piece, but he calls the work “very whimsical” and describes it as a nice complement to Friedman’s other more serious works.
Kamps saw “Untitled (Bubble Gum)” in an exhibit of Moskowitz’s collection at the Commonwealth Gallery.
The piece, however, doesn’t move from place to place. Instead, a new one must be installed each time it’s shown.
“Ivan bought this work as a certificate,” Kamps says. “He bought the idea. There are a set of instructions on how to make the piece. Ivan and I got together and used the materials: hot water, a bunch of pieces of bubble gum and a secret ingredient. It’s pretty resilient.”
Moskowitz says the piece had to be remade once — after kids purposely snapped it — during its two-month long stint at the Art Center.
Kamps and Moskowitz made a half dozen of them before developing the one showing in the exhibit.
“Some people walk by and don’t notice it,” Kamps says. “But when they do see it, they always start looking up and down. Then there’s always a chuckle.”