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The Little Museum That Could

The United States has several art prizes including the National Endowments of the Artswhich includes the literary arts and other art related awards and the Smithsonian Outwin Prize which takes place every three years and includes photography and other mediums focusing on portraiture. Neither of them really focusing on the Figurative Arts until along comes the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art which yesterday awarded a $10,000 prize to a female painter from Michigan. The exhibition was juried by one of the nation’s top female artists Alyssa Monks. Candice Chovanec wrote on her Facebook yesterday “Driving to Wisconsin today! Looking forward to a beautiful drive and a fantastic group exhibition at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art.” Without pretentiousness or mentions that her work was included in the exhibition.

Candice Chovanec’s painting.

Candice’s painting My Mother and Her Daughter | oil on panel | 48 x 36 inches was finished this year just in time to enter the contest. The painting depicts a younger Candice sitting next to her mother both wearing jeans and horizontal striped shirts looking at the viewer as if they are just hanging out and waiting for their name to be called in. There are no pretentiousness here either. Just two American women sitting on display waiting.

The opening of the museum itself is a modern American story of the pursuit of happiness. David Hummer the executive director of the museum and an artist himself proposed to the city of Wausau that the historical building which was vacant for the past 13 years be turned into a museum and this last February the city council voted to give David Hummer the keys to turn it into just that.

To David Hummer yesterday’s opening felt as if he had been working his whole life just for that moment. The Midwest is not known for being an art capital. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio her said “We’re building a bridge between the east and west coasts. It’s intriguing to those artists to exhibit here because they’re very well known on the coasts and in Europe, but the Midwest has never heard of them.”

This museum has accomplished a venue to artists in the USA who usually have to submit awards abroad such as the BP Portrait Awards in London to earn this type of prize. The shipping alone abroad and then having to ship it back to the USA if not selected is steep.

So what New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and our Nation’s Capital have not been able to offer, the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art’s executive director David Hummer accomplished in the Midwest by hanging on to the American Dream and the foresight to have an artist such as Alyssa Monks as the first juror in what is to become a yearly prize.

David Hummer has given the awards the namesake of ANJE (annual national juried exhibition). Here is to the the birth of ANJE and may she continue to strive and grow.

David Hummer, Candice Chovanec and Alyssa Monks | Photo courtesy of Alyssa Monks