Art for the Asking

Campus Art Exchange has a brilliant plan for beautifying UW–Madison.

Bascom Hall hallway lined with paintings

Making us feel human: Campus Art Exchange artwork at the International Division in Bascom Hall. Bryce Richter

You don’t necessarily have to visit the Chazen Museum or the Wisconsin Union to find great art on the UW–Madison campus.

Two years ago, the university embarked on an ingenious project to beautify common areas and conference rooms. An inventory conducted by the Division of Facilities Planning and Management turned up a significant number of UW–owned watercolors, oil paintings, and prints that needed a new home. Construction and other changes had bumped these artworks from their original sites, so why not repurpose them to solve an age-old campus problem?

“People were always asking for artworks to decorate their UW buildings,” says art history student Laura Grotjan MA’18, PhDx’21. “But they had no budget for purchasing art.”

Kenn Kwint’s "The Cadet"

Kenn Kwint’s “The Cadet” has both rough and delicate touches. Campus Art Exchange

John J. Audubon’s Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

John J. Audubon’s characteristically precise “Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.” Campus Art Exchange

Enter Campus Art Exchange, charged with pulling the stray UW artworks into a cohesive collection. Now managed by Grotjan, the program distributes pieces by request, offering free interior-design consultations and installation services. It has helped transform the International Division and other spaces — even a custodial hallway.

“Everyone deserves to see art,” Grotjan says. “It makes us feel human. It makes us feel inspired.”

In August, Campus Art Exchange displayed 40 of its best pieces at a Union South exhibition, including two characteristically precise bird prints by John J. Audubon. The exhibition also showcased new acquisitions that are making the collection even more vibrant. Some were donations from the Kohler Foundation, such as Kenn Kwint’s The Cadet, a mixed-media portrait with both rough and delicate touches. Others were purchased from UW students with a grant.

“Acquiring students’ works helps boost their careers,” says Grotjan, whose favorite student piece is the elaborately patterned woodcut Santo Jaguar by Roberto Torres Mata MFAx’21, MAx’21. “It’s also a point of pride for students to have their art hanging on campus in a prestigious location.”

For art lovers who don’t regularly stroll through UW buildings, Campus Art Exchange displays its complete collection at artexchange.wisc.edu. Take a peek at the online gallery to feel human, and inspired.

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