The Wisconsin State Capitol
An absolute must when you visit Madison is to visit the Capitol. This is a beautiful granite building that sits in the heart of downtown and displays some of the finest architecture and furnishings in the state, including 43 different types of stone from around the world. The Capitol is open to the public throughout the week. There are also free tours available every hour that last about 45-60 minutes. The Capitol does max out the tour size at 130 participants but unless you are planning a school trip, you shouldn’t have any problems. If your group is over ten, the Capitol’s website offers an online registration system that is helpful. There is paid parking available in various garages around the area, none of them are too far but will require a small walk of a couple of blocks.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to think when we planned on going there. I love architecture but I didn’t get my hopes up. Upon arriving on Saturday morning, we went in one of the side doors and weren’t necessarily sure where to go, so we just walked toward the middle under the dome. The signage for the tour wasn’t great, but we finally found the information desk which is where the tour starts. We ended up being on a tour with a group of Boy Scouts. At first, I was a little bit worried about being on a tour with a bunch of kids, but it worked out great.
The tour guide was fantastic and very knowledgeable about the Capitol and its history. One of the Wisconsin representatives was a special guest on our tour so that was nice to hear about his proceedings in the building and how decisions are made. We were able to go into the different areas like the Supreme Court, the Governor’s conference room, and the various chambers. Each room tells a story and you can almost feel that sense of history that goes on. I was so impressed with the various artwork and furnishings that are throughout the Capitol. Each room is adorned with various stones, marble and woods from all over the world, yet still celebrates the unique resources and gifts of Wisconsin. The Capitol does display a replica of the Liberty Bell which is a must see. For those who love Italy, it is worth checking out the council chambers as they are modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Atop the Capitol is an awesome bronze statue called “Wisconsin” that perfectly fits the building.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Capitol and highly recommend checking it out. It is worth the hour or so of your time to see the art and furnishings that adorn the building. The tour was super educational yet also entertaining. While we were not able to go to the observation deck because it was closed, this is a must see! It is a great way to see the Madison isthmus. Be prepared to climb some stairs though. The weekend is a good time to go because it is substantially quieter and less popular than during the week. This is a great family friendly thing to do because it is good for the kids and entertaining for the adults; best of all, it is budget friendly since it is free.
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Located a few blocks away from the Capitol on State Street is a true Madison gem, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), it is one place that is worth checking out when in the area. From the title, the MMoCa collects Contemporary Art which mainly focuses on pieces beginning as early as the 1970s. Many will define this period as Postmodern Art with some similarities to Modern Art but is more confessional and autobiographical. The art does not necessarily have a center and it reworks and mixes various past styles. Some of the main artist of this time are Gerhard Ricter, Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. Enough of the art lesson, let’s get to the MMoCA.
The building is absolutely beautiful and has a fantastic glass exterior with exposed beams that lets in natural light. If you are a fan of architecture or just want to see a wonderful building, you must go check this place out. The layout is a little weird but it isn’t confusing and celebrates the Postmodern style that allows visitors to chart their own course. Admission to the museum is free which is always fantastic (donations are suggested) and is open every day but Monday, so plan accordingly. There is no photography allowed at the museum which is a bit of a bummer. There is plenty of parking located in garages around the area, but you will have to pay for it and you will have a slight walk but nothing too bad. The museum also has a restaurant, Fresco, located at the top that features a nice, although slightly obstructed view of the Capitol and the surrounding area, including the museum’s sculpture garden.
The museum itself offers a pretty good variety of Contemporary works from artists such as Romare Bearden, Deborah Butterfield, John Steuart Curry, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Cindy Sherman among others. There are the typical offerings of paintings, sculpture, photography, prints, and drawings that offer a great look into what Contemporary Art is. The museum also offers traveling exhibits that showcase Wisconsin artists, young artists, and other predominant Postmodern Art collections that will appeal to lovers of contemporary works of art. For those who enjoy Postmodern Art, the museum has a permanent collection that is pretty substantial but of course not all of those are displayed.
The museum overall was ok for me and I enjoyed most of the collection. It was nice to see a few pieces from noteworthy Postmodern artists that I otherwise would not have seen or known about. My favorite part was the sculptures that were absolutely fantastic. One piece to check out is the sculpture by George Segal called “Depression Bread Line.” The artistry and skill to do this piece was amazing. The details and capturing the mood truly exhibits what storytelling is in art. You can feel the depression, hurt, and pain on these men as they stand in this line. Truly a must see!
The MMoCA offers different events throughout the year so when visiting or living in Madison, see what is available and go check it out. If you are not a fan of Modern art or Contemporary art, you may not really enjoy the artwork that is offered, but it is still worth checking out. This is a great way to spend an hour or two looking at an impressive collection.