For the last few summers we've invited our eldest niece stay with us in Madison for a weekend, and each time we try to do something new together. This year, in an attempt to captivate her 8-year-old interest (aside from her handheld gaming device), we decided to explore some sights on the city's east side.
After enjoying sandwiches and macaroni and cheese at Monty's Blue Plate Diner and checking out the rising lake levels at Olbrich Park, we headed across the street at dusk to Olbrich Botanical Gardens for its opening viewing of "GLEAM: Art in a New Light."
Before we got in line for admission we snapped a picture with the "Grow" Bucky on Parade statue in front of the building, which features textured poppy flowers, grass, roots, and clouds. Olbrich staff encourage people to arrive later in the evening to avoid long lines; however, we wanted to see some of the flowers before it got completely dark. It was worth the wait!
"GLEAM 2018 features artists and designers from right here in the Midwest, Pittsburgh, PA, Brooklyn, NY, down south in Tulsa, OK, and all the way across the Atlantic from the Netherlands," said GLEAM artistic director David Wells. "These provocateurs design original light installations using everything from video projection and lasers to simple paracord string to create awe inspiring visuals."
Upon entering the visitor center, we were handed a map of all of seven exhibits, which for the first time also includes the Thai Pavilion. The bridge was lit over Starkweather Creek leading toward the pavilion, which featured "Lasing Nang Talung," described as a "mashup of traditional Thai shadow puppetry and futuristic laser Neo-Op art."
While walking toward the "Prairie Cord" wooden display in the Sunken Garden, we passed under a canopy of lights that flickered to the corresponding music, making for a magical entrance into the gardens.
Another neat display was called "Connection," which is described as showing the relationship between the honey locust tree and the ground it grows from with threads simulating "flows of energy or water between the roots and the branches of the tree."
While all of the exhibits captured our attention, we really enjoyed interacting with "Reincarnature." Madison artists Benjamin Smith and Riley Hays created an immersive sound and odyssey inside of two giant chrysalises where you can stand or sit. One of them also has buttons you can push to change the color gradients, sounds, and visuals that "paint reflective surfaces with a textured glow."
When it was almost dark, we were treated to an ethereal performance for the opening viewing by Cycropia Aerial Dance on the Great Lawn. However, we didn't watch the whole show because the mosquitoes chased us away, so be sure to bring along repellent.
We ended our tour inside the Bolz Conservancy to see "Constellations," which uses video-mapped mirrors suspended from the ceiling that creates "mystical" moving shapes against the plants and walls.
GLEAM's regular hours are from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday evenings August 29-September 30 and 6:30-9:30 p.m. October 1-27, 2018. The last admission is sold a half hour before closing, but keep in mind it takes approximately one hour to view. There is also a cash bar available on Fridays and Saturdays in September and October so you can enjoy a beverage while walking through the gardens.
Visit Olbrich's website for a list of sunset and last light times so you can plan your visit accordingly. There are also a few dates that are only open to certain members, as well as exclusive photo shoots and exhibit walks with Wells.
Check it out
What: GLEAM Art in a New Light
When: Evenings August 29-October 27, 2018
Where: Olbrich Botanical Gardens, 3330 Atwood Ave., Madison
Cost: $15 adult ($11 member); $7 child ages 3-12 ($6 member); free 2 and under