Los Angeles native Michael C. McMillen exhibits at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

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Los Angeles native Michael C. McMillen exhibits at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Paper ephemera from The Traveling Mystery Museum, 1973 Printed tickets and souvenir postcards.

HARTFORD, CONN.- The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art celebrates the 40th anniversary of its groundbreaking MATRIX exhibition series with the work of Los Angeles native Michael C. McMillen (American, born 1946). “SIDESHOW,” the 171st presentation of MATRIX, is a contemporary art companion piece to the special exhibition, “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008.” The exhibition runs Jan. 31 through May 3.

“SIDESHOW” is an immersive environment featuring nine mixed-media works— combining painting, sculpture, installation and video—that look from McMillen’s childhood spent at Ocean Park Pier on the West Coast, to Coney Island on the East Coast, while also providing bookends of his artistic work to date (from 1973 to 2014). Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art, is organizing the exhibition.

The Coney Island theme resonates closely with McMillen. In Summer 1957, the artist’s father took him to New York to visit his old Greenwich Village haunts. An eleven year-old at the time, the artist has held onto indelible images of that trip for the past half century, particularly taking the train out to Coney Island where he visited the crumbling Steeplechase Park.

“Somewhere within the complex of worn rides and faded attractions, I recall visiting a walk-through display tunnel of life-size tableaus depicting famous murders and other social malfunctions,” said McMillen. “There was something about this unexpected encounter with the terrible side of human nature and the crudely sensational way it was depicted that was simultaneously riveting, repellent, and haunting. Years later as a young artist thinking about how to engage an audience, I recalled and recognized the power of the immersive environment.”

In SIDESHOW, McMillen creates an atmospheric setting for a collection of unusual curiosities and mysterious artifacts through moving shadows, light and wall projections that exposes and celebrates his earliest influences and inspirations, including his boyhood trip to New York in 1957 and his 1973 UCLA graduate project, “The Traveling Mystery Museum.”

Simultaneously, McMillen seamlessly incorporates newer work in the moody “Lighthouse (Hotel New Empire),” its beautifully eccentric video, “The Quotidian Man,” and the poignant, “Transmitter.” McMillen possesses an ever-youthful soul filled with wit, fascination and dread that finds its perfect expression in endlessly inventive artistic production.

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