The Wisconsin Artists Biennial began in 1900 as the Society of Wisconsin Artists with the mission to promote “the ennobling and educational influence of art.”
The exhibition aspires to showcase cutting-edge—even controversial—art emerging from Wisconsin. When members of the public requested a work be removed from the 1921 exhibition, they were rebuffed and told it was “essential to the life of the organization and integrity of their profession, to demand opportunity for free thought and action….” Outside experts traditionally jury the selection; during the 1930s, the celebrated Regionalist painters Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry were among the jurors.
In 2014 MOWA formed a partnership with Wisconsin Visual Artists (WVA) to co-organize and host the biennial, which draws over a thousand entries from more than five hundred artists. This year’s Biennial features 57 works by 54 artists hailing from 26 cities across the state. The selections represent a wide spectrum of media and perspectives from a cohort of emerging and established artists who represent the depth and diversity of contemporary American art viewed through the prism of Wisconsin. From nostalgia reconsidered and spiritual connections with nature to socio-political statements about the world in an American national election year, the Biennial artworks reflect the zeitgeist in a dynamic survey that comforts, confronts, and surprises.
The Biennial awards $10,000 in cash prizes. The top honor, the MOWA Prize, consists of $5,000 and a solo museum exhibition to run concurrently with the next iteration of the Biennial in 2026. Additional prizes are given to second through fourth place. Other honors include the Lee Weiss Award for a first time exhibitor, as well as merit awards.