Stephen Hilyard: The Beautiful Lie, on view at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, December 1, 2007 – February 17, 2008, presented videos and photographic works to explore the power and reliability of the image in contemporary culture. Works in the exhibition included a series of 5 compositions entitled King Wave in which Hilyard uses dramatic and doctored photographs to probe the truthfulness and iconic stature of the image. Hilyard explains, “The larger images are made from photographs of extremely large waves that I made at Margaret River in Western Australia. The smaller images in each pair are based on photographs made in cemeteries in Southern California.” By juxtaposing these radically different landscape images, the artist demonstrates the close ties and tension between popular culture and the sacred.

The exhibition also included photographs from the series 50 Views of H.M.S. Belfast. Hilyard’s images of the moored battleship are presented as sexualized and ironic depictions of a popular London tourist attraction. In the accompanying artist’s book, those same images are paired with phrases from the “Litany of Loreto,” a liturgical prayer dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

A trilogy of videos by the artist also played in the gallery. The first in the trilogy, Always, shows a dancing cloud that twists and flips to the melody of Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind.” This video was back-projected to be visible from the street, thereby engaging visitors both inside and outside the gallery. The second video, One Life, combines dialogue from a daytime soap opera with animated images of spring blossoms on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and the staccato movement of bees. The final video, Sunflower, pairs video imagery of melting pack ice on Lake Superior with a narrative sequence co-authored by Hilyard and Jon Wei.

Visit the artist’s website for more details about this work.