Big Art on Campus: UWM gallery shows

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UWM Art Galleries have much on view from established and emerging artists, including this painting by Neil Subel, an Elsa Ulbricht Memorial Scholarship Recipient. – Photo: Courtesy of UWM Peck School of the Arts.

There’s a lot to see on the UWM campus this weekend with the 2010 LGBT Film/Video Festival. But if you find yourself with extra time or simply in search of interesting art shows, there’s plenty to check out.  

The UWM Union Art Gallery, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., located on the first floor of the Union and across from the Ballroom, opens “Crossing Over” from 5 to 7pm. on Friday, Oct. 22. This exhibition features work by undergraduate and graduate students, all scholarship and fellowship winners, in an array of media and styles. It’s a show likely to be edgy and eclectic, while providing a peek at the next generation of contemporary artists.

Exiting the Union on the north and heading into the heart of campus will take you onto Spaights Plaza. On the west side of this concrete concourse are the buildings of the Peck School of the Arts. The Arts Center and Mainstage Theater are nestled in the middle. On the second floor of the Theater building is Inova/Arts Center, where you’ll find the exhibition “Continuum 9: Adolph Rosenblatt.”

If, upon entering the Inova/Arts Center gallery, you imagine you hear low murmurs of conversation or the clink of coffee cups, don’t be surprised. Rosenblatt’s sculptural installation of the old Oriental Pharmacy lunch counter winds its way through the center of the room. The figures of this defunct landmark sit perched on stools, conversing, drinking, reading, musing. The faces of each are rugged and heavily worked, but friendly and familiar as neighbors.  

Rosenblatt, a Peck School of the Arts professor emeritus, has a gift for the nuances of body language. The curve of a back might be relaxed or tired; the tension in shoulders, apparent through the cloth of a shirt, captures a moment of active listening. The dozens of figures, customers and wait staff alike, are sculpted deftly and delightfully. Even the deadened fatigue of the guy by the cash register (be sure to look closely for a bit of existential humor) brings this East Side landmark back to life.

Rosenblatt’s students also fill the gallery, but in this room their presence is literally sculptural. The statues sit like an art class frozen in time, each industriously focused on a drawing board. Their psychological intensity is a marked contrast to the casual ease of the diners.  

In the remaining gallery rooms, students show up as more than sculptures. The works of past pupils Henry Klimowicz, Joe Boblick and Eli Rosenblatt are on display. Klimowicz elevates the humble status of cardboard with decorative complexity. Cardboard is ripped to shreds, and reassembled into abstract, organic compositions. Boblick takes after Rosenblatt’s style with a series of clay and glass portrait busts, sensitively expressive and down-to-earth in their familiarity.  

Rosenblatt’s son Eli paints smoky portraits, figures with cigarettes in hand and the tenebrous worlds of taverns. Light falls on the bright green of billiard tables as pool sharks line up their next shot. Coincidentally, this hazy, smoke-filled atmosphere is now of the past as well. Like the Oriental lunch counter, these paintings recall a bygone day and time.

The highest profile of the Institute of Visual Arts (Inova) galleries is Inova/Kenilworth, 2155 N. Prospect Ave. Located about a block from the Oriental Theater, it currently hosts the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists. In the established artist category, the 2009 recipients were Peter Barrickman and Harvey Opgenorth, and in the emerging artist category, Kim Miller and John Riepenhoff.

This recently opened showcase features fresh work from the past year. It’s a lively exhibition, not only because of the efforts of each individual, but also the collaborative works that create a remarkably unified aesthetic vision. The materials and style of art include the gorgeous gray, moody paintings of Barrickman and the deadpan earnestness of Miller’s videos and installations. Opgenorth winks with irony, as in the white-on-white optical illusion of “No Photography Allowed,” and Riepenhoff contributes paintings, installations and items in-between, such “Art Stand with Lines,” where his papier-mâche legs hold up a large painting. It’s a memorable exhibition and offers an interesting slice of contemporary art made in Milwaukee.