New ways of seeing art through Milwaukee's current exhibitions

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“Yellow-Red-Blue” by Wassily Kandinsky, 1925. Oil on canvas. 

This week’s Art Gaze selections prompt new ways of seeing through an extraordinary array of paintings, prints and photographs, and whimsical sculptural installations. 

‘The Uncertainty of Enclosure: Leo Saul Berk,’ June 7–Aug. 17

The enclosure that Leo Saul Berk references in this exhibition title refers to his childhood home known as the Ford House, designed by the very experimental architect Bruce Goff. The house is located in the quiet, suburban town of Aurora, Illinois, but is known the world over for its futuristic domed construction and unusual building materials. Coal and rope are two that figure prominently both in the house and in Berk’s resulting sculpture. Braided hemp forms complex woven patterns that recall the miles of rope used along walls of the house, and curved wood planes reflect its rounded ceilings. Narrow lines of coal create outlines like the mortar surrounding the house’s masonry walls. 

As Berk explained in a recent gallery talk, the magic of this home was its amazing sense of daring, creativity and play. Now in his forties, he looks back to his formative years, surrounded by this inventive architecture, and notes that it helped foster his own path and sense of possibility. The power of Goff’s visionary design not only created an architectural landmark, but richly influenced the visual creativity of a child who would become an artist. 

At Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. Go to www4.uwm.edu/psoa/inova/schedule.cfm.

‘Kandinsky: A Retrospective,’ June 5–Sept. 1 

Wassily Kandinsky became a major figure in modern art in the early years of the 20th century. His work with important groups such as Der Blaue Reiter and the Bauhaus School solidified his reputation, but his work and writings about abstract painting made him one of the most influential artists of the past century. This retrospective exhibition is a thorough study of the major phases of his career, opening with Impressionistic landscape paintings and concluding with his stunningly energetic, purely nonobjective paintings. 

Kandinsky believed abandoning recognizable stories and symbols was a way of making art that responded to the internal feelings and expressions of the artist. He felt it was possible to think about art and its formal elements as conveying particular sensations or vibrations. In his abstract work, a visual rhythm of lines and colors becomes apparent with relaxed, patient and close viewing. For all the dynamism of Kandinsky’s bright colors and playful lines, he is best approached with meditative mind and fully open eyes. 

At Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr. Phone 414-224-3200 or go to www.mam.org.

Scrutiny After the Glimpse, Thorne Brandt’s ‘AGOD,’ June 4–Aug. 3 

Thorne Brandt’s video piece, AGOD, is a little bit like tossing pop culture animations in a blender, amping up their color saturation, and giving them a good whirl. A Jeff Koons-like bunny, Indian temple dancers, maniacal gingerbread men with chainsaws, a symphony violinist, and a skeleton chowing down on a Big Mac are just a few of the images that parade across the dense layers of characters and images drawn up from the contemporary Internet soup. AGOD stands for “animated GIF of the day,” and for three years Brandt collected these, synthesizing the bits into a final piece that may both entertain and give pause when thinking about the value of visual culture. 

Scrutiny After the Glimpse encourages viewing that goes beyond the few seconds that most visitors give pieces in museums. The exhibition unfolds a little like a puzzle, as it is up to the viewer to make sense of what is displayed and why various works are shown together. The dearth of wall text leaves these questions open, and while it may seem a little discomforting at first, the novel approach of combining the work of artists who occupy very different styles and time periods in the history of art becomes fascinating. Some of the best groupings combine pieces made hundreds of years apart. As unorthodox as this may seem, it is a little like the way we view images online. We have become accustomed to being presented with ostensibly random pictures and bits of data simultaneously. This sort of visual layering is what the Haggerty does in this exhibition in analog form, while Brandt’s work is strictly digital. 

At Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art, 13th Street and Claybourn in Miwaukee. Phone 414-288-1669 or visit www.marquette.edu/haggerty.