This summer, enjoy Milwaukee’s flourishing art scene

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Leo Saul Berk, “Clinkers,” 2011, courtesy of the artist. — PHOTO: Haggerty Museum of Art

During the summer, Milwaukee spills out onto the streets, filling sidewalks with bistro tables and hanging flowerpots, bringing biergartens and outdoor concerts to parks. But there’s plenty of activity in the area’s art scene to pull you indoors for a break from the sun’s rays. 

One of the premier events is the Wassily Kandinsky retrospective at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the first major solo show of the artist’s work in Milwaukee since 1945. A joint effort between MAM and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, one of the world’s foremost contemporary art venues, the Kandinsky exhibition is, to understate it, a major deal. And although it’s been a little over a century since Kandinsky turned to pure abstraction in his art, his paintings and prints remain vibrant and exciting, as does Kandinsky’s reputation as an artist and writer. 

The Kandinsky and MAM’s upcoming “Postcards from America” exhibitions bring fresh, new work to the city, but this summer includes a swan song of sorts for MAM. The permanent collection will close in September. Everything will come off the walls and the galleries will be shuttered due to a compete overhaul of the Kahler and Saarinen buildings. The slate of exhibitions for late 2014 through next summer will be held only in the Calatrava addition, which includes the Baker/Rowland main exhibition space, plus the adjunct galleries on each side.

The loan exhibitions that begin arriving this fall are quite exciting, including Italian Renaissance painting. Also on the calendar is the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibition, the first fashion exhibition at MAM, and paintings by masters of modern art. The final closings of the permanent collection aren’t until September, but it’s best to visit as soon as possible because the gallery deinstallations will begin over the summer.

Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art is showing Scrutiny After the Glimpse, an exhibition drawn from its own permanent collection. This might not seem like a big deal — if you’ve been to the Haggerty over time you have seen quite a few of these pieces. But don’t let that stop you. This exhibition plays on fascinating juxtapositions of unlikely artists, styles, and time periods. The underlying theme is the human figure, but that fades a bit into the background as stylistic interest takes over. How often do you see Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus in the same room? The Haggerty reshuffles the deck, and everything is up for grabs in this beautifully installed exhibition. 

One of the highlights of Scrutiny After the Glimpse is a monumental, triple-eyed face painted by Keith Haring on a bright orange board. It is especially significant because it was part of a construction fence Haring painted as a commission for the Haggerty in 1983, when the museum was being built.

You can find fascinating archival footage and interviews with Haring during this project on view at RedLine Milwaukee,  1422 N. Fourth St. The gallery is also presenting  Haring’s Apocalypse Series, which pairs his work with poetic text written by William Burroughs. In this project from 1988, Burroughs evokes the god Pan and transformation via destruction. Haring’s images of writhing bodies, hands and arms, and strange, lurking silhouettes speak of apocalypse that is both universal and personal. He was an outspoken artist and activist in the New York art scene, witnessing the devastating effects of AIDS in the community. Until his death in 1990 from AIDS, Haring was a beacon, a voice calling for action and awareness. This exhibition shows Haring’s power of communication in a manner that’s a bit more ominous than the bright, exuberant images he’s often associated with. RedLine’s ability to host this exhibition is made possible with support from the Joseph R. Pabst Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and co-sponsorship of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. 

RedLine Milwaukee is a relatively hidden treasure, but an important venue for support of contemporary art through workshops and classes. Walker’s Point Center for the Arts shares this commitment to community involvement and education. This summer, WPCA will host an exhibition focusing on Milwaukee’s art and music scene. Twenty artists and collectors will bring together about 100 pieces of work related to music and musicians, including concert posters, album art and such unusual items as painted music scores. 

WPCA is not the only venue that combines music and art this summer. The Jewish Museum Milwaukee continues its show of Jews Who Rock: 60 Years of Jews in Rock-n-Roll. The exhibition highlights the contributions to popular music of performers with Jewish backgrounds, including Bob Dylan, The Ramones and Pink. They form an impressive set list indeed.

The Jewish Museum Milwaukee is affiliated with other museums on the East Side, notably the Charles Allis Art Museum and the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, both of which are stately homes transformed into cultural institutions. Forward 2014: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now is nearing the end of its run at the Charles Allis, and the next exhibition to open is “Unis: The Origin of the Unicorn,” presented by Timothy Westbrook Studio. In mid-July, Villa Terrace will host an important show of Japanese art, Noh Theatre in the Woodblock Prints of Tsukioka Kögyo.

Also located on the East Side, INOVA is the architectural opposite of the two previous venues. Housed in the Kenilworth building, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., its concrete floors and fairly raw industrial space form the perfect blank slate for showing national and local contemporary artists.

Leo Saul Berk’s exhibition there — The Uncertainty of Enclosure — asks questions about the nature of architecture as an agent of change. During his childhood and early teen years, Berk lived in the futuristic Ford House in Aurora, Illinois. Designed by Bruce Goff, it is a building known to architectural buffs internationally. Berk’s sculptural installations and video work are inspired by the unusual space where he spent his formative years. He contends that he wouldn’t be who he is without the magical inspiration of such an unusual place to grow up. 

Milwaukee is home to a plethora of venues, galleries and art centers, both large and small. To borrow a theme from Berk’s exhibition, the place where you live can have a transformative effect on your outlook.

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