Tag Archives: dean jensen gallery

INOVA offers an austere exhibit for contemplation

The gallery at INOVA is a cavernous industrial space, with floors of polished concrete and tall, movable white walls. The contemporary art gallery and research center of UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, it is one of the places in the city that consistently focuses on contemporary, and often challenging, art exhibitions. Currently on view, Marble, Mirrors, Pictures, and Darkness ranks as one of the most austere in recent memory.

The eight pieces by artists Anya Kivarkis and Mike Bray quietly punctuate the space. Bray often works in video, photography, and sculptural pieces that draw references from rock music and film culture. Kivarkis has been described as a conceptual jeweler, and her skill in metalsmithing is revealed by elegant, diminutive works that recall opulent forms of Baroque sculpture or Victorian jewelry.

A physically elaborate piece titled “Intervals of Time” opens the exhibition. It consists of a set of two-way mirrors mounted on light stands. A silver necklace piece by Kivarkis is attached and its pearlescent luminescence repeats over and over, as does the reflection of the viewer. We are refracted through this constructed space, a combination of sleek industrial tech accented by feminine opulence. It is an image we can try on and consider from a position within or without the fabrication of glamour.

It is implied that these are collaborative pieces by the artists; Bray and Kivarkis are a couple and both teach at the University of Oregon. In this spirit, the video pair of Angles of Reflection and Angles of Refraction respectively shows a large gem, taken in hand and turned, and a Kivarkis piece pirouetting on a dark background and shimmering in light. Bray’s aesthetic is apparent, as he often draws on elements of the filmmaker’s arsenal through lighting and visual effects to create subtle dramas of attentiveness. Considering image and physical material, one might suppose that one is the source for the other.

Kivarkis frequently uses source material such as paparazzi, press, and fashion photographs to interpret jewelry pieces worn by celebrities or fashion models. It is a nod to the vanity fair that luxury and fame represent in contrast to the instability of the world’s social and economic fabric.

“Movement Image” appears to be one of these works, as it is a fragmentary necklace with round and teardrop pearl forms, fashioned of silver, pinned to a gallery wall like an entomological specimen. It is not a large piece, and whispers like a ghost against a large white wall. What was the source? Who was the wearer and on what occasion?

What underlies the work of Kivarkis and Bray to varying degrees is a commentary on the process of viewing, and how what we see is mediated through cultural lenses such as the recorded pictures of film and video, or displays of status and desire as recounted by the red carpets of Hollywood.

Paramount closes the exhibition "Marble, Mirrors, Pictures, and Darkness." Photograph by Kat Minerath.
“Paramount” closes the exhibition “Marble, Mirrors, Pictures, and Darkness.” Photograph by Kat Minerath.

In this exhibition, the vanity of fame and fashion is most clearly articulated in “Paramount.” A cadre of lights and reflectors surround a diminutive necklace on a black metal stand. All eyes are on the star, but she is not there, only a note of personal decoration.

If there is an additional component to this exhibition, it is absence. This can be taken as the extent to which the artists leave out details that may tie back into their source material and metaphors.

This can be seen as problematic, as the single paragraph of text for the exhibition purports that the artists “examine representations of jewelry, luxury, and glamour as depicted in cinema. In an effort to understand and deconstruct the immersive nature of the medium, they are investigating, sourcing, and attempting to reconstruct objects and settings from scenes within the narrative.” From this perspective, the dismantling of the source obliviates some potent connections and the narrative, at a point, disintegrates.

This is an intriguing and deep well of ideas to explore, but despite the marble, mirrors, and pictures in the exhibition, sans context, the viewer might be left feeling a little in the dark.

The concepts of this exhibition may be further illuminated by their juxtaposition with a forthcoming show. On Function, opening April 22, will address utilitarian objects whose purposes are subverted by seven contemporary artists. Both exhibitions will run through June 25, coinciding with the Zoom Conference 2016 (May 25–29) a symposium organized by the Jewelry and Metalsmithing program and the Digital Craft Research Lab at UWM.

Marble, Mirrors, Pictures and Darkness continues through June 25 at INOVA, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. Admission is free. Visit uwm.edu/inova for more details.

Getting into outsider art at Dean Jensen Gallery

In the window of Dean Jensen Gallery is a small wooden sculpture that attracts a lot of surprised attention from passersby. A woman is giving birth — not in a metaphorical sense, and there are no curtains involved. A small head appears between her legs, and the attendant nurse and presumable physician, as well as the new mother, are uniformly stoic, as though they are listening to an academic lecture rather than experiencing the trauma and new spark of life.

This work is an example of what is alternately known as “self-taught,” “visionary,” “folk” or “outsider” art, loosely defined as work by artists who train and travel outside of the mainstream structures of art school and the established gallery system. They make art without regard for conventional trends, accepted styles and notions of contemporary art theory. The result usually reflects an authentic sincerity, and its subjects are often blunt depictions of daily living that might pass privately unnoticed.

Who exactly qualifies as an outsider artist? That’s an ongoing debate in the art world. But Dean Jensen’s latest survey of outsider and folk art, Naives, Seers, Lone Wolves and World Savers XXIV, doesn’t seek to parse these loaded descriptors, instead simply giving audiences a sense of these works.

Jensen started collecting this type of work when he was a journalist. He studied Renaissance art, but not having, as he puts it, “the pocketbook” for works by Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, folk and outsider art appealed to him.

Today, self-taught art has made its way into galleries in its own right, represented in the places where contemporary artists well versed in the threads of aesthetic and personal issues tread. The thing is that these artists and works originate from places far afield from the mainstream art world — indeed, in some cases, from an actual field. The intentions of the artists tend to be very personal, which is the prime informer for work that reflects everyday life and experiences.

This is perhaps one of the underlying impetuses beneath the religious imagery of artists such as Reverend Howard Finster and paintings such as “Angel of the Rocks.” Finster’s work is often of conditions advising attentiveness to salvation and second comings. Jensen recounts meeting Finster, hanging out in his studio as he worked through the night. With a chuckle, Jensen speculates that sleep deprivation as well as devotion may influence these visions.

Other works in the exhibition are more akin to representations of everyday life, such as the “Crown of Thorns Church,” built out of tiny, delicate bits of wood and assembled so that pews and preacher are all visible inside its intricate, latticework skin.

The proliferation of genre scenes is not so complete, however, as many self-taught artists intuitively veer towards abstraction. Mose Tolliver is a southern American artist who depicts figures in forms that bend and angle, sometimes taking faces that resemble African masks. A note of autobiography may be detected in paintings like “Dry Bones Charley,” where a figure supported by crutches stands head-on to the viewer, feet turned in and fingers extended. Tolliver’s legs and feet were crushed in a factory accident when a slab of heavy marble fell on him, and these representations, in simplified form with their stylized and restrained figures, regard the viewer with strength despite limitations.

Other artists, like Mary T. Smith, gravitate toward more gestural paintings, as though unknowingly embracing the modes of neo-expressionism practiced in the 1980s. “Untitled (Two Figures)”, painted on corrugated steel, features a fierce man with bared teeth and a woman demurely standing in the background. The two are bold and unconstrained, with confident strokes of white that enliven the dark ambiguities suggested by their expression and appearance.

What this exhibition provides is a glimpse into recent forays outside of the art world. The study of art made outside of the mainstream environments of art academies and sanctioned exhibition spaces has taken place since the early 20th century.

In this abbreviated survey, it becomes clear that these works are indeed somehow different from their mainstream contemporaries. Yet, their visual power is a knock at the door of the conventional art world that has been thankfully answered.

On exhibit

Naives, Seers, Lone Wolves and World Savers XXIV: A Survey of Important Outsider and Folk Art continues through Dec. 4 at Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Visit deanjensengallery.com for more details.

NEW AND ON VIEW

I made this for you: Small gestures in clay

Portrait Society Gallery

207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor

Opening reception Friday, Nov. 20, 6-9 p.m.

Dishes are intimate things that are used everyday. In this exhibition, Portrait Society shows its first exhibition dedicated to ceramics, with pieces that are created to be functional as well as commemorative objects. Artists include Adolph Rosenblatt, Colin Matthes, Harvey Opgenorth, Rudy Rotter, Gary John Gresl, and many more.

Exhibition of Paintings and Bronze Casts by Michelle Grabner of Wisconsin

Green Gallery

1500 N. Farwell Ave.

Exhibition runs through Jan. 2, 2016

Michelle Grabner is perhaps best known for paintings and silverpoint works of abstract patterns, but Green Gallery is pulling her work in three dimensions into plain sight. In the traditional medium of bronze, her sculptures will be shown, as well as two-dimensional works in this upcoming exhibition. 

Gallery Night & Day

It’s time for the last Gallery Night of 2014, and Milwaukee’s artists are coming out en masse to celebrate before winter’s chill sets in. Among this season’s more significant participants: Independent Phrases and Subordinate Clauses, a Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St., show that features three photographers seeking moments of poetry; a series of large-scale prints depicting a living coral reef, by Nathaniel Stern at Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St.; Lit Up, an installation at The Pitch Project, 706 S. Fifth St., that examines camp culture and “sincere performative drinking” through photos, video and sculpture; and MOWA at St. John’s on the Lake’s (1800 N. Prospect Ave.) presents Cuentame un Cuento, a series of storytelling paintings by Francisco X. Mora that are playfully whimsical with a hint of melancholy.

For a full list of participating galleries, visit historicthirdward.org. All Gallery Night and Day events are free to enter.

Oct. 17–18

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Artwatch

The current show at Dean Jensen Gallery opens with two women lounging. One is a drawing of a young woman with her legs thrown over the arm of a rococo loveseat. She wears a bright red unitard and her endless, braided hair wraps around her like a frame, defining her space. The other is a photograph of a mature woman lying on her side on a bed. She wears a ballet costume and a far-off expression that looks to the long past. This combination of youthful sexuality and nostalgic experience set up the joint exhibition of artists Claire Stigliani and Susan Worsham, on view through Sept. 4.

Worsham’s portion of the gallery is titled “Southern Gothic,” and the roots of these images grew from the literary soil of her family’s past. Her large photographs construct and reconstruct the landscape of living, exuding nostalgia, decay and even irony. Her picture “Snakes On My Childhood Bed” stems from a visit to the house where she grew up. The current homeowner keeps reptiles and stows the critters in her former room when their cages are being cleaned. Worsham notes this strange twist of fate: “My mother always promised that there were no snakes in my room, and now that she is gone, there are.”

Fantasy looms large in Claire Stigliani’s drawings, shown under the moniker “Through A Looking-Glass.” Her pictures toss out references to fairy tales, history and the artist’s biography. The young women in her compositions mix innocence, elegance and sexuality as though exploring the dark forest of the adult world. Suggestions of Little Red Riding Hood and accompanying wolves are especially prevalent and take on multiple symbolic overtones. Stigliani’s black ink outlines signal a direct assuredness, combined with a taste for opulence through the use of flocking, fleece and the visual decadence of gold leaf.