Tag Archives: exhibit

Surfrider-Milwaukee celebrates ‘Great Lake’ with art show

As part of its 30 days to Celebrate Our Great Lake event, Surfrider-Milwaukee presents Contained in Water, a mixed media art exhibition at Colectivo Coffee in Shorewood.

An opening reception is 8-11 p.m. July 22 at Colectivo Coffee, 4500 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood.  The show runs through Aug. 28.

Curated by surfer and psychologist Kenneth Cole and environmental artist Melanie Ariens, Contained in Water reflects a love of the Great Lakes.

The show features tiki artwork by Dave Hansen, prints by Tamir Klein, sculptural video projection by Adam Kuhnen, paintings by Jarka Sobiskova, canvas prints by Bodin Sterba and photographs by Ryan Bigelow and Terri Hart-Ellis, as well as work from the show’s curators.

In addition to Contained in Water, Surfrider-Milwaukee’s 30 days to Celebrate Our Great Lake includes:

• A beach cleanup at Bradford Beach, July 30, 9-11 a.m.

• Surfcraft & Draft at Draft and Vessel in Shorewood, Aug. 6, 6-10 p.m.

• Surf @Water, Atwater Beach, Shorewood, August 20, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.. This event celebrates surf, sun and fun with a sunrise paddle, beach yoga, SUP and surf lessons and a surf film festival under the stars.

Surfrider-Milwaukee‘s mission is “to celebrate, protect, and educate the community about our Great Lake, Lake Michigan.” Local surfers Eric Gietzen, Ken Cole, Bodin Sterba, Hans Good and Ryan Bigelow lead the group.

Since 1984, Surfrider Foundation International has been working to protect waters across the globe.

Terri Hart Ellis, Feather, photograph. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Terri Hart-Ellis, Feather, photograph. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Jaroslawa Sobiskova, Luchador #1, mixed-media. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Jarka Sobiskova, Luchador #1, mixed-media. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Bodin Sterba, Surf@Water, digital print. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Bodin Sterba, Surf@Water, digital print. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee

Art from the heart of the Driftless at Watrous

The Driftless region in southwestern Wisconsin, with its towering bluffs and deeply carved river valleys, exerts an influence over its residents. The region comprises more than 16,000 square miles of land that avoided being scoured flat by the last glacier to pass through the state half a million years ago.

Now, The James Watrous Gallery is showcasing the work of two of the region’s resident artists in exhibits that may help outsiders better understand the Driftless influence.

The gallery, part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters and located in Madison’s Overture Center, is offering side-by-side exhibitions by John Craig and Valerie Mangion that open July 15.

Craig’s “Equivalences” and “Lost Treasures from the Heart of the Driftless” and Mangion’s “Night Vision” take very different approaches to exploring and interpreting the region’s influences.

John Craig

Pittsburgh native Craig spent 40 years as an illustrator and graphic designer and he’s perhaps best known for his collage illustrations for the 1995 Smashing Pumpkins album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Since retiring, his work has focused less on pleasing clients and more on satisfying his inner muse.

Craig’s experiences in collage art and the trove of paper images he’s collected led to the creation of “Equivalences,” an exhibit that focuses on vintage postcards he paired to create unique narratives.

“In one way, I see these prints as a study in perception, using pairs of found images that relate to each other, either in some graphic form, such as reversed perspectives and positive-versus-negative influences, or just as a kind of visual illusion/allusion, or a deja-vu experience,” Craig says. “I have many more cards awaiting their visual companions.”

Craig’s postcard theme continues in “Lost Treasures from the Heart of the Driftless.” The artist employed imagery from historical photographic cards that he began collecting when he moved to the region in 1973. He created prints from the postcard photos and added text underneath each to further explain and enhance the experience the viewer is supposed to gain from the print.

“Many local artists in the Driftless area capture their surroundings in paintings and photographs or work with materials found in their natural environment,” Craig says. “This gave me the urge to participate too, so I decided to relate some of the things that have been lost in the heart of the Driftless — and I tried a little writing for the first time, too.”

Craig remains modest about the text that accompanies his images, seeming more comfortable to let the prints speak for themselves.

“I’m not a writer, so I can’t call them poems,” he says. “Nor do I know what to call the captions.”

Valerie Mangion

Mangion is a magic realist originally from Illinois who specializes in animal imagery.

Her “Night Vision” is a series of paintings based on animal pictures captured on small trail cameras placed on a family farm — an approach designed to capture animals’ images without the influence of human exposure.

“The animals are not frozen in fear, as they often are when photographed by people during the day,” Mangion says. “They are relaxed, they have interesting postures and they are able to be photographed just being themselves.”

Infrared technology helps to create the reflective “night eyes” we often see when spotting animals at night. The effect is captured in each of Mangion’s “Night Vision” canvases.

The subject matter speaks to her abiding love for animals.

“The aesthetic value of any painting can be separated from the subject matter, and depends on the artist’s mastery of all the so-called ‘plastic elements’ of art, such as the design, color, texture, pattern, value, movement and other aspects,” Mangion says. “Animals themselves are inherently interesting, and my ‘Night Vision’ series is likely to appeal to a very diverse audience because of its subject matter.”

As to the appeal of the Driftless region, Mangion cites the landscape, the abundant wildlife and the quality of life.

Changes occur, she says, but the region still brings her joy.

Craig agrees. “We have lived in the heart of the Driftless for 40-plus years, after buying a piece of land the same day we looked at it. It was the best thing we ever did,” he says. “Other than that, describing what is special (about the region) would take an essay.”

On exhibit

Work by James Craig and Valerie Mangion is on display July 15–Aug. 28 at The James Watrous Gallery in Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison. The artists will discuss their works at 2 p.m. July 23 at the gallery. The reception and the exhibit are free and open to the public.

PHOTO BELOW: John Craig From the “Lost Treasures of the Driftless” series.
From the “Lost Treasures of the Driftless” series.

Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit opens at London’s Tate Modern

Georgia O’Keeffe has come to London, like a bracing American desert wind rippling the River Thames.

An exhibition of more than 100 works opening this week at Tate Modern is the American art icon’s biggest-ever show outside the United States.

Curators hope it will surprise visitors who know the artist mainly for her giant flowers and sun-bleached animal skulls. The exhibition also offers O’Keeffe the pioneering abstract artist, O’Keeffe the surrealist and O’Keeffe who painted New York as well as New Mexico.

Cody Hartley, director of curatorial affairs at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, says the Tate show is “the most important O’Keeffe exhibition in a generation.”

“The exhibition has gathered the most important works from O’Keeffe’s career and covers the whole breadth of her creativity,” he said at a preview on Monday.

O’Keeffe, who had her first major exhibition a century ago and died in 1986 aged 98, had an exceptionally long career. It took her from her native Wisconsin to bohemian New York and to desert New Mexico, whose fiery landscapes inspired her later work.

But she is best known – through images that adorn countless posters and postcards – for giant flowers and sinuous, curved abstracts that were often given an erotic interpretation by both male critics and feminist writers.

O’Keeffe was unimpressed by the analysis.

“When people read erotic symbols in my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs,” she said.

Flowers are certainly prominent in Tate’s exhibition, which has borrowed extensively from the O’Keeffe Museum and other North American collections. (It’s a sign of a trans-Atlantic divide that no public British museum or gallery owns an O’Keeffe).

The exhibition includes the large floral study “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” which sold at auction in 2014 for $44 million. That’s a record for a female artist, though the label is not one O’Keeffe liked.

“She didn’t like boxes,” Hartley said. “She didn’t like it when the men tried to put her in a box. She didn’t like it when the women tried to put her in a box.”

The thread that runs through her career – from the stark abstract charcoals at the start of the exhibition to the aerial images of clouds from above at the end – is a fascination with the American landscape in all its variety.

As a young teacher in Texas, O’Keeffe depicted the state’s “wide empty country”; in New York she painted angular skyscrapers and the busy East River. For years she spent summers on Lake George in upstate New York, painting in a blue-green palette in contrast to the burnt tones of New Mexico.

She visited the southwestern state in 1929, and it was love at first sight.

“When she reached New Mexico, she felt at home,” exhibition curator Tanya Barson said. “She said, ‘Once I got there, that was mine.’ She felt this sense of belonging in New Mexico that she hadn’t felt in the east.”

In New Mexico, images of flowers were replaced by animal skulls, which O’Keeffe rendered beautiful rather than macabre. One of the exhibition’s star works is “From the Faraway, Nearby,” a lavishly antlered skull in a mountainous landscape tinged blue, pink and orange.

It’s an exotic image for Europeans, but Hartley said that despite her “thoroughly American” subject matter, O’Keeffe is an artist of the world.

“Abstraction and a sort of distillation of the essence of any given place or any given subject are at the heart of what she does,” he said. “She gives us a sense of seeing our world in a new way.”

On the Web

The exhibition runs to Oct. 30. It moves to Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna from Dec. 7 to March 26, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto from April to June 2017.

Art Institute of Chicago to host ‘Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles is arguably the most famous chambre in the history of art. It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889. An exhibition opening in February at the Art Institute of Chicago brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America, offering a pioneering and in-depth study of their making and meaning to Van Gogh in his relentless quest for home.

Van Gogh painted his first Bedroom just after moving into his beloved “Yellow House” in Arles, France, in 1888. He was so enamored with the work, now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, that after water damage threatened its stability, he became determined to preserve the composition by painting a second version while at an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889.

Identical in scale and yet distinct from the original, that second work is now one of the icons of the Art Institute’s permanent collection. Van Gogh created a smaller third version, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as a gift for his mother and sister a few weeks after making the second. While the three paintings at first appear almost identical, when examined closely, each reveals distinct and unique details.

The Chicago exhibition is the first to truly delve into the history of the three paintings.

Beginning with Van Gogh’s early canvases of cottages and birds’ nests, the show explores the artist’s use of the motif of home—as haven, creative chamber, and physical reality — and follows the evolution of this theme throughout his career, beyond the Yellow House to the asylum at Saint-Rémy. The presentation concludes with Van Gogh’s final residence in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he once again painted a series of cottages — returning to the idea that first evoked in him a sense of home.

“Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” features approximately 36 works by the artist, including paintings, drawings and illustrated letters, as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in Van Gogh’s possession.

Enhancing the exploration of the artist’s works and his longing for a place of his own are several engaging interactive presentations.

A digitally enhanced reconstruction of his bedroom allows viewers the chance to experience his state of mind and the physical reality of the space that so inspired him, while other enriching digital components bring to light significant recent scientific research on the three Bedroom paintings.

The exhibit…

Feb. 14–May 10 in Regenstein Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago. On the Web…


Refreshing history | MPM’s new Streets of Old Milwaukee

Inside the Milwaukee Public Museum is a streetcar that subtly rumbles as it travels — not along physical distance, but metaphorically through time. It is the new entrance of the reopened Streets of Old Milwaukee, and exemplifies the alignment of innovative technology with a proud sense of history in this storied exhibition.

In January 1965, the Milwaukee Public Museum first welcomed visitors into the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit, a life-sized diorama of a city street at about the turn of the 20th century. The use of cobblestones, building facades and houses, plus characters and lighting, brought visitors back in time.

The exhibit remained popular for five decades, an especially impressive feat considering the concurrent transformations in technology and popular culture. For its 50th anniversary, MPM has rewarded the exhibit with a bit of freshening up, drawing the Old Streets into the 21st century.


Familiar Names and Places 

The new streetcar entrance enables visitors to travel back to the early 1900s.

Many of the buildings are familiar to Milwaukeeans, but they are not necessarily in the right geographic location. Julian Jackson, MPM’s director of exhibits and design, says their goal with the exhibit is to convey a representative sample of structures from that era.

Strolling the streets, Milwaukeeans may recognize numerous names and businesses still around in the present day. The Pfister Hotel is emulated by opulent front doors decorated with frosted glass, through which people mingling in the lobby can be seen. Sendik’s Food Market is represented in a nascent stage by a fruit cart, alluding to the building of businesses from humble beginnings. The installation also highlights Milwaukee’s industrial character with the inclusion of businesses like the Falk Corporation.


A Sensory Experience 

Jackson is one of the key persons behind this project, along with Al Muchka, curator of history collections. For Jackson, technology and storytelling are integral parts of his work. As an exhibition designer, he knows that telling a story does not just mean placards of words, but using elements that appeal to all of the senses.

That goal manifests itself in various ways in the revised exhibit. An immersive new soundscape blends in the clop of horses’ hooves, the call of a newspaper editor, the patter of rain and singing birds, among other sounds. The bakery shop features smells of yeast and bread. Shadows of moving figures now appear in the translucent windows of upstairs rooms.

A free smartphone app expands the scope of the exhibit by including virtual guides. The app offers a choice of three characters: a young Irish-American woman striving to make a career in vaudeville, an African-American man developing a trade as an electrician with a love for competitive cakewalk dancing and a female Milwaukee socialite of German descent. They “accompany” the visitor through the exhibition, each sharing stories from their own perspectives along the way.

The lives and interests of these audio guides along with other elements in the exhibition installation touch upon the common theme of entertainment in the early 20th century, emphasized throughout the renovated Streets. Look for details such as newspaper headlines or even the short films playing in the movie house where Charlie Chaplin and the exploits of magician Harry Houdini are featured.

Jackson says incorporating a thematic structure will help the Streets of Old Milwaukee stay current and continually refreshed. Themes will change every six months or so, with upcoming topics including public health, public safety and immigration.

Physical Interaction and Discovery

Apropos for the time period, the new installation has many interactive opportunities not connected to digital technology. An old-fashioned high wheel bicycle sits parked by a step, available for visitors to hop on to check out the view. Pick up the telephone in the general store and hear the old-fashioned party line, where a receiver hooks into any conversation already taking place. A manual water pump appeals to youths and old-timers alike as they take pleasure in the novelty of spilling water into a trough. Urban wildlife also is part of the scene — look for the hidden rat, cat and even a mechanical butterfly captured in a glass jar.

These elements come together in a way that successfully bridges the traditions of the Streets and the possibilities of new exhibition technology. It was one of the most challenging aspects of the project, described by Jackson as, “finding the right balance between new ideas and new techniques and preserving what people loved about the exhibit.” He added, “Most (exhibits) don’t last 50 years; it’s a real testament to the original designers.”

But what is Jackson’s favorite part? He cites the street car as his favorite major change, but on a subtler note, it is the lighting effects that create silhouettes of figures in windows. Most significant, he says, “My very favorite thing is when people discover things.” While the Streets of Old Milwaukee preserves the past in numerous ways, its current incarnation offers plenty of new surprises.


On exhibit

The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibition is ongoing as part of the permanent collection at the Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St.

MMoCA depicts ‘Curious Worlds’ of Ellen Lanyon

The realm of surrealism isn’t owned by men like Salvador Dalí, René Magritte or Marcel Duchamp. Consider Méret Oppenheim, famous for her 1936 work “Breakfast in Fur” in which she covered a cup, saucer and spoon with fur from Chinese gazelle. Or Frida Kahlo, the 20th-century Mexican painter who always denied any surrealist connection but nonetheless draws on some of the same ideas in her work.

More timely to consider is the work of Ellen Lanyon, a luminary of the Chicago School who helped introduce the phrase “magic realism” into the public realm. Starting this month, art fans will have a chance to examine 14 of Lanyon’s paintings and prints in Curious Worlds: The Art of Ellen Lanyon, on display through April 17 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Lanyon’s highly expressive style helped push the dreamscapes of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and even Pablo Picasso into kinder, gentler and, ultimately, more accessible imagery, helping to create a new art genre in the process. 

The Chicago School, of which Lanyon was part, was known for its figurative and accessible style, and its artists occasionally threaded their imagery with fantastic themes, according to Richard Axsom, senior curator for MMOCA. Lanyon picked up that thread in 1969, when her former pop-art approach to people, landscapes and sports figures began taking on a more imaginative bent. Curious Worlds focuses on work done between the years 1969 and 1984, which the artist called her “magic” period.

“Ellen Lanyon is the most highly acknowledged female magic realist and that’s a title I think she deserves,” Axsom says. “I think viewers will really enjoy the show.”

The differences between Lanyon’s form of magic realism and more classic surrealism are subtle as well as substantive. Surrealism took shape between WWI and WWII and was primarily a European art movement dominated by men, which Axsom says accounts for the lack of more familiar female surrealists.

“Surrealism’s primary aim was to make visible the unconscious through what Dalí called ‘picture postcards of dreams,’ with imagery that tended toward edgy, ominous hallucination,” says Axsom, who taught art history at the University of Michigan for 30 years. 

“Lanyon’s magic realism tends to be much softer, lyrical and subtle with a feminine sensibility to the work,” Axsom adds. “It’s something that’s generous, not cynical, with an apparent concern for the environment and a strong feminist streak that is both maternal and nurturing.”

Lanyon’s style shift in 1969 led her to draw on curios and collectables from her family’s attic that had special meaning for her. She began combining these items with natural images of plants and animals in unusual ways in her paintings, the curator explains.

“Birds, amphibians, lizards, bunnies and mice were mixed up in unexpected combinations,” Axsom explains. “Surrealists would say that the approach puts your mind in play through a wide range of free associations.”

Lanyon’s interest in the natural aspects of magic realism were further heightened in 1976 when the U.S. Department of the Interior commissioned the artist to do a painting called “America ‘76” that would tour the country in support of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Lanyon was sent to the Florida Everglades to capture the environment and wildlife. Her large two-panel canvas didn’t quite deliver the message the government was seeking.

“Her feeling was that what she was seeing in Florida was endangered,” Axsom says. “The Everglades were already threatened and you can see that captured in her work.”

Lanyon’s work following the Florida trip began to dwell even more heavily on the fragility of nature and the interconnectedness of living things, the curator says. Two of the show’s black-and-white lithographs, “Black Egret” and “Eagle Beak,” both created in 1985, show the majestic birds in habitats almost too pristine to be real. The swirl of activity pictured in the works reflects the artist’s love of nature and memorializes scenes she may already be too late to save.

The show also features a large, four-panel work called “Chromos: Winter I, Autumn II, Spring III, Summer IV” (1982–83) that Axsom says serves as an allegorical approach to life’s cyclical nature and embodies many of the tromp-l’oeil techniques associated with magic realism. Lanyon departs from the familiar approach, shuffling the seasons out of order in her presentation to accentuate commonality of colors, and animals and birds play major roles in all four panels. 

These and other works in the exhibit combine to give viewers greater insight into Lanyon’s style, the Chicago School and its contributions to 20th-century art, Axsom says.

“One Chicago critic in the 1960s referred to Lanyon’s work as that of ‘a Cornbelt surrealist,’” Axsom says. “I think that’s called damning with faint praise, but I love that description.”


Curious Worlds: The Art of Ellen Lanyon is on display through April 17 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For hours and information, visit mmoca.org.

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.


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. 

‘New Hanji’ joins modern craft with Korean tradition

“Paper changed everything,” notes Chelsea Holton, co-curator of New Hanji: A Korean Paper Tradition Re-Imagined,the latest exhibition at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. The invention of paper around the year 100 A.D. in China opened a new world for documentation, as well as for art. 

Hanji art was originally developed in Korea, before spreading to other civilizations. The handmade hanji paper is produced from the inner bark of mulberry trees and is renowned for its durability. Hanji can be treated like regular drawing paper, but its versatility also allows for it to be used in the production of textiles and ornaments, molded as decorations for vessels or carved and attached to furniture.

Taking this ancient material as a starting point, five artists from Milwaukee and four from Korea incorporate it into contemporary art. Holton says hanji is enjoying something of a renaissance as it is adopted in the West and revived in its native land. 

One artist, co-curator Rina Yoon, is the origin point for New Hanji, Holton says. “(Yoon) had taken a couple of trips back to Korea in the last five years or so, and she took a group of students to Korea in 2012 along with all of the Milwaukee artists in the exhibition. They studied the techniques and all started to incorporate hanji. Rina organized an exhibition in 2013 that went really well — and this seemed like a valuable thing for Milwaukee.”

That prior showing of these pieces occurred in South Korea at the Jeonju Hanji Festival. At Villa Terrace, a historic venue with a similar attentiveness to both present and past, the show represents a melding of traditional and current artistic trends. 

The Milwaukee-based artists, to varying degrees, have used paper mediums previously in their work. They found that having learned of this material, they were each using it in new work. Viewers also will see that there are identifiable approaches that connect their past endeavors with this medium. 

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger has for a long time used a combination of drawing and video in her installations. In “Trace,” footage of Milwaukee neighborhoods passes by in ephemeral light behind small, sculptural buildings made of hanji. It is meant to evoke thoughts of the transitory nature of spaces. An adage about hanji proclaims that it lasts for 1,000 years. Could the same ever be said about today’s built environments? The sense of the present is simultaneously fragile and nostalgic.

Paper’s three-dimensional possibilities are explored by Christiane Grauert’s Block series. Tall and angular, her skyscraper-like forms are a translation of Hong Kong architecture. The carved spaces of the windows are done with a process learned from Haemija Kim, a master of the technique whose work is featured in the exhibition. 

Master Kim, as she is known, was drawn into the traditions of hanji through an interest in handmade paper objects such as sewing boxes. For her study of these and her endeavors in their recreation, she was given the Presidential Award of Excellence by the South Korean government in 2009. 

In the world of fashion, Korean artist Yang Bae Jeon has become interested in the study of traditional garments associated with funerary practices. In the interests of ecological and other concerns, Jeon’s work in the making of hanji burial shrouds has been influential and an example is on display here. 

Yoon also synthesizes the body and methods of artistic construction in her work. She uses jiseung, a process of paper coiling in large wall pieces that produce cloud-like forms in brilliant white. They originate as pieces molded from her body, transformed into dramatic billows of round and sharply pierced shapes in “Earth Between In and Yeon.”

One Buddhist concept Yoon frequently comes back to in her work is inyeon. She says, “The body returns to the earth and emerges from it. The earth and the body are separate and one at the same time.” 

In her capacity as an art historian and writer, Holton traveled to Korea with the artists as well as students in order to produce scholarly research for this project. One of the strengths of this exhibition is that curatorial approach, which introduces visitors to the context and process of this traditional craft. It wraps multifaceted artistic endeavors together, connected through knowledge of the past and the fibers of hanji which reach far beyond their point of cultural origin.

On Display

New Hanji: A Korean Paper Tradition Re-Imagined continues through Jan. 3 at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave. Visit
villaterracemuseum.org for more details.

‘Fear 12’ 

Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh St. 

Through Nov. 2 

Ever since its opening, Art Bar has held this yearly exhibition where artists present visual images of all things sinister and strange. This year’s display ranges from sci-fi fantasy digital art to prints, paintings and assemblages delving into the dark corners of the psyche.

2015 Dia de los Muertos Exhibition 

Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 

839 S. Fifth St.

Through Nov. 21 

For 23 years, WPCA has held an annual exhibition featuring the traditional ofrendas, or altars, which commemorate deceased loved ones at this time of year. The ofrendas are made by members and community groups, each a distinct portrait to honor and revive the memory of those who have passed on. 

Day of the Dead Ofrendas 

Latino Arts Gallery, 1028 S. Ninth St. 

Oct. 28 – Nov. 20

Located inside the United Community Center, the Latino Arts Gallery will host a display of ofrendas, honoring the traditions of the community. An opening reception will be held on Nov. 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Photography, science, spiritualism collide at JMKAC

Ask Alison Ferris about the purpose and power of photography, and the curator for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan may come off sounding more professorial than poetic. 

But Ferris’ tone is very appropriate for two new arts center exhibitions — one pending, the other already on display — that illustrate a juxtaposition between the camera’s use as a scientific tool and photography’s evolution as an artistic medium.

Photography and the Scientific Spirit, opening on Oct. 30, focuses on 72 images from 17 photographers that illustrate scientific methods in artistic ways. The exhibition is one of a four-part series that operates under the tagline, “Life Lit Up: Science and Self as Seen through the Lens in Four Exhibitions.” 

Seeing is Believing: Photographs from the Collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a smaller exhibit that opened on Oct. 11, offers a series of 15 images from the Sherlock Holmes creator’s personal archive. The images, from the early 20th century, purportedly prove the authenticity of ghosts and visitations and are from a time when public interest in spiritualism was at its height, making it uniquely appropriate for the Halloween season.

WiG caught up with Ferris to find out more about Photography and the Scientific Spirit and Seeing is Believing.

How did Photography and the Scientific Spirit come about? Does its title have a specific meaning? I started noticing that a number of contemporary photographers were creating very compelling images incorporating science. When I started researching, I just kept coming across more photographers working this way.

The title was inspired by a quote from Walt Whitman: “I like the scientific spirit — the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine — it always keeps the way beyond open — always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake — after a wrong guess.” 

How do science and photography — and for that matter art overall — intersect? When the camera was invented in the 19th century, it was believed to be a machine that, in part, produced an empirical form of pictorial representation for scientists. The use of photographs, they thought, eliminated problematic human interference in sciences that required objectivity. Whereas earlier pictures such as drawings or paintings were believed to be willed into existence, photographs were understood as just the opposite, obtained or taken like natural specimens found in the wilderness.

The creative process manifests in science and art in the same way. The scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote, “scientists live always at the edge of mystery.” So too, of course, do artists. Both artists and scientists thrive in the state of the unknown because it is from there that the idea or the form originates.

How many photographers and their works were considered for the exhibition? I don’t honestly have numbers, but I can say that I looked at a lot of work before making the final selections for the exhibition. The selected works characterize invention and imagination as it relates to science and art — and that’s a lot of territory to cover in an image! 

All the photographs in the exhibition are contemporary and most have been made in the last 10 years. The show opens with a selection of Berenice Abbott’s scientific photographs from the 1940s to 1960s. She was a pioneer of sorts in using photography to illustrate scientific phenomena. Many of the photographers in the exhibition cite Abbott’s work as informing their own.

Is there a connective thread, either visually or conceptually, that runs throughout the exhibition? The artists express the relationship between science and photography in a number of different manners. For some, the artists themselves take on the role of scientist — indeed a number of the artists studied science or are practicing scientists in addition to being photographers. They perform creative scientific experiments and capture them using photography. 

Caleb Charland expands upon a classic grade school science project: the potato battery, creating electrical current by inserting a galvanized nail into one side of a piece of potato and a copper wire in the other side. In one work, Charland electrifies a chandelier hanging in apple trees using the power of the fruit. In another, he lights a floor lamp in a field by using the potatoes growing underground.

David Goldes’s images are inspired by his research into pre-photographic 19th century drawings of electrical experiments performed by scientists such as Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday. Goldes’s photographs explore electrical experiments of his own invention that use simple household objects. 

Other artists work directly with scientists and make art in response to their discoveries. For example, Rachel Sussman’s series is the result of research and work with biologists, and travel in remote parts of the world to find and photograph objects as The Oldest Living Things in the World — her series title — explains.

A number of artists invent or alter photography’s chemical or mechanical processes and even build cameras, as in the case of Chris McCaw. McCaw’s hand-built, large-format cameras are outfitted with powerful lenses typically used for military surveillance and aerial reconnaissance. Instead of film, McCaw inserts expired vintage, fiber-based gelatin silver photo paper directly into the camera. 

Pointing the lens at the sun, McCaw exposes the paper for periods of time ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours. Such long exposures intensely magnify the sun’s rays, which literally burn through the surface of the paper, thus making tangible, in scored markings, the trajectory of the earth’s orbit around the sun.

What aspects of the exhibition may be most surprising to viewers? Perhaps what will be most surprising is how visually stunning the works in the exhibition are! I hope that viewers leave thinking about how both art and science are creative enterprises.

What can you tell us about Seeing is Believing? I also curated that smaller exhibition, which features spirit photography. There’s an interesting connection between the two exhibitions because spiritualists viewed the camera as an objective scientific tool that could produce evidence of the spirit world. 

A description of the exhibit notes that the images are from the collection of the famous British author Arthur Conan Doyle, now held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. In this selection, viewers will see disembodied heads hovering in the air above photographic subjects or glowing on the sleeves of the sitters’ jackets. In even more unusual photographs, we see “evidence” of ectoplasm produced by a female medium. 

Ultimately, this exhibition shows that it was not simply faith in the veracity of the scientific photographic process that led to the kinds of credulity spirit photography enjoyed; it was a desire to believe in the existence of ghosts. Doyle, a committed spiritualist in the early 20th century, amassed hundreds of these photographs, which he believed substantiated the existence of the afterlife. 


Photography and the Scientific Spirit runs Oct. 30 – Feb. 21 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan. The concurrent exhibition, Seeing is Believing: Photographs from the Collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, runs through Jan. 17 at the same location. Visit jmkac.org or call 920-458-6144 for more details.

With Stonehouse’s imagery, expect a ‘stegosaurus moment’

As career inspirations go, artist and Milwaukee native Fred Stonehouse’s “aha” moment came at an early age and in a most unexpected place — a convergence that would send Stonehouse on a lifelong journey to becoming one of the country’s leading neo-surrealists.

According to Stonehouse, the magic moment came in a Spartan-Atlantic Discount Store, one of several proto-big-box stores that littered the Midwest in the 1960s and 1970s. 

“I was shopping with my mother when we walked past a bin of tiny plastic dinosaurs in the store’s toy section,” Stonehouse remembers. “There was a multicolored stegosaurus that spoke to me, becoming a weird treasure that I had to possess.”

Even at 19 cents, the dinosaur was denied the little boy. Still, the 4-year-old boy had to have it and, with no pockets in his short pants, Stonehouse stuck the little creature in his mouth and calmly walked past the checkout as his mother paid for her other purchases and left the store.

The theft was discovered in the family car and Stonehouse was forced to return the dinosaur, but the image’s impact never left him.

“I knew stealing was wrong, but this was beyond morality,” says Stonehouse, who now teaches painting and drawing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This was the first time I knew that the way things looked would be a powerful force for me.”

That force has since blossomed into a unique style, examples of which will be on display in Fred Stonehouse: The Promise of Distant Things, which opened Sept. 26 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. A concurrent MOWA exhibition, Out of Madison, features the work of seven of Stonehouse’s former students. Both exhibits run through Jan. 17, 2016.

Stonehouse’s art is almost instantly recognizable, and it’s the rare viewer who isn’t taken aback by the surreal juxtaposition of fact and fancy. Human heads — many with horns — sit atop animal bodies, while other humanoid figures dangle tentacles, vomit blood or spew rainbows. Skulls abound in landscapes Stonehouse says is the stuff of dreams.

“It comes from a pretty concrete place,” Stonehouse says. “I use the logic of dreams in my work, but it seems weird in the waking world.”

Stonehouse compares his imagery to anyone who has tried to explain a particularly vivid dream, only to discover he or she could not really describe it at all in waking terms. He also cites influences from his youth that made an impact on his image-driven psyche.

Stonehouse was raised as a strict Catholic, so much of his first imagery was of the saints in surreal settings that helped illustrate Christianity’s supernatural side. His Sicilian household also entertained a lot of talk about ghosts and spirits as authentic entities. Other images also filled his young eyes.

“I grew up in a working class neighborhood around 35th Street and Fond du Lac Avenue with a lot of tattooed guys who worked with my father at A.O. Smith,” says Stonehouse, who himself sports some impressive ink. “This was the ‘60s, when we had a lot of weird comic book art and were just becoming aware of Mexican folk art.”

Stonehouse says the varied, diverse and often fantastic visuals made distinct impressions.

“I was a consumer of all these images that seemed to have these magical powers and I am always adding these images to visual vocabulary,” he says. “I run them through a filter to make them personally mine, but they come from all these different sources.”

Many of the images and their settings are a form of self-portraiture or refer to members of the artist’s family, he says. Skulls denote a “trickster” who crosses the barrier between the living and the dead, while animal-headed figures tend to represent innocence and stand in for women and children in Stonehouse’s life, he says.

There are four recurring and ongoing character types in Stonehouse’s narratives: the animals, the skull, the devil and the “doofus,” as he calls him. In most cases, Stonehouse sees himself as the doofus.

“I don’t expect anyone else to understand them in this way, but it’s like having an ensemble or cast of characters and I’m the director of this cast,” Stonehouse says. “Sometimes, new characters show up or their parts get mixed around, but it’s almost like they’re just changing costumes.”

The MOWA show is a retrospective going back to 1993 — the cut-off point of a similar exhibit at what is now the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art back in 1992, Stonehouse says. 

The MOWA exhibit is unique in that it has a tattoo booth in which visitors can get temporary Stonehouse tattoos, and carnival-style cutouts through which visitors can push their heads, literally becoming part of a Stonehouse creation. Carnival sideshow art, not surprisingly, was another influence on the artist, Stonehouse says.

The extra attractions provide visitors with greater access to Stonehouse’s unique style of art. If there is one thing that annoys the artist, it’s those who think his work may be too esoteric for the common viewer.

“I am not an artist who thinks he is too good for a lay audience,” Stonehouse said. “I am still a working-class kid raised in Milwaukee with a wife who just retired from 37 years on the Harley-Davidson assembly line. I am not a snob.”

Stonehouse recently gave a talk to a group of editors at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and described one audience member who had a big smile on his face. The smiling editor described Stonehouse as “one disturbed individual,” which caused the artist to smile.

“Don’t judge me and pay more attention to what’s going on in your own head,” Stonehouse offered by way of explanation.

Stonehouse is a little more gentle and generous of spirit toward most of his audiences.

“I think of my work as half-joke and half-prayer and if viewers find something half-humorous and half-touching, then that’s enough,” Stonehouse said. “What I really want them to have is that stegosaurus moment where they say, ‘Wow! I’ve got to have that.’”


Fred Stonehouse: The Promise of Distant Things runs through Jan. 17, 2016, at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend. For more information, call 262-334-9638 or visit wisconsinart.org.