Tag Archives: museum

A new role for Frank Lloyd Wright home that survived Sandy

A Frank Lloyd Wright house that was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey is high and dry in Arkansas. And it’s getting thousands of visitors as part of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The Bachman-Wilson House, originally located in Millstone, New Jersey, was one of Wright’s famed Usonian homes. The architect created these small, simple structures for middle-class Americans, and about 60 were built.

The Crystal Bridges Museum had the home moved to Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was aligned on the same axis Wright used when laying out the building in 1954.

More than 80,000 people have toured the Bachman-Wilson House in the past year. The home is presented as a retreat — a place to get away from it all without having to get away.

“You’re completely immersed in your natural environment,” said Dylan Turk, a curatorial assistant at Crystal Bridges. “Wright’s using materials that are American and comfortable — woods and natural materials — because he feels that is more connectible than steel, which is what other architects were using at that time.”

Wright desired an American identity among everyday homes and labeled his style “Usonian,” for the “United States of North America.” He wanted them to be affordable, and charged just $400 for the plans for the Bachman-Wilson House. The house cost about $30,000 to build.

Wright actually never visited a Usonian home, Turk said. He was busy working on the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, when the Bachman-Wilson House was built.

“Wright valued everything he designed, but he was also working on, at the time, The Guggenheim, which he thought would be his shining moment as an architect. He may have been a little preoccupied,” Turk said.

While it wasn’t part of the Crystal Bridges’ initial plan, the Wright-designed home fits in with the museum’s concentration on art, architecture and nature, Turk said. Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie sited the museum above Town Branch Creek. The Bachman-Wilson House overlooks Crystal Spring, a tributary well out of the flood plain.

Students from the University of Arkansas’ school of architecture, which is named after Wright protege Fay Jones, designed a welcome pavilion nearby. Wright, Jones and Safdie each won the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal.

“I wish I could have said I initiated the action to get the house, but I didn’t,” Safdie said. While he hasn’t yet seen the Bachman-Wilson House in Arkansas, he said he was thrilled to hear about the acquisition and noted that he, Jones and Wright each now have an influence on the museum’s grounds.

“The trilogy has pleased me,” he said.

Before the house opened on a recent chilly morning, Turk sat down on the living room’s low-slung bench, which abuts a cinder block wall designed as a barrier for the world outside. Across the room is a wall of glass, broken up by mahogany door frames and window frames cut in the shape of a maple tree’s winged seed pod. The room faces southwest to catch the afternoon sun.

“He wanted you to be as close to the ground as you possibly could be because he thought that grounded you,” Turk said. “You’re looking up. You can see the tops of the trees through the clerestory windows.”

A rust-colored floor, heated from beneath, extends beyond the glass.

“He pioneered radiant heat in the United States. If you are outside on a cool night, you can feel your house,” Turk said. “He wanted you to feel your house in as many ways as you possibly could.”

The Bachman-Wilson House flooded a number of times in New Jersey, most recently when Sandy hit in 2012. When its owners considered moving it to preserve it, Crystal Bridges said it would fit in with its mission.

“Art is not just a painting that hangs on the wall,” Turk said. “If you want to be creative, it doesn’t have to be limited to a canvas.

“This is familiar. It’s a house,” he said. “Most people live in a house, so it allows us to open up this space for people to come in and go, ‘Huh, my house doesn’t look like this. Why?’ or ‘I have this in my house. Why do I have this in my house?””

If You Go…

CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART: Located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free general admission includes Wright house.


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.

Touring the old times at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear

What is a man with 1,000 bars of vintage antique soap to do with it all?

For Avrum “Abe” Chudnow (1913–2005), 1,000 bars of soap was just the tip of the iceberg. The voracious collector had thousands of everyday items from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s — enough to fill a museum 20 times over. Today, that’s exactly where many of them are displayed: Milwaukee’s Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear.

The museum is located on 11th Street, just south of Kilbourn Avenue — due west from the Courthouse but across the freeway. There, says executive director Steve Daily, the Chudnow Museum becomes a vast representation of “American material culture.”

Even more than that, it is a walk-through record of Milwaukee in the early 20th century, with rooms designed to evoke experiences like visiting a soda shop, hardware store, and even a speakeasy. Fourteen rooms in this expansive house, built in 1869, are designed as settings that revive the past.

Chudnow never lived here, but purchased it in 1966 for his law practice, real estate business, and as a home for his ever-expanding collection. Daily recounts that Chudnow’s wife was delighted because his treasures had been taking over their own domicile. As the son of a peddler, Chudnow was fascinated from an early age in the stuff of everyday life, from machines and toys to packaging and signs. Each room is densely outfitted with pieces that tell the story of life in these decades.

The recreation of a hardware store features gas stoves and innovative electric appliances. During the nascent years of the 20th century, such stores offered an array of items that testified to the changes brought on by electricity in private residences. By the 1920s, 60 percent of households enjoyed this new convenience, and it spurred desire for gadgets that made domestic chores a bit easier. After all, just working in the kitchen was the equivalent of a full-time job for many a housewife.

The former dining room on the first floor has been transformed into the H. Grafman Grocery Store, originally located at 603 W. Vliet St. Chudnow had a close connection to the Grafmans, his wife’s family.

Packages of coffee, flour, cereal, spices and other dry goods are on display, many of which still contain their original product. An old-fashioned ice box with wood facing shows how food was kept chilled, and its furniture-like appearance calls to mind trends in current kitchen design. An ornately decorated scale and cash register, like others seen throughout the museum, are reminders of the elegant design and craft lavished on utilitarian devices.

The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear brings back the past in their "Wonderland Park" display. Photo: Kat Minerath.
The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear brings back the past in their “Wonderland Park” display. Photo: Kat Minerath.

For a real eye-opener, visit the Bay View Drug Store display. A variety of bottles and jars with labels advertising all manner of potions line the walls, as do advertisements touting various curative benefits. Many of these treatments were aided by the addition of substances like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. Daily notes that in those days, “medicine was a wide open field — that’s why the FDA was created.”

A less narcotic example of an old-fashioned remedy was directed toward women in the form of skunk oil. It was an oily, greasy lotion used to prevent wrinkles, and though it came from the aromatic animal, it fortunately did not use the scent of the skunk in its recipe.

Upstairs, the office of one of the home’s former occupants is recreated. Dr. Joseph J. Eisenberg had his medical practice here, receiving patients in a room that brings together many of the doctor’s professional belongings. In the 1920s and ‘30s, he not only saw patients, but also performed operations and X-rays in a room that is now outfitted as a small movie theatre.

The doctor’s old recovery room is now home to a display of toys, a source of fascination for the young and old. Lincoln Logs, and the lesser-known Lincoln Bricks, were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John. It could be said that he followed his architect father in a D.I.Y. fashion.

An Easy Money game by Milton Bradley was a competitor with Parker Brothers’ iconic Monopoly, shown in a 1940s version that used wooden game pieces because of metal shortages during World War II. Gambling acumen was to be gained through a horse racing game that offered instruction on proper techniques for being a bookie as well as placing bets.

Other exhibits feature matters of interest to men and women of the time, such as displays of women’s changing hairstyles and fashions, offering context for the rebellious appearance of the flapper. A barbershop with a red velvet chair was a male retreat, and in this installation, has a secret door that opens to a speakeasy for a cocktail after a shave and haircut.

Daily estimates that only about 5 percent of Chudnow’s total collection is on view, but the museum changes exhibitions periodically to explore different themes. Politics is one topic currently at the forefront. Displays include one on Wisconsin’s “Fighting Bob” La Follette, a formidable Progressive candidate for president, and a gallery of political memorabilia highlighting the career of Milwaukee’s longest serving Socialist mayor, Daniel Hoan.

Strolling through these rooms, with their extraordinarily presented pieces, is a rare glimpse back through time. It reflects how much can be learned through even the most ordinary items, and instills admiration for the devotion of Chudnow, whose ceaseless collecting of the past became a gift for the future.

The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear is located at 839 N. 11th St. The museum will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 12 and 13 by offering Green River Floats, made with Green River Soda, free with admission. Admission is $5, $4 for seniors and students; the museum is open Wed. to Sun. Visit chudnowmuseum.org for more details.

PETA: Turn ‘Silence of the Lambs’ house into animal museum

An animal rights group wants to convert the western Pennsylvania house used in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” into an empathy museum, where visitors could wear the skins of slain and abused animals.

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says in a release that it has written to the real estate agent handling the sale and wants to create a museum. The building was home to psychotic killer Buffalo Bill in the 1991 film.

PETA says by wearing animal skins, people would be reminded that animals also are “made of flesh, blood and bone.”

Scott and Barbara Lloyd listed the Layton home for sale last summer. It’s located about 28 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The asking price dropped from $300,000 to $250,000 earlier this month.

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.

Iron Lady is auction gold: Thatcher items fetch high prices

The Iron Lady is auction gold.

Speeches, books and outfits belonging to late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — including her wedding dress — have soared above their estimated prices at a London auction.

Thatcher’s red prime ministerial dispatch box sparked a bidding war and sold for $365,000.

A signed copy of the speech Thatcher made on becoming Britain’s first female prime minister in May 1979 — declaring “Where there is discord may we bring harmony” — sold for $56,460.

The blue velvet dress she wore to her 1951 wedding sold for $38,000 and her copy of the collected works of Winston Churchill fetched $49,000, 10 times its pre-sale estimate.

Branded the “Iron Lady” for her steely determination, Thatcher governed Britain between 1979 and 1990, transforming the country with her free-market policies.

She died in April 2013, aged 87, and the collection is being sold by her family — though some commentators felt the collection of power suits and iconic handbags should go to a museum.

Entertainment briefs | Hillary does ‘SNL’ and more

Meet ‘Val’: Hillary does ‘SNL

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton appeared on the season opener of Saturday Night Live as a wise bartender named Val who pours a drink or two for, ahem, Hillary Clinton (played by SNL regular Kate McKinnon). 

It was an unusual move (most political candidates who appear on SNL do so just for a cameo, rather than actually acting) but one that highlights Clinton’s goals to present herself as more warm and personable in this presidential bid. The former senator, First Lady and secretary of state also has appeared this year on talk shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres.

Among the Clinton foibles the sketch poked fun at: Clinton’s slow opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, her late-arriving support of gay marriage and her inability to take a vacation. Former cast member Darrell Hammond popped in as Bill Clinton, only to run away at the sight of double the Hillary.

Eau Claire museum celebrates 10 years

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire started off as a chance idea — sparked by a young girl’s question of why the city didn’t have one. But when her father, Patrick Rebman, talked to friends Suzie Slota and Tina Eichstadt about it, it started to become a reality. The trio spread the word and the museum officially opened its doors in 2004. This year, it’s concluding a yearlong celebration of its 10th anniversary.

According to Slota, attendance the first year was about 50,000 and executive director Michael McHorney says this year’s attendance hovered around the same number. Additionally, the museum has served as an anchor for downtown Eau Claire, bringing a young demographic into the community. 

For more, visit cmec.cc.

Trevor Noah takes over ‘Daily Show,’ praises Stewart

South African comic Trevor Noah moved in at The Daily Show on Sept. 28, promising he’d try not to make predecessor Jon Stewart seem like a “crazy old dude who left his inheritance to some random kid from Africa.”

Noah took over as host after Stewart decided that 16 years of lampooning politics and the media — half of the 31-year-old Noah’s life span — was enough and stepped down in August. Despite a new desk and set, Noah retained much of Stewart’s staff, the show’s theme music and format.

Noah paid tribute to Stewart early in the telecast, saying he was “more than just a late-night host. … He was often our voice, our refuge and in many ways our political dad. And it’s weird because Dad has left and now it feels like the family has a new stepdad — and he’s black.”

Leinenkugel ‘fan pack’ gives new definition to ‘hatbox’

Your old foam cheesehead looking a little worse for wear? New Packers gameday apparel is no further away than a box of Leinies! The Wisconsin brewery recently unveiled its Honey Weiss “fan pack,” a bright yellow, 15-can box in the shape of a triangle, designed to be emptied and worn as headgear. That’s using your thinking cap.

Milwaukee, Portland artists unite at Inova

There’s a museum inside UW-Milwaukee’s Inova museum, temporarily. The “Milwaukee, Milwaukie Museum” celebrates both the largest city in Wisconsin and a suburb of Portland, Oregon, which share similar names. The space, organized by the photographic collective Milwaukee Comma, achieved mini-fame even before the main exhibition opened, with Mayor Tom Barrett issuing a proclamation marking June 26 as “Milwaukee, Milwaukie Museum Day.”

The exhibition it’s a part of should receive similar attention. Pacific Midwest 2.0 is a collaboration between photographers in Milwaukee and Portland who crossed paths out west at an earlier 2013 exhibition at Portland’s Newspace Center for Photography.

For this second iteration, the curating artists have scoured holdings from the Milwaukee County Historical Society and Portland’s Milwaukie Museum, threading them in with original works to make a space that exists between history, fiction and critique.

Milwaukee’s Kevin J. Miyazaki often operates in these areas in his photographs, frequently addressing his heritage as a Japanese-American. In “Three Important, Unknown Men,” two small portraits from the Milwaukee County Historical Society are placed alongside a portrait of his maternal grandfather, Albert K. Kimura. 

Miyazaki notes how Kimura finished a law degree from Northwestern University in the early 1900s, but when returning home to Hawaii, was unfairly prevented from passing the bar exam. These small portraits from the past show men of dignified appearance, formal and confident, whose near-anonymity shows how, with any life story, the fog of history grows thicker over time. 

Tender wrappings preserve personal history in Tara Bogart’s “1980’s Club Girl, MKE.” A table holds a variety of packages covered in slate gray paper. They are alluring, like presents to be unwrapped, but the real intention is protection. 

Familiar shapes and labels reveal what the wrappings hide: “Vogue Fashion Magazine, 1983”; “Clairol ‘Nice & Easy’ Hair Dye, Natural Mahogany Black, 1985”; “Depeche Mode-Black Celebration Album, 1986”; and “Ma Fisher’s Restaurant Menu, 1985.” Adding the artifacts together, it paints a vivid picture. Living memory still makes the touch of all of those things familiar even as they sink further away year by year. 

More to see

The museum portion of the exhibition is one enclosed area, but in the wider gallery space, these themes are further drawn out. 

Jon Horvath’s “Passages” is one of the largest and most elegant installations. It is composed of 26 photographs and Horvath’s corresponding documentation from a series of trips along rural Wisconsin highways — 2,786 miles over 71.5 hours. 

Small maps in white lines on stark black, recorded via GPS, show his routes. The maps have a quixotic charm, like old-fashioned Etch-A-Sketch drawings. Accompanying text notes things such as trip duration or average miles per hour, and are titled with a scrap of text from a passage in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. At the nucleus of each cluster are pairs of small photographs, placed flat on the table like documentary evidence. Their clarity speaks of Horvath’s strong technical and compositional acumen, as well as the gentle nuances of juxtaposition. 

The landscape gets stranger and far more disquieting in photographs by Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman. “Processed Views” takes its inspiration from Carleton Watkins’ (1829–1916) expansive western landscapes.

In Ciurej and Lochman’s contemporary interpretations, rugged terrain is recreated by artificial foodstuffs. Crumbled, colorful bits of cereal are formed into fanciful hills and rocks. The wholly unnatural blue of food dye is planted within a field of melting green Popsicles. Like a good sugar buzz, it is fun at first but the destructive truth of what passes for an edible landscape soon hurts the teeth and stings the brain.

Subjects take a darker turn in the side gallery. The straightforward narrative of Holly Andres’ “Summer of the Hornets” recounts the catastrophic discovery of a hornet’s nest by two young girls. Based on a true story from her childhood, Andres’ large-scale images feel like memories still fresh. 

Pacific Midwest 2.0 is undoubtedly a significant exhibition, not only for presenting work by some of Milwaukee’s most noted contemporary artists, but for the dialogue between our locale and the art community of Portland. While there is much happening in our own time and place, it is enhanced by the additional layers of artistic exchange with history and fellow contemporaries. 


Pacific Midwest 2.0 continues through Aug. 8 at Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. Admission is free. Visit uwm.edu/inova for more information.

Rebels with a cause | Summer art exhibitions feature innovators past and present

Let the movie theaters have their big-name actors and action movies filled with explosions. This summer, two of the major Milwaukee museums are hosting what could be described as blockbusters of their own.

“Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels” at the Milwaukee Art Museum showcases developments in art from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, drawing the viewer in through the freedom in art that boosted appreciation for approaches like abstract painting. “Current Tendencies IV” at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Arts, on the other hand, tunes into contemporary regional artists who explore new concepts of landscape and the places around us. 

Moments of the Past

While undergoing renovation, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection is under wraps for the summer. Instead, MAM is hosting the touring exhibition “Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Art Rebels,” filled with paintings from the permanent collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. It is a respected institution that counts work by Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí and many others among its holdings. They are all going to be part of the exhibition in Milwaukee, which opens on June 18. 

MAM chief curator Brady Roberts notes the significance of this exhibition, saying, “’Van Gogh to Pollock’ will be a visually powerful, experiential journey for any art enthusiast. This is the best chance most people will have to see key works of Post-Impressionism to Pop Art, many of which have not toured in decades.” 

The expansive show includes about 70 pieces by 68 artists, offering a rich view of artistic innovation from the Post-Impressionist period of the 1880s to the bright Pop Art style that emerged in the 1960s. 

One of the things visitors will notice is the way artists’ styles changed during these decades. In the late 19th century, naturalistic representations of the visual world tended to be most highly prized. Breaking away from tradition, artists like Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) started to record their experiences in a more expressive, personally interpretive manner. 

This is also apparent in the work of van Gogh’s friend and colleague, Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903). His “Manao Tupapau (Spirits of the Dead Watching),” painted in 1892, is an extraordinary and important piece. It was inspired by Gauguin’s life in Tahiti and depicts his young mistress awake in the night. Gauguin recounted the episode in his travelogue “Noa Noa.” The title, as he noted, may be taken to mean either “she thinks of the ghost” or “the ghost thinks of her.”

Surrealist artists of the 20th century used art as a tool to make the strangeness of dreams into something real. The best-known Surrealist is perhaps Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904–1989) whose daring and provocative art was matched by his unusual persona. 

“There is only one difference between a madman and me,” he famously said. “I am not mad.” 

MAM’s exhibition includes Dali’s “The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image” (1938), which depicts the otherworldly landscapes of his imagination, painted with precision and clarity to render them, as he called it, “hand-painted dream photographs.” 

Frida Kahlo is at times also associated with the Surrealists, though she would not have aligned herself with that or any other movement. Her “Self-Portrait with Monkey” (1938) will be part of the exhibition, characteristic subject matter for her. The self-portrait will offer a moment to experience her powerful presence through the painted image. 

One of the key developments in modern art was a growing predilection for artists to work in pure abstraction. For some of these artists, a painting becomes as much about its process as what was ultimately on the canvas.

MAM’s exhibit features one of those in particular: Jackson Pollock, the premier American abstract expressionist. Pollock is known for his drip paintings, created by throwing, splashing, and flinging paint onto a canvas spread on the floor. The results are like crystallized energy, rendered through the spontaneous though purposeful layers of paint. 

This sense of daring and innovation underlies Modern Rebels. Even as the exhibit functions as a walk through the history of art, it highlights the way artists met creative challenges and questioned the very nature of art. 

“These modern art all-stars were rebelling against the academic norm,” Roberts notes. “They took risks and challenged the art world status quo. They were innovators responding to the world around them, and the results are compelling.” 

“Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels — Masterworks from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery” runs through Sept. 20 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. Tickets are $14, $12 for students and seniors and free for members, children 12 and under, military and K-12 teachers. Visit mam.org for more details.

A Moment Here and Now 

The Haggerty Museum of Art is celebrating its 30th year as an institution, and the latest installation of its recurring exhibition celebrating contemporary regional artists. Current Tendencies IV: Topography Transformed opens June 18 and takes a new view at the way landscape and place may be considered. 

Bauenstudio (Marc Roehrle and Mo Zell, Milwaukee), Derrick Buisch (Madison), Keith Nelson (Milwaukee), Shane McAdams (Cedarburg), and Joseph Mougel (Milwaukee) are the creative minds behind the works made especially for the museum and this moment. Two-dimensional pieces such as drawings and paintings will be part of it, as well as three-dimensional sculpture and large-scale installations. 

McAdams synthesizes a sense of nature by incorporating motifs of trees with expressive abstraction in the series Oak Tree. Buisch’s linear work notes an architectural sense of construction disassociated from specific backgrounds, becoming like symbolic ciphers in the process. Nelson plays with a sense of context as familiar materials such as wood and plastic panels combine to form topographies of their own, carefully balanced for a play of texture and color. 

While “Current Tendencies” is a conceptual exhibition firmly interested in the pulse of the moment, the Haggerty also is celebrating its past by exhibiting Keith Haring’s “Construction Fence.” When the museum was being built in 1983, Haring was commissioned to paint a mural on the large plywood fence around the site. It is another transformation of place, changing a dull eyesore into a representation of his playful, buoyant art. 

As an artist, Haring gained a reputation for his interventions with art in public spaces such as the New York subway. His drawings became prized things within the public eye and his graphic, iconic style serves as a reminder and inspiration of how art can change a place and our perception of it. 

“Current Tendencies IV: Topography Transformed and Out of the Vaults: Keith Haring” will run through August 20 at the Haggerty Museum of Art, 13th and Clybourne Sts. on the Marquette University campus. Admission is free. Visit
marquette.edu/haggerty for more details.

Excrement exciting at Michigan museum’s latest exhibit

Cream? Sugar? Poop?

Among the other things you’ll learn at the Sloan Museum’s latest exhibit, “The Scoop on Poop,” is that the most expensive coffee in the world, before it was ever roasted, first passed through the colon of an Indonesian mammal called the palm civet. That is to say, if that wasn’t clear, that it pooped it out, according to The Flint Journal.

Palm civets have a thing for the berry of the coffee tree, the seed of which is commonly known as the coffee bean. The bean cannot be digested with the rest of the berry. And so, in goes the berry, and out comes the bean, which is then meticulously collected, cleaned and then roasted and served.

Costing $175 a pound, it’s not likely you’ve bought the beans yourself. However, according to the literature at Sloan, the coffee has a “rich” and “musky” flavor.

That’s just one thing you’ll learn at the Sloan exhibit.

“There’s a lot of life’s aspects you can look at through poop,” said Todd Slisher, executive director at Sloan.

That’s the whole idea of the exhibit. Sure, scientists can use poop to see what an animal has been eating, and it’s fun to be able to identify different kinds of droppings (there’s an interactive quiz at the exhibit), but there’s a lot more to poop than that.

For example, take the ancient curse of the tombs in ancient Egypt.

For years, it was known that upon entering ancient tombs, some archaeologists and looters would hallucinate and become ill, and so it must be the work of ancient spirits _ right?

Nope. Just poop. Over about 3,000 years, bats can leave a lot of poop lying around, and that’s enough time for some fungus to grow and give any visitors a good ol’ case of histoplasmosis.

If you’re a science nerd, that’s cooler than any ancient mystery. In fact, you don’t need to be a science nerd to appreciate poop. It’s fascinating all by itself. People burn poop for fuel, cover their huts in “poop plaster” to keep rain out, and can turn elephant poop into paper. People sculpt poop. In Wisconsin, you can enter contests to see how far you can throw cow poop. There are creatures — moths, spiders, frogs, and others — whose natural camouflage is looking like a little turd.

Who can resist?

Not kids, said Slisher, which was part of the idea behind bringing “The Scoop on Poop,” inspired by the children’s book of the same name, to Sloan.

“It’s a fun exhibit. It’s aimed at an audience we’re trying to target,” he said, meaning kids, anywhere from 4 years old to teens.

He said so far the exhibit, which runs until Sept. 6, has been drawing community and school groups. It also fits into their summer programming with classes like “Dino Poop Camp,” in which children get to pick through some 65-million-year-old prehistoric poop to conduct experiments.

So far, Slisher said, he’s been pleased with the response to it. And that’s good because, as Olivia Kushuba, marketing and special events assistant said, “Poop is such a touchy subject.”

In fact, there was some worry among staff before the exhibit arrived, about how it might smell.

Luckily, the museum still just smells like a museum.

“We were very thankful,” she said.

Published through the AP member exchange.