Now at the Haggerty: Historical, contemporary, indigenous exhibitions

Kat Kneevers, Contributing writer

The Haggerty Museum of Art on the Marquette University campus in Milwaukee often hosts multiple exhibitions simultaneously.

Sometimes, these exhibitions are related to each other in theme or spirit — and sometimes not.

The three exhibitions currently on view appear to share little on the surface, but there are deep connections within their content.

We Can Make It: The Prints of Corita Kent is one of the first to be seen. There are about a dozen pieces in this compact exhibition, including a video about the artist. The Day-glo colors of these large, bright works on paper shout with echoes of pop art, advertising and affirmations. Dating from 1964–67, they encapsulate an important time in the social and political landscape of American life, as well as Kent’s own biography.

She also is known as Sister Corita Kent. In 1936, she became a nun, affiliated with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This did not diminish her interest in art, however, as she earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Immaculate Heart College and later a master’s degree in art history from USC. She became an art instructor at her undergraduate alma mater, eventually becoming chair of the department, and

An installation of prints by Corita Kent on view at the Haggerty Museum of Art.

promoting an avant-garde sensibility at the Catholic school.

Pop art was hitting the scene in the 1960s and Kent was right in step with it, adopting it as a medium for social and political critique. Manifesting positive spirit, her prints borrow words and phrases from writers, philosophers and others, as well ordinary reference points such as street signs and corporate logos.

“New Hope,” from 1966, is dedicated to Richard and Mildred Loving. Kent quotes from e.e. cumming’s poem “I love you much (most beautiful darling),” a passage that passionately embraces the fulfillment and pleasure of an immensely deep affection and profound connection. Richard and Mildred, with their wonderfully apt surname, were parties in the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision. The Lovings’ struggle resulted in the invalidation of laws in the United States banning interracial marriage.

Pressure from the hierarchy in Kent’s Catholic archdiocese led to her leaving the order in 1968, but she remained a high-profile voice for civil rights and outspoken in anti-war efforts. She also continued her artistic career, inspiring other artists such as Jeffrey Gibson, also featured in the Haggerty in the solo exhibition Look How Far We’ve Come!

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s from the Royal College of Art, the Choctaw-Cherokee Native American has a professional and academic career that combines influences from Western, non-Western and American indigenous art. Gibson has lived and worked in many different places and, as he explained to Ross Goodman of the blog Contemporary North American Indigenous Artists, “some have had specific cultural aesthetics, language barriers, cultural barriers, et cetera. These differences funnel through me, a queer Native male born toward the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st century.”

An ear for history inspired some of his work in this exhibition, as well as a previous trip to Milwaukee when the artist explored the Native American Collections held by Marquette’s Raynor Memorial Libraries. Recordings of traditional songs by Henry Ray “Lee Whitehorse” Sutton stuck with Gibson, as did Whitehorse’s voice at the beginning of the track, advising the listener to “rewind to repeat.”

This phrase appears in one of Gibson’s many elaborate wall hangings, where thousands of beads and other decorative embellishments recall traditional native beadwork. The word “REMEMBER,” painstakingly rendered in small red beads, melds with the decorative pattern of the border, and the text appears in reverse form as well. It is a visual analog for the audio treatment instructed by Whitehorse — about how to relive history for a moment. Gibson’s work is as much contemporary as it is a reflection of long traditions.

This is echoed in his paintings, which are minimalist in their stark geometries but rich with fields of deep color. The interlocking triangles are prismatic and purposeful. In the gallery, a display of paintings on rawhide by Great Plains natives seem to be forerunners to these designs, and stone arrowheads on loan from the Milwaukee Public Museum have points decorated with pigments. The colors and shapes echo through centuries.

For an even closer look at original art and artifacts by indigenous people, see the exhibition Lakota Voices: Collection Highlights from the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School in the second-floor galleries. This exhibition especially seeks to highlight the history of the Red Cloud Indian School, which was founded in 1888. It was a private Catholic school for Lakota youth on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The juxtaposition of western religion and native culture has conflicted moments, but as one would expect, the tone of the show keeps in line with the Haggerty’s position as a museum on a Jesuit campus. In this show, contemporary Lakota artists display works that mirror the older pieces on view, which often date to the 19th century. Ceremonial headdresses, clothing, as well as decorative objects and drawings are on view, making this an intriguing survey that also embraces past and present.

The current slate of exhibitions continues until May 21 at the Haggerty Museum of Art, 13th and Clybourn streets.


SWAN Day MKE 2017

RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. Fourth St., 10 a.m.–3 p.m. March 25

This exhibition celebrating the work of female artists opens in conjunction with the 10th annual International Support Women Artists Now Day. Activities include talks and spoken word performances, art-making demonstrations and more. For details, visit Facebook.

Grilled Cheese Grant

After School Special, 731 E. Center St., 3–7 p.m.

Come out to support emerging artists and local organizations — and enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich. The art collective After School Special is holding this fundraising event where visitors will be able to vote for artists to receive a grant prize. A portion of the proceeds will support After School Special and Diverse & Resilient.