Tag Archives: paintings

Cocaine investigation leads to discovery of 2 Van Gogh paintings

Police investigating suspected Italian mobsters for cocaine trafficking discovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings hidden in a farmhouse near Naples, masterpieces that had vanished in 2002 during a nighttime heist at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, authorities said this past week.

The two paintings were “considered among the artworks most searched for in the world, on the FBI’s list of the Top 10 art crimes,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

They were found in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia as Italian police seized some 20 million euros ($22 million) worth of assets, including farmland, villas and apartments and a small airplane.

Investigators contend those assets are linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale, according to a statement by prosecutors Giovanni Colangelo and Filippo Beatrice.

The recovered masterpieces, propped up on easels, were unveiled for reporters at a news conference in Naples.

Museum director Axel Rueger said Italian investigators contacted the museum earlier in the week and art experts determined the paintings were authentic.

“Needless to say, it’s a great day for us today,” Rueger told Sky TG24 TV. “We hope they are soon back where they belong.”

With their frames removed and covered by cotton cloths, the paintings appeared to be in relatively good condition despite their long odyssey, the museum said.

One of the paintings, the 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen,” is one of Vincent Van Gogh’s first major works.

It depicts a boat setting off into a stormy sea, and the thick paint trapped grains of sand that blew up from the Dutch beach as Van Gogh worked on it over two days.

The other is a 1884-85 work, “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” which depicts a church in the southern Netherlands where the artist’s father was the pastor.

Experts believe it was done for Van Gogh’s mother.

Despite the wishes of the museum, the paintings are not leaving Italy anytime soon. They are evidence in an investigation of whether gangsters from the Camorra crime syndicate were behind the original theft or might have become involved with the artworks later.

The Camorra is one of Italy’s three largest organized crime syndicates, with the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta by far the most powerful. The Camorra consists of many crime clans, based in Naples as well as many of the Campania region’s small towns.

Financial Police. Col. Giovanni Salerno said investigators looking into the syndicate’s cocaine trafficking operations got a tip that the Camorra might have the Van Gogh artworks.

“One of those being investigated made some significant comments about their illegal investments made with earnings from drug trafficking, and he indicated two paintings of great value that supposedly were purchased by Imperiale. They were the result of a theft carried out in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam almost 14 years ago,” Colangelo, the chief prosecutor in Naples, told reporters.

When renowned masterpieces are stolen, it’s usually a theft commissioned by a private collector who has already agreed to buy them, since it’s virtually impossible to sell them in the legitimate art market.

The Camorra and other Italian crime syndicates, awash in illegal revenues from drug trafficking, designer-goods counterfeiting and toxic waste dealings, are increasingly looking to launder their dirty profits and make even more money in the process.

Salerno said a person at the farmhouse when the paintings were found “didn’t say a word” about how they wound up there. He declined to elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.

The museum said the paintings, inspected by a curator, do show “some damage.” Authorities don’t know where the paintings were kept in the 14 years since they were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum overnight and made off with the works from the main exhibition hall, where dozens of Van Gogh paintings were on display.

The seascape painting had some paint in the bottom left corner broken away, while the other painting had “a few minor damages at the edges of the canvas,” a museum statement said.

Police who arrived at the Amsterdam museum on Dec. 7, 2002, discovered a 4.5-meter (15-foot) ladder leaning against the rear of the building.

The thieves had apparently climbed up to the second floor using a ladder and broke in through a window, according to Dutch police at the time. Within a year, Dutch authorities had arrested two suspects, but the paintings’ whereabouts remained a mystery _ until Italian authorities searched the farmhouse.

“After all these years, you no longer dare count on a possible return,” Rueger said. “The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for.”

Van Gogh's "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen." — PHOTO: WikiArt
Van Gogh’s “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen.” — PHOTO: WikiArt

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…


Exhibit captures evolving styles of Harlem-born Norman Lewis

There are two questions Ruth Fine has heard repeatedly from visitors emerging from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ comprehensive retrospective of work by artist Norman Lewis.

“Those who don’t know his work ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know this painter?’” said Fine, a visiting curator, retired from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, who spearheaded the exhibition. “And those who did know of him ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know him better?’”

Many of the works in Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis, which runs through April 3, are on public view for the first time. The exhibition in the Academy’s main gallery includes 95 paintings and prints and is loosely chronological with six thematic sections: Into the City, Visual Sound, Rhythm of Nature, Ritual, Civil Rights and Summation.

“I think people are surprised by what they see, the variety,” Fine said. “This is the first chance many people have to get a sense of what this artist did.”

The Harlem-born Lewis, who died in 1979 at the age of 70, first gained attention in the 1930s for his figurative and literal depictions of struggles facing his urban African-American community. He then began to experiment with abstract impressionism, the realm of painters like Jackson Pollack and Willem De Kooning, whom he later befriended.

Some African-Americans artists tried to discourage Lewis’s change in style, seeing it as “a betrayal of what they felt a black artist was supposed to do,” said Moe Brooker, a well-known African-American artist.

“His friends said: ‘You can’t do this. You’re supported to talk about the difficulties. You’re supposed to talk about the oppression,’ but he refused,” Brooker said. “He said: “I’m black, yes, but I’m an artist. I will not be limited to doing the kind of work that you think I should be doing.’ He’s interested in being a human being.”

“He continued to search and struggle to find ways to communicate human issues, which is what art is really about,” Brooker said. “Whenever I see his work, I’m introduced to something new and exciting and different. I constantly come and find inspiration.”

While Lewis did find success during his lifetime — in 1955, he was the first African-American artist to be awarded the Carnegie International Award in Painting, and New York’s respected Marian Willard Gallery represented and exhibited his work — he did not get the same recognition many of his white peers enjoyed.

One item on display at the Academy is a 1977 letter Lewis wrote to powerful art dealer Leo Castelli, in which he noted others of lesser talent were enjoying greater success. “I’m a good painter,” he wrote. “I have talent. … I could be an asset to your gallery.” There is no indication Castelli responded.

In addition to race, Fine believes Lewis may have fallen off the art world’s radar because he does not have a signature image and can’t be pigeonholed. Lewis’ works “are beautiful and important. They are distinctive, which is the most important,” she said.

And there is more to the exhibition than Lewis’ paintings. A companion show featuring 30 of his etchings and lithographs is on view in a neighboring building.

There are two questions Ruth Fine has heard repeatedly from visitors emerging from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ comprehensive retrospective of work by artist Norman Lewis.

“Those who don’t know his work ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know this painter?’” said Fine, a visiting curator, retired from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, who spearheaded the exhibition. “And those who did know of him ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know him better?’”

Fine said she couldn’t put a monetary value on the displayed works, comprising pieces from private and public collections.

There are two questions Ruth Fine has heard repeatedly from visitors emerging from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ comprehensive retrospective of work by artist Norman Lewis.

“Those who don’t know his work ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know this painter?’” said Fine, a visiting curator, retired from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, who spearheaded the exhibition. “And those who did know of him ask, ‘How is it possible we didn’t know him better?’

The ‘art’ of shopping creatively for the holidays

The holiday season arrives with a multitude of traditions, memories and decisions concerned with the search for perfect, festive gifts. If you are interested in finding things a little out of the ordinary and made with artistic flair, there are a few exhibitions that have made this year’s recommended list. 

A perennial favorite is Art Bar’s Mini exhibition, which features the tag line “tiny art at tiny prices.” Both of these descriptors hold true as the dozens of works on view are less than 4-inches square and cost less than $100, with many options only a fraction of that. 

Acrylic, oil and other varieties of paintings are always plentiful in this exhibition, with everything from abstract works to figurative pieces, landscapes and still lifes available. Some of the boldest works are prints by Daniel Stauff, with figures in black on red backgrounds that take on the character of James Bond movie posters in miniature. Also hunt for Stauff’s oil paintings, where his talents as a portraitist come through in the vibrant light and color he captures in the faces of people on the street or musical icons. 

The Mini installation is changed up a bit this year as more three-dimensional pieces are included, such as pottery mugs by Andrew Linderman and vases by Ken Willert. Laura Rehorst shows jewelry with pendants that are actually tiny drawings. Sculptural earrings are creatively made by Charles Stevens, with elongated pieces that work as wall decorations or embellishments for the ears. Less utilitarian are Leann Wooten’s delightful assemblages, which come together like diminutive dioramas. 

If you find that three-dimensional art is what you seek, the new exhibition I made this for you: Small Gestures in Clay at Portrait Society Gallery should be high on your list of venues to visit. This is the first exhibition of its kind done by the gallery, and as director Debra Brehmer notes, many of the artists involved took this as an opportunity to work in ceramics, although that may not be the medium they are most known for. A sense of inventiveness and the singular beauty of imperfection is what is most sought to bring out a distinctly individual sense of character in each piece.

About a dozen artists are included, including Rory Burke, Adolph Rosenblatt, Colin Matthes and Harvey Opgenorth. The pieces shown span a wide range of styles, from Burke’s mysterious busts and skulls that are caught between beauty and decay, to Opgenorth’s finely tuned, smooth black vessels. Matthes’ work combines his illustrations in richly textured mugs and dishes, while Rosenblatt’s sculpture is definitively figurative, reflecting his work, which is done on-site in front of the people in his art. His figures lounge on beach chairs, recline while reading a book, or are somewhat harried at their desk, as seen in his representation of the former art dealer Michael Lord. 

Darlene Wesenberg, Debbie Kupinsky, Craig Clifford, Gerit Grimm, and Meghan Sullivan are other artists showing original work as well. Gary John Gresl takes a curatorial approach to his installation, which reflects one hundred years of home ceramics, from late nineteenth-century knickknacks to smooth Atomic Age dishware. Noted Wisconsin artist Rudy Rotter is also featured with an installation that introduces his ceramic pieces, a medium that expands on his wooden sculptures of entwined figures. He envisioned them in clay, with smooth, sparkling glazes that retain a sense of optimism and humanity in their naked forms. 

Additionally, Portrait Society is showing Wisconsin Supper Club, a series of works by 20 artists who painted handmade plates thrown by Scott Dercks. Their decorations honor various Wisconsin artists, contemporary and past, and is a compendium of artistic accomplishments. 

Also of interest as a gallery and a commercial space is the Pfister Holiday Marketplace, which is set up in the former Roger Stevens menswear boutique. More than 80 local artists have their work on display, which ranges from handmade cards and prints, to jewelry, scarves and other decorative items. 

Nina Bednarski presents enamel paintings on glass from her Bird Hero series, with various avian species depicted by brilliant colors and noble gazes. The proceeds from her work go in part to nonprofit organizations devoted to wild bird protection and preservation. Dan Kirchen operates on a similar theme with charming birdhouses made in the form of Airstream trailers, a perfect seasonal home. 

In addition to the art objects, a selection of Milwaukee music is available for sale, including CDs by bands such as the Fatty Acids, Nineteen Thirteen, Painted Caves, and De La Buena. As a bonus, selected releases are available on vinyl and cassette. 

The holiday season is one in which goodwill and generosity should flow bountifully. In the spirit of gift-giving, these exhibitions and events are a way of sharing the abundant creative talent in the Milwaukee art community. 


Pfister Holiday Marketplace

424 E. Wisconsin Ave.

Dec. 3: The always entertaining and engaging writer Ànjà Notànjà will offer advice on holiday letter writing. 

Dec. 6 and 20: Paper snowflake cutting will be the activity of the day. Visitors can create their own to hang in the shop or take home. 

Dec. 11: Artist and event curator Renée Bebeau will demonstrate techniques for creating original etchings on mirrored coasters. 

Student/Alumni Art & Design Sale

273 E. Erie St. 

Dec. 3–5: Current and former students of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design offer an array of unique holiday and art items for collectors and gift givers. Entry on Dec. 3, 6-9 p.m., is $20, admission Dec. 4 (5-9 p.m.) and Dec. 5 (12-5 p.m.) is free.

Cream City Creatives Craft Fair 

1038 N. Fourth St.

Dec. 13: More than 40 artists will display their work at Turner Hall Ballroom, including art pieces and various wares such as jewelry, body products, crafts and more. Admission is $3, free for kids 12 and under.


Mini: Tiny Art at Tiny Prices continues through December at Art Bar (722 E. Burleigh St., Milwaukee). Visit Art Bar’s Facebook page for more details.

I made this for you: Small Gestures in Clay continues through Jan. 8 at Portrait Society Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor, Milwaukee). Visit
portraitsocietygallery.com for more information.

The Pfister Holiday Marketplace continues through Dec. 24 off the lobby of the Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee). Visit thepfisterhotel.com for details.

Tory Folliard showcases a strong roster Salon-style

To be completely enveloped in art, simply visit the Tory Folliard Gallery. The Salon Show is a powerful presentation of the gallery’s roster, presenting 40 artists and more than 100 pieces. More importantly, it’s a perfect opportunity to appraise some of the Milwaukee and regional scene’s more prolific artists.

The Salon Show’s title is a reference to the classical Paris Salon, an annual art exhibition held nearly every year from the late 17th to the late 19th century. To be included as part of the Salon was an entrée into the world of professional art. 

The style of hanging a Salon exhibition was quite different from what is usually practiced in museums today. Pictures of different sizes and compositions were packed together on the walls, hung densely rather than in neatly spaced horizontal rows as is now more customary. 

The exhibition at the Folliard Gallery follows the Salon style in its installation. Its numerous works are arrayed in intriguing juxtapositions. Figurative images mingle nicely with abstractions, and the subject matter riffs freely and without restraint. 

It’s more the way one might display art in the home, according to Folliard. Rarely do people arrange their living room walls as a thematic show. Instead, works arrive one by one as a collection is built, and are placed amid the others as best suits the group.

Similarly, the arrangement of this exhibition is determined more by what pieces look good with each other than any other criteria. Many pieces from the gallery’s inventory have been shown before, but they are accompanied by a fair number of new works. 

Paintings by Terrence Coffman balance on the edge of abstraction. His series View From My Studio Rooftop is a set of compositions structured like landscapes, with a band of sky and clouds often suggested by streaks of blue and white. What really drives the energy in Coffman’s work is his interplay of color and forceful brushwork. Sometimes the lingering texture of bristles is apparent, in other passages the traces of a palette knife sliding across the canvas surface are left, dragging through smooth layers of rich hues. 

While Coffman is lyrical and expressionistic, Derrick Buisch’s abstract paintings find clarity in their linear forms. They are more like drawings in bright pigment on vivid, solid backgrounds. “HolidayHeadTwo” is a large painting of nonobjective forms, mostly curves and circles and a central spiral in orange that hovers over teal. Obviating any need for narrative, there is a sense of exuberance that comes from his sparse compositions. 

Conversely, the paintings of Mary Alice Wimmer and Jeffrey Ripple are extraordinary in their sense of realistic detail. Wimmer’s “Earthly Delights II” is a watercolor that continues the traditions of still life with its arrangement of fruit, flower and insects. Ripple’s talent with color also results in compositions that capture the nuances of flowers, food and table settings, but more significant in his work is the quality of light that emanates from a piece like “Late in the Day in June.”

For works that veer a bit more deeply into imagination, take note of the mixed media work of T. L. Solien and paintings by Fred Stonehouse. Solien creates acrylic and collage pieces like “Thirst,” in which a black-and-white puppy with floppy ears à la Snoopy and a Picasso-like eye sits over a small teapot amid an ambiguous space of floating circles. Stonehouse explores his interest in the slightly macabre in “Shneemann,” where a skeleton bundled and hooded in brown hangs out amid a wintery landscape. 

Bringing things back to earth are selections of landscapes. “An Unexpected Snowfall” by William Nichols is a vast canvas of wintery woods punctuated by a few yellow leaves still clinging to trees. Jan Serr’s new series depicts fallen leaves on a black background, rendered in a myriad of autumnal colors that mingle amid lush green grasses. 

Sculptures punctuate the exhibition, mimicking some of the two-dimensional works’ stylistic elements. Bill Reid’s whimsical animals in painted steel are brightly anthropomorphized characters. In earthier tones, Mark Chatterley’s series called Bevy offers various sizes of ceramic birds, their bodies smoothed together while their bumpy heads emerge with curious eyes and dark beaks. 

The Salon Show illustrates a variety of creative approaches, and the only thing pulling it together is the most important thing: a high quality of execution. This is the largest exhibition of the year for the Tory Folliard Gallery, and one that succeeds in every opportunity to showcase the high caliber of its artists. 

The Salon Show continues through Sept. 5 at Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St. 

Other Group Exhibitions

Material Studios + Gallery 

The Marshall Building 

207 E. Buffalo Street, 6th Floor 


RedLine Milwaukee 

Through Oct. 3 

‘America the Beautiful’ 

‘Craig Lueck Watercolors’

David Barnett Gallery

1024 E. State St. 

Through Oct. 10

Framing the conversation | Milwaukee’s gallery owners build an art community

“Everyone has to do their own bit. Not sit back and wait for other people to do it. Get up off your ass and do it yourself, you’re an artist for f**k’s sake. Get creative.” 

So says Clive Promhows, owner of Milwaukee’s Live Artists Studio, one of several galleries in the city’s artist community. It’s advice that illuminates the energy of that community, unified by tenacity and passion. 

The Milwaukee art scene is rich with a diverse array of galleries and art venues, but there are distinct changes afoot. The closing of the DeLind Gallery of Fine Art after 46 years, and the forthcoming shuttering of Elaine Erickson Gallery this June will create voids in the wake of their long-established presences. Yet, there are new locations for exhibitions that suggest transformation in the way art intersects with a public audience, and other established galleries are changing too.

But regardless of change, one thing remains the same: Each gallery has its own distinct feel, an individual expression of its owners’ vision.

The Gallery Tradition

Most conventional, in Milwaukee, are the Tory Folliard Gallery and Dean Jensen Gallery. These two mainstays developed in the Third Ward in the late 1980s, growing as the neighborhood did.

Folliard’s interest in art was nurtured by her work as a docent, and she started to take her work home with her — her earliest shows, featuring the work of Guido Brink, took place in her own house. When things got to the point that she was moving furniture to make room for more art, it became clear that a dedicated space was in order. 

After several successful exhibitions in Fox Point, Folliard moved to the Third Ward. She has remained there for the past 25 years. 

She attributes her longevity to the deep sense of enrichment visual art gives her. “It makes life so enjoyable,” Folliard says. “It inspires you, it makes you happy, it changes everything. I can’t imagine a blank wall. It just makes your life full in a different way.”

Jensen came to gallery ownership from a different direction. Originally a newspaper reporter, his life took a sudden shift after a yearlong fellowship at the University of Michigan, studying Renaissance painting. Returning to his newspaper job, he had an awakening: “From the instant I got off the elevator the first day after that wonderful year in Ann Arbor, I made the decision that I didn’t want to do that anymore,” he says. “Before the year was out I had a gallery.” 

Jensen’s career as a novelist also demands his attention, but the gallery remains important. “This has been wonderful coming in here each day, sort of like coming into my own little chapel. You get visual stimulation from the work. I spend time with the pictures and everyday see them anew.“

The longest-running gallery in the city is the David Barnett Gallery, now in its 48th year. Initiation into the art business came early for Barnett. When he was 16 years old, his family’s factory closed, derailing his assumed future with the business. His interest in art took over; three years later he opened his gallery. 

Initially, Barnett’s focus was on local artists. But several years in, he took out a loan and flew to New York, where he purchased works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Mió, Salvador Dalí and more: an inventory to grow from in subsequent decades.

Barnett’s gallery is in a Victorian house on the East Side, and visitors will note the extraordinary diversity of works on view — from historical pieces to contemporary art. 

He says these works serve as a reflection of his individuality, rather than diversity for its own sake. “It’s based on my own personal beliefs in collecting, philosophy, instinct and passion. … It’s perhaps not a very business-like model but it’s the honest one for me which is why I have such a big collection.”

Bending Conventions

In 2008, the Portrait Society Gallery filled a 300-square-foot office on the fifth floor of the Marshall Building in the Third Ward. Director Debra Brehmer helped it grow, pushing her exhibitions out of that room and sending them sprawling into the hallway. As they continually increased in scope, they eventually made the leap into adjacent areas as they became available for rental.

These spaces have coalesced into a flexible, multi-room venue, all dedicated to Brehmer’s expansive interpretation of portraiture. “I curate the shows out of my own interests and that’s the way it’s always been,” Brehmer says. “I think it’s the only thing you can really do to grow and get people used to the idea that there is a sort of a center and a vision. It gives the gallery an identity.” 

Other art venues take a different approach. Green Gallery, now located on the East Side after a fire destroyed its primary space, has expanded considerably since its establishment in Riverwest in 2004. Director John Riepenhoff began the endeavor while still a student at UWM. “In essence, no one was doing the type of gallery I wanted to see so I just made it happen,” he says. “My brother started a recording studio in one room, the gallery was in another room and a music venue was in another room.” 

One of the guiding principles of Green Gallery is to create a sense of community, and to form a place where ideas can be explored and developed. 

“For the Green Gallery we don’t narrow what it can be, we open it up,” Riepenhoff says. “Sometimes we don’t know what the work looks like until we’re actually in the space. The opening is happening and there’s a certain kind of presence in the air and in the work. Sometimes it’s years later that I really learn about the depths of what a show was about. For us it’s about a nowness, being very current, being present, and very open to the possibilities of what art can be and not what our expectations have been.” 

Clive Promhows’ Live Artists Studio is driven by a model of deliberate scarcity. Promhows embraces visual culture, drama, music and all manner of creative endeavors, but many of them are only held for a single day or a couple of nights. “The real good stuff, you gotta get in there quick,” he says.

These single-night and limited-run engagements, growing more common among other galleries and groups as well, have become important for showcasing his work and promoting many other artists in often monumental exhibitions. In the last five-and-a-half years, Promhow has hosted 45 to 50 shows in the studio, on the fourth floor of an old industrial building in Walker’s Point. It intrigued him from the start. “I thought, I have no idea what’s going to happen here, but I’m going to do my best,” he says.

Being outside of a formal gallery structure is also a point of liberation. Promhows says, “We’ve got nothing to lose, we’ve got no one to please. There’s so much hidden talent in this town. Huge. With art, with music, with acting, with film. It’s just a question of elevating people’s attitude.”

Recent Ambitions

Making a physical location for things to happen also motivates some of the newer galleries on the scene, including Usable Space, initiated by Keith Nelson about two years ago in Bay View. 

His background as an artist, as well as 10 years spent as a preparator at the Milwaukee Art Museum (where he still works freelance), gives Nelson a unique curatorial approach. He calls himself a “facilitator,” offering exhibition opportunities for others. 

“I started Usable Space knowing that it’s not going to be a profitable business that can generate its own funding,” Nelson says. “Another thing that was important to me was to have artists curate, and bring in artists from outside of Milwaukee. I didn’t want it to just be a local scene thing. I’ve had artists from New York, Chicago and L.A. alongside artists from Milwaukee, so it shows that what is going on in Milwaukee is relevant to what is going on in all the big art centers, too.” 

Six shows are held at Usable Space yearly, monthly from April to September. The location’s logistics (the gallery is a converted garage) preclude winter exhibitions.

Equally inventive is the new gallery space opened by Mike Brenner, a veteran of the local scene still known for his edgy Hotcakes Gallery, which was open from 2004 to 2008. Brenner’s recent ambitions offer another alternative for the promotion of art. He’s opened a new brewery in Walker’s Point, Brenner Brewing Company, that features and facilitates an adjoining art gallery and studio space: The Pitch Project. 

Overseen by Jason Yi and Sonja Thomsen, The Pitch Project serves as a network of 22 artists’ studios, as well as exhibition space. It’s an effort by them and Brenner to integrate art spaces into the community. Brenner is also incorporating original, contemporary art into the packaging of his beer, with designs by artists including Sue Lawton, Erin Paisley-Steuber and James “Jimbot” Demski on new products.

Brenner says there are challenges to this joining of art and commerce, but he sees this as something more than product promotion. “You hope that eventually people do see the value in it and it pays off. And then we can continue to do it and grow it and make even more good for the community.” 

It’s a mission that echoes the missions of so many other gallery operators throughout the city, even as each frames their galleries in their own individual way.

Current/Upcoming Gallery Exhibitions

Tory Folliard Gallery 

233 N. Milwaukee St. 

‘Mark Forth: Modern Ballads’

‘Harold Gregor: Midwestern Master’

May 29 to July 4 

Dean Jensen Gallery 

759 N. Water St. 

‘Great Impressions IV: An Exhibition of Contemporary Prints’

‘Gérard Sendrey: Constantly Inconstant ‘

Through June 14. 

David Barnett Gallery 

1024 E. State St. 

‘Kiki’s Paris’

Through July 18. 

Portrait Society Gallery 

207 E. Buffalo St., Fifth Floor

‘Wis-Con-Sin’: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, J. Shimon & J. Lindemann, Charles Van Schaick

June 12 to Aug. 30.

Green Gallery 

1500 N. Farwell Ave.

‘Kim Miller’

‘“Democrats, Republicans, Capitalists and Creeps” … and You’ 

Through June 13. 

Usable Space 

1950b S. Hilbert St.

‘Where Does It Go Now? New Paintings by Annie Hémond Hotte’

Exhibition opens May 22. 

Live Artists Studio 

228 S. First St., Suite 302 

‘The Carol Show 2: Pastel Drawings by Carol Rode-Curley’ 

Exhibition opens May 22. 

Brenner Brewing Company 

The Pitch Project

706 S. 5th St. 

‘Pyrite Suns, Miner’s Dollars’: An Installation by Aspen Mays

June 12 to Sept. 12

‘Wisconsin Pastorale’ depicts a regional artist’s earliest successes

Even standing at the back of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the viewer can’t help but be drawn to “The Homestead,” an oil painting by Wisconsin regional artist Lois Ireland. The work lacks the inner luminescence of Ireland’s other works, but the clarity of the objects against the pallid landscape draws the eye for that exact reason.

The 1944 painting evokes the countryside of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, the latter of whom was instrumental in forwarding Ireland’s career. A man and his dog walk through pale fields that brown with the season toward a simple farmstead that stands out against the white clouds and barely blue sky.

The colors are pale, yet the lines are strong and surprises of detail, like a broad tree’s shadow on the russet-colored shed, speaks to a world complete in its simplicity. All are characteristics of American regional art, in which Waunakee-native Ireland’s paintings of her home state play a distinct, if not remarkable role.

“Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland” consists of 20 of Ireland’s works, filling one of the galleries at MMoCA, located inside Overture Center for the Arts. The works will be on display through July 19.

Now 87 and living near the Twin Cities, Ireland is still painting, these days mostly pastels. However, the MMoCA retrospective focuses exclusively on Ireland’s pastorals painted during the 1940s, a time when regional art was at its height — just before it would be eclipsed by the abstract works of Jackson Pollack and other artists of the 1950s.

Ireland was just 14 in 1942, when Curry first saw her paintings on display inside a steakhouse in Westport just north of Madison. Ireland was already part of the Wisconsin Rural Arts Program and Curry was the artist-in-residence at UW-Madison. Ireland enrolled in the UW’s art department after graduating from high school and, under Curry’s mentoring, developed a distinct style as a regional artist.

“From the start, Ireland’s style possessed a freshness typically associated with folk and naïve art in its visual simplicity and wonderful sense of color,” says MMoCA curator Richard H. Axsom. “Her subject was the rural countryside and its seasonal calendar, whose bucolic character she lyrically celebrated.” 

Ireland’s celebration of the Wisconsin countryside was part of a school of realism that emerged during the ‘30s and ‘40s, Axsom says. In 1949, Ireland moved to New York for a year to enroll in the Art Students League, but returned to Wisconsin a year later to pursue her career as a regional artist.

However, regionalism’s prominence began to fade in the 1950s, making it more difficult for a small-town Wisconsin girl whose mentor had passed away (Curry died in 1946). She turned away from art and, in 1958, she married John Zwettler, an Oconomowoc barber. With him she raised two children and assumed the duties of a mid-20th century housewife.

But in the 1970s, Ireland returned to painting, exhibiting some of her works at the Fanny Garver Gallery on Madison’s State Street. Her talent remained, as did her distinctive regional style.

Regionalism of the type that Ireland painted is still around, but it is not considered mainstream art, Axsom says. Wisconsin remains a hub for it, and examples of it are frequently featured in an annual Art Calendar produced by the Dane County Arts Commission.

“They pretty much always sell out,” Axsom says of the calendars, “which means there is still a fondness for regionalism. This is often good art.”


“Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland” will be on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., through July 19. For more information, visit

Exhibit to focus on ‘Van Gogh and Nature’

An exhibit featuring 50 paintings and drawings of nature by Vincent Van Gogh will open in western Massachusetts in June.

“Van Gogh and Nature” is the first exhibit devoted to the artist’s exploration of nature.

It will open at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown on June 14.

The exhibit will include iconic paintings such as “A Wheatfield, with Cypresses,” “The Olive Trees” and “The Sower.” Works included in the exhibit are on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other museums.

The Clark Art Institute is located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It houses European and American paintings and sculpture, English silver and early photography.