Tag Archives: photography

From fashion to film, gift-worthy coffee table books abound

Come holiday time, there’s never a shortage of splashy coffee table books to please just about any aficionado.

Some suggestions:

FASHION & STYLE

“Fashion Made Fair,” by Magdalena Schaffrin and Ellen Kohrer, Prestel, $49.95. Know someone deeply committed to sustainability in fashion? Taking a truly world view, this book dives deeply into companies that do it well. In Zurich, for instance, look to the brothers Freitag, Daniel and Markus. They’re bag makers who launched F-abric, a line of compostable workwear.

“Reigning Men, Fashion in Menswear, 1715-2015,” by Sharon Sadako Takeda, Kaye Durland Spilker and Clarissa M. Esguerra, DelMonico Books, $55. Going back to the 18th century, this tome celebrates all aspects of men’s dressing, from the French court to Speedo. Among contemporary high points: An intricately bleached denim suit by Vivienne Westwood and a futuristic ruffle suit by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons.

“Francois Nars,” by Francois Nars, Rizzoli International, $85. With some of the most famous faces in fashion represented, the visionary behind NARS Cosmetics tells his story in beautiful close-up color, with snippets of remembrances and inspirations. He includes the communion looks of both his parents and makes it clear beauty begins with beautiful skin.

 

THE MUSIC LIFE

“The Lyrics: 1961-2012,” by Bob Dylan, Simon & Schuster, $60. The Nobel Prize-winning man of the hour, and of oh-so-many hours, has released 36 studio albums that have sold more than 120 million copies. This book includes lyrics from his first album to “Tempest,” released in 2012. Dylan has edited dozens of songs for the book, to reflect the words he uses as he performs them now.

“The Rolling Stones: All the Songs, the Story Behind Every Track,” by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon, Black Dog & Leventhal, $50. The book covers 50 years and 340 songs, beginning with the band’s 1963 debut album. More than 500 photos are included, along with details like what instruments were used in the studio.

“David Bowie Play Book,” by Matteo Guarnaccia and Giulia Pivetta, ACC Art Books, $29.95. What better way to honor the icon who died in January than with a color, cut and play set. Includes paper dolls and his favorite footwear spanning his ever-changing look and a coloring page of the people who inspired him, from Dylan to Marlene Dietrich.

 

THE BIG SCREEN

“Hollywood Icons,” by Robert Dance, ACC Editions, $65. Stunning studio portraits of film icons from the 1930s through the ‘60s from the collection of the John Kobal Foundation. Kobal was a film journalist and historian who amassed a huge collection of Hollywood portraits and set images. Look for Bette Davis, shot by George Hurrell for Warner Bros. in 1939.

“My Elizabeth,” by Firooz Zahedi, Glitterati, $75. Friend and acclaimed photographer Zahedi offers a private peek into Taylor’s life from 44 into her 70s. Includes the Washington, D.C., years, jaunts in Montauk, New York with Halston and Andy Warhol and intimate photos of her children and stepchildren. There’s Taylor making fried chicken, on a boat in Venice, on a trip to Iran.

“The Malkovich Sessions,” by Sandro Miller, Glitterati, $95. “Being John Malkovich” is so 1999. In this book, rather than on film, John Malkovich gets to be himself, in all his goofy, creepy glory. And he gets to recreate some of the world’s most iconic portraits, with the help of photographer Miller, in a book that offers both pathos and whimsy.

 

WILDLY MISCELLANEOUS

“Young Frankenstein, The Story of the Making of the Film,” by Mel Brooks, Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99. Whether you’re a first-generation “Young Frankenstein” fan or trying to nudge along the next, nobody does this 1974 classic better than Brooks himself. With a foreword by Judd Apatow (“Even Gene Hackman is funny in it”) and behind-the-scenes photos, a great to hear the now 90-year-old Brooks in his own voice.

“Shop Cats of New York,” by Tamar Arslanian, photos by Andrew Marttila, Harper Design, $21.99. To heck with that Yelp reviewer who dissed the bodega cat. This book shows that shop life can work for felines, with a warning that not all may be treated like kings and queens. Dwelling in wine shops, bookstores, dry cleaners and yes, The Algonquin Hotel, think “Humans of New York,” only cats.

“Dream a World Anew: The African American Experience and the Shaping of America,” by National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Books, $40. As much a primer on the slave trade and racial discrimination as a celebration of early black entrepreneurs, musicians, writers, activists and athletes in a nuanced, global context. Marks the opening of the new museum in Washington, D.C., great for tweens and teens.

 

Apple unveils iPhone with high-res cameras, no headphone jack

airpods

Apple Inc. unveiled an iPhone 7 with high-resolution cameras and no headphone jack at its annual launch this week, though the biggest surprise was the debut of a three-decade-old Nintendo game franchise, Super Mario Bros, on the smartphone.

While shares of Apple barely budged, Nintendo’s U.S.-listed shares jumped 29 pct on investors’ hopes that Super Mario would be another mobile gaming hit for the Japanese company akin to the wildly popular Pokemon Go.

Much of the presentation headed by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook was devoted to technical details of photography, wireless earphones, games from Nintendo, and a new version of Apple watch – with fitness features.

The biggest iPhone technical improvements all had leaked, and Apple itself spoiled the surprise by sending out tweets of some details before Cook spoke. The company then deleted the messages.

Apple has reported declines in iPhone sales for the last two quarters, which raised the stakes for the iPhone 7. Some consumers and analysts are considering waiting until 2017.

“Just gonna wait on iPhone 8 cuz it’s the 10th anniversary of iPhone,” Tweeted @LewBruh near the end of the event. “Ya know they gonna do something big.”

But Mike Binger, senior portfolio manager at Gradient Investments LLC in Minneapolis, said the new phone encouraged him that Apple was in good shape for a new sales cycle.

“I think the iPhone 7, just from a replacement basis, will be a successful launch,” he said.

The world’s best-known technology company said the iPhone 7 would have one, zooming 12-megapixel camera. Starting at $649, it is the same price as the 6S predecessor. The larger 7 ‘Plus’ edition, starting at $769, would feature two cameras, including a telephoto lens.

Apple also removed the analog headphone jack from both new models, as was widely expected. The new headphones supplied by Apple with the phone will plug into the same port as the recharging cord, making it incompatible with most wired headphones without an adaptor. Apple includes the adapter.

The phones will also work with Apple’s new wireless headphones, called Air Pods, available in late October at a price of $159.

The disappearance of the headphone jack “will probably annoy a certain amount of people” but they would likely get over it, Binger said.

Apple described dropping the jack as an act of courage as it moved toward a wireless future with the optional Air Pods. Getting rid of the jack also increased room for stereo speakers, and Apple sharpened the technology on most features, from the camera to a pressure-sensitive home button to a boost in memory.

The new phone will start shipping in major markets, including the United States and China, on Sept. 16.

Bob O’Donnell of research firm TECHnalysis said Apple’s new glossy black finish could be more popular than any tech feature, reflecting the slowdown in major tech innovations for smartphones.

“While the camera improvements for the iPhone 7 Plus are nice, they are incremental for most and the lack of headphone jacks could offset that for others,” he said.

Apple typically gives its main product, which accounts for more than half of its revenue, a big makeover every other year and the last major redesign was the iPhone 6 in 2014. Many are expecting a three-year cycle this time, culminating in a major redesign for 2017 to be called iPhone 8.

Apple said its Apple Watch Series 2, with a swim-proof casing, will be available in more than 25 countries starting on Sept. 16.

“I predict Watch sales will improve dramatically,” said Tech analyst Patrick Moorhead. “Most of the current Watch owners are early adopters and the next wave could be 10 times the size of that market.”

Apple also launched a new version of the device called the Apple Watch Nike+, in partnership with the athletic goods manufacturer Nike Inc., featuring GPS so athletes can track their runs.

Shares of Fitbit Inc., which makes activity-tracking bands, closed down 2 percent on the emergence of such a high-profile competitor.

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Examining Robert Mapplethorpe three decades later

“The thing the world is most afraid of is the penis.”

That’s the claim Jack Fritscher makes, partially on behalf of his ex-lover Robert Mapplethorpe, in the new HBO documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures. The film, released parallel to an unprecedented joint exhibition of the photographer’s work at the J. Paul Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art under the name Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, offers an opportunity to look back on his often-shocking body of work and the influence he’s had on the world of photography.

For those who weren’t alive in the ‘80s, the name “Mapplethorpe” might not have the disquieting effect it had three decades ago. The openly gay photographer shocked the art world with his brazen photographs of male sexuality, nudity, and sadomasochistic practices. As fate would have it, he rose to fame when AIDS was devastating the gay community, making his work all the more controversial.

Indeed, his photographs were jarring. A self-portrait with a whip inserted into his anus shocked the art world and non-art world alike. Portraits of black male nudes shook the status quo of “beauty.” Nudity, sex, and blatant objectification of the penis were as normal to Mapplethorpe as sunsets to Monet. He flaunted this subject matter as if to say: “This is how I live; get over it.”

When a large retrospective of his work called The Perfect Moment opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia in 1989, it caused more than a stir, proving that the world was, indeed, very afraid of penis. Conservative lawmaker Jesse Helms attempted to cut funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) because of their support of Mapplethorpe’s work. In 1990, The Perfect Moment traveled to Washington, D.C.’s Contemporary Arts Center, where museum director Dennis Barrie was subsequently arrested on charges of obscenity.

The irony is all this controversy peaked at the exact time when Mapplethorpe was at his weakest. In 1989, at the age of 42, he passed away in his home from complications due to AIDS.

Although he lived a short life, Mapplethorpe had a tremendous influence on the gay rights movement, the art world, and the medium of photography. He continued to work even as he was dying, and was obsessed with the fame, fortune, and controversy that surrounded him during his career.

Had he lived, however, he would have seen the Mapplethorpe mania dwindle. In the 27 years since his death, there have been no ambitious exhibitions of his work at any major museums until this year, with the opening of The Perfect Medium in March. During these 27 years, gay marriage became legal, the AIDS crisis declined, and many of the taboos surrounding homosexuality were broken down.

In a publication based on the show, called Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs, curator Paul Martineau states,“the authors of this volume hope that the insights presented here will bring new light and greater balance to the study of his work.” In other words, The Perfect Medium is an attempt to place Mapplethorpe’s work in a current context after being locked in a drawer for years.

The Photographs is a massive book, consisting of thousands of prints from The Perfect Medium and five essays by art critics. The most insightful observation is from Richard Meyer in an essay called “Mapplethorped” which states, “Today, the price of Mapplethorpe’s work at auction, the critical and interpretive attention it has received, and its acquisition and display by prominent museums attest to the fact that it has indeed achieved something legitimate in the history of art.”

This means that Mapplethorpe is now embedded in the canon of art history. His portraits are examined by art students for their formal beauty rather than their erotic nature, his photographs sell at auctions for upwards of $300,000 to members of the cultural elite, and museums show his work alongside other famous art. But does this mean the rest of the world has finally accepted the shocking candor of Mapplethorpe’s vision?

Self Portrait 1980 Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989 ARTIST ROOMS  Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00225
A self-portrait of Mapplethorpe, taken in 1980. Photo: Tate

This documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, gives further insight to this. It is certainly made for a mainstream audience, abandoning the sterile and official presentation of The Photographs and giving way to crass language and honesty.

The viewer is presented with some rare interviews from members of the Mapplethorpe family, including his brother and sister. In a raw and unscripted moment of vulnerability, Edward Mapplethorpe introduces himself by saying, “I am Robert Mapplethorpe’s younger brother.” He laughs nervously and diverts his eyes from the camera, as if he is not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

He and his sister claim their family was very strict and Mapplethorpe never fully admitted his homosexuality to his parents. They agree he was competitive and jealous, and his work was a source of contention in the family. His sister Nancy recalls pushing their mother around in her wheelchair at an opening of his work and the awkwardness that prevailed afterward.

Some of Mapplethorpe’s photographic subjects were also interviewed, and describe how he lured them to his apartment from bars and used flattery to persuade them to model. A few subjects claimed that they were his lovers, but others felt that he “used” them for their bodies. In the words of model Marcus Leatherdale, “To be in Robert’s world, you either had to be rich, famous, or sex.”

In contrast to these testaments, a recurring scene shows curators at the Getty and LACMA gathered around his work in reverence as if staring down at a holy shrine, their fingers tracing the meticulous composition of the images. The juxtaposition shows the duality of his work. It is appreciated — worshipped, even — in a high art context, but remains embarrassing and confrontational to those who view it from a personal level.

All in all, the most telling aspect of the Mapplethorpe resurgence is the utter lack of controversy surrounding it. An article recently published in the LA Times disagreed with a museum wall text stating that Mapplethorpe was an advocate of an “openly gay lifestyle” — and is perhaps the most inflammatory statement about the show.

In 2016, the only remnants of the hysteria are the nervous giggles from those who knew him. This time around, there are no angry politicians, protestors, or incarcerated curators. In some ways it is a bit insulting: Mapplethorpe surely would have been irked to see his work turned into sacrosanct objects in a museum. In other ways, however, it is a refreshing reminder of the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in society.

Is the world still afraid of the penis? As we march into a more progressive age, only the audience can answer that question.

Gregory Conniff goes digital, finds new exposures in nature

Landscape photographer Gregory Conniff’s artistic world once consisted solely of saw-toothed picket fences, tangled brush and deep, evocative shadows that appeared to lengthen the longer one looked at his black-and-white gelatin silver prints. It was imagery filled with nuanced and subtle emotion, void of human occupancy, yet alive with an untold vibrancy.

Gregory Conniff's Watermarks series features color images, a shift for the photographer.
Gregory Conniff’s ‘Watermarks’ series features color images, a shift for the photographer.

A challenge from the curators at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA), located in West Bend, recently changed Conniff’s way of looking at nature. Armed with a high-definition digital camera and tasked with taking color photos rather than black-and-white shots, the Madison attorney-turned-photographer took a closer look at images once seen only through a monochromatic lens. What he found has given his natural imagery even greater detail and dimension, and taken his work in new, expressive directions.

Watermarks, MOWA’s exhibit of 43 photographs by Conniff that opened April 9, displays his newly evolving and carefully articulated vision. It’s a vision, the photographer says, that holds as much promise for the viewers as for the artist himself.

What made you want to become a photographer?

I’ve had a darkroom since I was 13. I photographed for all the usual publications in schools and then never stopped. One appeal of photography for me is its speed of capture and its extended length for contemplation of results, the way a picture does — or doesn’t — age.

How did you find your way to Madison and what made you give up practicing law?

I grew up in New Jersey, and while I found myself in Wisconsin many decades ago, I am still from New Jersey. This allows me to appreciate both the order and beauty of the Wisconsin rural landscape and to feel familiar with the state’s exploration of the sort of political and economic geography I grew up with. In the late 19th century, painter George Innes studied the rural New Jersey landscape that gradually became Sopranos country (and the territory of my youth). Innes would have recognized the Wisconsin I saw upon my arrival here. Tony Soprano would be comfortable with how the state is changing.

During the 1970s I did a number of things, one of which was practicing law, another of which was making photographs. I found that I was a better self when I was making pictures and so restricted my professional life to photography around 1978 when I felt my images were at least as good as the worst of what I saw on exhibition.

Why landscape photography?

I like working outdoors and am not suited for sitting at a desk. The vernacular American landscape has been and still is my territory, but its evolution in my mind has been through an increased focus on the simple fact of beauty and our need for its nourishment. The essence of my thinking is that “it matters how things look.”

What caused you to take up MOWA’s challenge and change your style?

Apparently I’m a sucker for some thrown gauntlets. What I’ve learned over the past year and a half is how much more there is to see in my immediate world and how the character of my tools has enlarged the range and complexity of what I can learn to see.

How difficult was it for you to make the change after decades of black-and-white work?

I jumped into the challenge from the museum wild and blind, hoping that light would fall on the world in a way that was new to me. My biggest hurdles were learning to use new equipment of radically different character, learning new software to meet the demands of drastically increased output, and learning where my subject lay and how to trust it. I ended up with three bodies of work, one of which continues under the radar, another of which wasn’t news, and the third of which exploded and is hanging now in West Bend. I wish I lived closer to the show, because the pictures are so fresh that I’ve just begun to learn what they contain.

The Watermarks series is one of three that Conniff created after MOWA's challenge.
The ‘Watermarks’ series is one of three bodies of work that Conniff created after MOWA’s challenge.

Tell me about the current exhibition.

The pictures that make up Watermarks, while coherent and organized, are so new to me that I have no words to break them down into components. I count this as a mercy.

This show went up wet. I did a 180° turn and am traveling a road with no signage and indistinct margins. I’m not even sure I’m on a road. The show is also an installation — no labels, just one thing and meant for lingering immersion. It would be great if I could talk around Watermarks in such a way that a reader would want to dive in, but I can’t.

In general, what does an artist’s work say about him or her? What does your work say about you?

When an artist’s work feels inevitable — its ideas shaped into fact without obvious effort or ego — I trust that I’m in the presence of someone who cares about both the piece and its audience. I give over my initial attention with gratitude. I say “Of course,” and then I look and look.

I like work that lasts, that slowly releases new understandings as the viewer ages and changes alongside the work. I respect work that isn’t afraid to be both beautiful and confounding. The odd couple of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Robert Irwin has enlarged my world with each artist’s quiet insistent immediacy and inherent joy. They happen to be on my mind right now for different reasons, but the company of visually generous artists is large, diverse, and extends back to the walls at Lascaux.

What would you like viewers to take away from your MOWA exhibition?

If a viewer leaves the show with the thought that daily life contains wonders that will reveal themselves to sufficient attention, then Watermarks will have done its job. If the viewer also feels a desire to experience the show again, then it’s possible to think that what I’ve made is art.

Landscape photographer Gregory Conniff’s Watermarks is on display through June 19 at The Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend. For more information, call 262-334-9638 or visit wisconsinart.org.

Milwaukee Art New-seum | MAM reinvents with a lakefront entrance and a dynamic new plan for galleries

Most museum renovations wouldn’t be undertaken the way the Milwaukee Art Museum’s has been — closing everything but the special collections gallery in the Quadracci Pavilion to the public for a year.

More common, says chief curator Brady Roberts, is for a museum to close sections of a permanent collection a bit at a time and revealing each revision as it’s completed. “It’s hard to tell what’s changed,” he says. “and it’s not very dramatic.”

MAM’s big reveal, on the other hand, brings new meaning to the word “dramatic.” The museum that reopens its doors on Nov. 24 will be completely different from the one that closed last November, thanks to an expansion and reinstallation that will add a new lakefront entrance and 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, filled with 2,500 works of art — a thousand more than the museum has ever been able to display. 

In many ways, Roberts says, the renovation, spearheaded by museum director Dan Keegan, was as much a matter of practical need as artistic innovation. The Milwaukee Art Museum is a multi-building complex, with this lakeside addition (informally dubbed the “East End” by curators) joining the War Memorial Center, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957; a 1975 expansion, designed by David Kahler; and the iconic Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava. The older buildings were in dire need of repair, with severe structural issues, including a leaky roof and a failing HVAC system. “It was really putting the collections at risk,” Roberts says. “Water and moldy air and art don’t mix.”

But those practical concerns gave Roberts and his curators an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the entire museum. Judging the museum’s original floorplan a “maze” even veteran curators had been known to get lost in, Roberts says his team wiped the slate clean, redrawing the museum’s boundaries to find the best place for every gallery. “Say there are no walls, that you just have a blank canvas. How would you build the walls to best show the art?” Roberts asks.

For the first time, that question has different answers for each gallery. Previously, MAM’s galleries were largely uniform, with simple brown-gray walls. Now, each curator has been allowed to design galleries that best fit the art within. In addition, the Saarenin building has been restored to better resemble its original design, and elements of Kahler’s expansion now accent certain galleries.

The expansion also has given the museum the ability to create two new galleries. The 20th- and 21st-Century Design Galleries, arranged by MAM’s newest curator Monica Obniski, give the museum’s expansive collection of industrial design objects their own space for the first time, and Roberts says Obniski is using her new space to acquire works that push the collection closer and closer to our present day. “We’re surrounded by design objects,” he says. “You can be surrounded by beautiful design every day of your life, if you think about it.”

Also exciting is the new Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, located on the lower level of the museum. When the collections closed last year, Roberts says the museum’s photography gallery had been diminished to a wall that held about five photographs — an alarming lapse even before you know that MAM was one of the earliest museums to collect photography, with MOMA as its only real predecessor.

The Herzfeld Center, curated by Lisa Sutcliffe, is finally a space worthy of MAM’s collection. The word “photography” literally means “writing with light,” and Roberts says Sutcliffe and the museum have taken that as inspiration, including light and video installations along with print photography, making the gallery a national destination in the process. “In 200 years,” Roberts says, “when people look back at the 21st century, this will be the century of photo-based media.” 

Roberts says the renovation also fixes a persistent problem for the museum: the lack of an additional special exhibition space. While the Baker-Rowland Gallery in the Quadracci Pavilion (currently home to the museum’s Larry Sultan retrospective) is the main driver for museum attendance, it has to close for a month every time MAM swaps exhibitions, adding up to a full quarter of the year. With the new Bradley Family Gallery, on the second floor of the East End, that lost time vanishes. Starting with the new gallery’s first show — the unveiling of recently acquired works by abstract expressionist printmaker Sam Francis — there will never be a period in which both special exhibition spaces are closed.

And the rest of the museum will be more dynamic — with this version of the “permanent” collection being the least-permanent it’s ever been. Roberts says curators plan to rotate works in and out of galleries on a regular basis, so there’s always something new to see in addition to the old favorites — as if people needed a better excuse to return over and over again.

The Milwaukee Art Museum will unveil its renovated galleries at a grand opening on Nov. 24, with members-only previews the weekend before. For more information, visit mam.org.

To get a better sense of what’s in store in the redesigned galleries, WiG spoke to the museum’s curatorial team, responsible for reshaping the floor plan for its six major gallery collections. Read on for more details.

Brady Roberts | Modern & Contemporary Art Galleries

Goals for the galleries’ expansion: “For the Modern and Contemporary collections we created soaring, white cube spaces that serve as neutral platforms to emphasize the works of art. The floorplan is clear and logical, allowing for intuitive navigation through the galleries.”

Design of the new gallery space: The Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries include a series of halls filled with works by major artists of the 20th and 21st century, as well as a sculpture gallery overlooking Lake Michigan. Roberts says the spaces feature ceilings more than 17 feet high, better suited for the monumental works within. Also, the sculpture gallery exposes the original concrete columns designed in the 1970s Brutalist style by David Kahler, architect of the museum’s 1975 expansion. The Bradley Galleries also include new special exhibition space.

High-profile works to look for: MAM owns three sculptures by Donald Judd, considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, but has never been able to put them together. “To be able to present these three sculptures in one gallery where they all have their breathing room is something that any modern art museum would be envious of,” Roberts says. Other significant works include Eva Hesse’s fiberglass sculpture “Right After,” a rare example of her work that has not deteriorated due to its fragile materials.

Brandon Ruud | Constance & Dudley Godfrey American Art Wing

Goals for the gallery’s expansion: “I was particularly excited about creating a space that not only showcased the beauty and power of the Museum’s important American art collections in all its forms — decorative arts, paintings and sculpture — but one that allowed us to reveal the full, rich history of the nation’s arts and crafts.”

Design of the new gallery space: The new American wing at MAM will feature paintings and decorative art objects — including the collection curated by the Chipstone Foundation. Ruud says he considers the museum’s collection of 17th- to 19th-century decorative art to be one of its greatest strengths and the new gallery space was designed to include decorative art in vignettes that suggest how they were used during their time periods. “These spaces range from airy, grand galleries where visitors will hopefully have a ‘Wow!’ moment, to more intimate spaces that allow for intense examination and viewing,” he says.

High-profile works to look for: Ruud says the expansion has motivated new acquisitions and donations, including a rare canvas by 18th-century painter Jeremiah Paul and a Long Island scene by Thomas Moran. In addition to John Singleton Copley’s better-known portrait “Alice Hooper,” Ruud recommends patrons check out a pair of Copley portraits that haven’t been presented in the United States since they were painted more than 250 years ago.

Monica Obniski | 20th- and 21st-Century Design Galleries

Goals for the new galleries: “This is the first time the design collection will have dedicated space within the museum, so my goal is to display a diversity of works within thought-provoking vignettes. … I am really excited about building a contemporary design collection that makes sense for MAM.”

Design of the new gallery space: One of the two new spaces in MAM’s addition, the design galleries bring the museum’s decorative artworks to a prominent position near the new lakeside entrance. Obniski says the space is designed so a viewer traveling around the periphery can get a loosely chronological survey of design from about 1900 to the 1960s, but also can dig deeper, exploring the interplay of dichotomies — beauty and functionality or art and technology.

High-profile works to look for: Since the design galleries are new, Obniski is excited to display works that were tucked away in the archives, like experimental furnituremaker Mathias Bengtsson’s “Slice Chair.” She’s also pursuing new works to add to the collection, including MAM’s first 3-D printed chair (arrival TBD). And you won’t be able to miss the “chair wall” — a display of chairs from the 20th century hung along an exposed concrete wall.

Margaret Andera | Folk and Self-Taught Art Gallery, Haitian Art Gallery

Goals for the galleries’ expansion: “Both the Haitian art and the folk and self-taught art were in parts of the building that didn’t make as much chronological sense for the collections. The collections now are adjacent to contemporary and modern art, exactly where they fit into the chronology.” 

Design of the new gallery space: Before the renovation, the mezzanine level of MAM wasn’t used for gallery space, so Andera says it may surprise regular attendees when they see it for the first time. To convert a former study center into the folk and Haitian galleries, the museum knocked down walls and doors, dramatically opening up the space. “It’s now this one, contiguous gallery space and I think it’s one of the most transformed spaces in the whole re-installation,” Andera says. That also allowed the museum to open up a balcony overlooking the first floor, allowing patrons to see into the sculpture gallery from the mezzanine.

High-profile works to look for: Andera says the museum’s “Newsboy” sculpture has long been used as visual shorthand for the folk and self-taught galleries, and its new placement will allow patrons to see it from multiple angles for the first time. She’s also excited that the museum will be able to exhibit a banner by Milwaukee self-taught artist Josephus Farmer — previously too damaged to present to the general public but restored by the museum’s conservators for the reopening.

Tanya Paul | Antiquities and European Galleries

Goals for the galleries’ expansion: “My goal was twofold. On one hand, I wanted to respond to and better highlight the strengths of our collection — in particular its uniquely broad, pan-European perspective with distinctive strengths in German art. On the other hand, I also wanted to fully integrate our collections of fine and decorative European art.”

Design of the new gallery space: The two-floor galleries, twice the size of the original space, will interconnect MAM’s collection of European paintings and prints and its European antiquities collection. Paul says the spaces will “blend into one another, resulting in a complex portrait of European art and its interrelatedness.” The museum’s salon-style room for the Layton Art Collection will return, presenting works from the collection as they would have been in a late-19th/early 20th-century gallery.

High-profile works to look for: Viewers should look forward to once again seeing the museum’s arresting “Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb,” by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, along with other recognizable works like Jules Bastien-Lepage’s “Woodgatherer” and the museum’s Monet painting. Paul also recommends keeping an eye out for a monumental decorative vase by Barbedienne and new acquisitions from French portrait painter Alexandre Cabanel.

Lisa Sutcliffe | Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts

Goals for the new gallery: “The photography collection has never had dedicated galleries at this scale before and it is exciting to show the work in the broader context of light-based media including video, film and digital media. The first show celebrates our collection highlights and gives the community a chance to get to know our photography collection, which hasn’t been shown together for 25 years.

Design of the new gallery space: The other new space in MAM’s addition takes over the lower level of the museum, providing Sutcliffe with a light-controlled space to work in. Sutcliffe says exhibitions will rotate on a shorter cycle (3 to 4 months) to offer an evolving selection and help preserve the light-sensitive photographs. 

High-profile works to look for: Sutcliffe is well aware that there’s an excitement among patrons-in-the-know about the return of Stanley Landsman’s Walk-In Infinity Chamber, which uses two-way mirrors and light bulbs to create a unique, near-magical space. But she’s also excited for them to get to know Anthony McCall’s “You and I Horizontal, II,” a participatory light installation that digitally recreates a solid light film from the 1970s. MAM will also be installing its earliest photographic acquisition, Edward Weston’s “Bad Water, Death Valley.” 

No place like home: Larry Sultan’s MAM retrospective

Is a photograph truth? Whose truth? To what degree? 

The lens of late photographer Larry Sultan (1946–2009) frames those questions and more in the numerous series created throughout his career, and in his major retrospective, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the viewer may be left to muse over those questions long after leaving the show. 

Larry Sultan: Here and Home begins with an early project embarked upon by the artist and his collaborator, Mike Mandel. Called Evidence, it consists of black-and-white photographs drawn from archives of various institutions — some public, some private. Corporations, government agencies and the academic realm are all opened up, yielding pictures that offer few definitive statements about just what is going on or who is involved, but instead leave a lingering sense of subterfuge. 

In various shots, men in suits hang out on top of a grassy hill and animatedly talk, one gesturing with a walkie-talkie. In another a car burns out in flames. Others isolate strange metallic objects and machines. These are hidden areas of the world, the experiments and endeavors that we only know exist through these photos.

Some of Sultan’s photos aren’t as investigative as these. Some are perusals of intimate, unseen moments, often lurking in the idealized world of California suburbs. 

His parents provide subject material for his Pictures from Home series. A patina of middle-class comfort colors these images. His mother and father are shown in the midst of daily life, as they chat at the kitchen table, hang around the patio, read in bed. 

The project stemmed from revisiting old family movies, which Sultan considered to have the quality of quiet, epic narratives. Some of those movie stills are included in the gallery and are like a time capsule of a sort of mid-century optimism, bathed in golden light. Photographs of his parents at glamorous receptions and even a party dressed as pirates offer evidence of a carefree life of enjoyment. Sultan’s mother, usually with impeccably painted fingernails and polished makeup, embodies an attentiveness to personal image. 

Sultan doesn’t draw away the curtain to reveal a rawer underside, but it is as though he captures the process of self-projection, the accouterments of style and a sense of being cultivated by their personalities. 

Things are more transient in other series, such as The Valley. These images are a glimpse into ordinary homes and settings, temporarily populated by performers and crews shooting adult films. 

Here, Sultan’s lens reveals the artifice, the behind-the-scenes of bodies, cameras, cords and onlookers who exist outside of the filming frame. The Valley series originated from images taken near the photographer’s childhood residence and point to multilayered strata of a constructed fantasy. The sets are ordinary, recognizable slices of Americana, against which fantasies of sex and desire are set with the tacit understanding of their own artificiality. 

Sultan’s final series before his death was called Homeland. Here, the liminal spaces of suburbia are explored: tracts of land behind houses where manicured lawns and swimming pools are separated by fences from the wild bramble that marks neighboring territory, or the tall wild grasses that rise undeterred by the lawn mower’s penchant for uniformity. 

Among these scenes are migrant Latino workers, engaged in activities such as boating or carrying dishes of food through wild paths behind houses. The men were found as laborers waiting to be hired for day jobs. In Sultan’s work their personal sense of transience resonates with spaces that lie in between the tidy notions of the American Dream. 

But as Sultan shows in this retrospective exhibition, these ideas are often cloudy, despite the ubiquitous sunshine, and in many ways, consciously constructed. 

ON DISPLAY

Larry Sultan: Here and Home continues through Jan. 24 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr. Visit mam.org for more details.

RELATED PROGRAMS AND EVENTS 

DIY Larry Sultan Style 

As part of the exhibition Larry Sultan: Here and Home, the Milwaukee Art Museum has put together Here and Home: The MKE Challenge. Over the course of six weeks, interested participants will be given an assignment to make photographs in the spirit of some of Sultan’s themes and ideas. The first assignment, “Fake Evidence,” involves making an image that takes after the ideas in Sultan’s first major series, Evidence. New assignments are offered weekly, and the event is open to novice and experienced photographers alike. For more information, see mam.org/Larry-Sultan/here-and-home-mke-challenge.php.

Gallery Talk 

Tour the Larry Sultan: Here and Home exhibition with a museum staff expert for a additional information on the work of this highly influential photographer. Thirty-minute Express Talks will be held on Nov. 5 at noon and 5:30 p.m. Curator of photography and media arts, Lisa Sutcliffe, will offer a tour at 1:30 on Nov. 24, the first day the new permanent collection galleries will reopen to the public.

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. 

ON DISPLAY 

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.

MOWA puts photographer duo in the viewfinder

There is a familiar, strange and dark beauty in the lives drawn out by photographer duo J. Shimon & J. Lindemann. You know these people, you know these places. They are particular and peculiar, brought together at the Museum of Wisconsin Art for the pair’s largest museum show yet: a retrospective of their 30-year career. It is an eloquently important exhibition.

What is perhaps most fascinating about John Shimon and Julie Lindemann’s work is their ability to reveal parts of the individual self that are always there but often unseen. Artifice and stereotypes vanish. Their subjects candidly say what they want to say, offering authentic statements about who they are, recorded by the photographers’ lens.

Much is made, and rightly so, of Shimon and Lindemann’s identity as Wisconsin artists. They have long been based in the Manitowoc area, away from the clamoring crush and fashion parade of a glossy contemporary art world where much can be made of trends.

Shimon and Lindemann’s depth is sourced from their astute aesthetic, technical rigor and profound connection to a culture. It could not be replicated by an outsider and, in the transient nature of contemporary life, this gleams like a rare jewel. In this place, they have found freedom in the absence of the external.

The exhibition opens with the monumental photograph, “Angela with Kit (Blue Velvet Prom Dress), Reedsville, WI” (1997). Angela’s biography is deeply rooted in rural concerns as a student of dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, participation in groups such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America and the award of the titles such as County Farm Bureau Queen. The juxtaposition of her formal attire and bovine companion may sound improbable or even ironic, but it speaks deeply to the complex aspects of life that exist simultaneously. Shimon and Lindemann compress these into a single moment. In the clarity of the image and its impressive scale, the detail of the hair raised on Angela’s arm is not lost. It is as though there is a chill in the air but she is resolute and unconcerned. There is a toughness and acceptance of conditions, whatever they may be.

“Debra at Home Revealing Tiger Tattoo, Sturgeon Bay, WI” (1999) is another dismantling of what may seem ordinary. In a field, with a farm silo in the distance, the subject opens her shirt dress to show a naked thigh with an inked cat crawling up her hip. In ways overt and discreet, Shimon and Lindemann reveal that there is much in the world either assumed or hidden. The photographers document from within, capturing a realness and beauty as though digging through topsoil to reveal rich earth beneath. 

The exhibition covers a variety of subjects, also illustrated in the exhibition catalog which is available in print and as a free download from the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s website. Categories include Rebellion, Machines, Farms, Landscape, and Sages, and the catalog (and exhibition) closes with the exquisite series “Decay Utopia Decay.”

In this last series, the camera is turned, transforming the creators into protagonists. Lindemann is an extraordinary subject as well as artist, pictured in the kitchen chopping vegetables or drying dishes. She is poised, cool and statuesque and turns the tables on domestic cliches. She is outfitted in black vinyl shorts and a lacy bustier with a demure apron printed with flowers. Sweeping the floor, Lindemann is nonchalant in a sheer negligée and heels. The camera angle is low, and she is in control.

A most stirring image comes in the form of “Self-Portrait in the Garden at Dusk, Whitelaw, WI” (1998). The title aptly uses the singular form for the collaborative pair. 

Shimon holds a heavy box camera while Lindemann stands stoically and sculpturally in a gauzy black dress. The location appears wild, barely tamed as the tall grasses and prairie flowers flourish under an overcast sky. The scene is activated by the artists’ presence and their practice. Photography gear has been hauled out, and the cords of an illuminated lamp trail off to some source of electricity. 

This is the place. Connected to the rest of the world like that black cord bringing light to this patch of the country, they inhabit it freely and easily, documenting and illuminating it and themselves, framed proudly against the horizon. 

“There’s a Place: Photographs by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann” continues through June 7 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend. Visit wisconsinart.org for more details.

MOWA sends Lois Bielefeld on a European adventure

Lois Bielefeld has always been interested in portraits. Ever since she took up photography as a young Milwaukeean and moved to New York to pursue it as a career, her artistic works have been what she calls “conceptual portraits” — works assembled in a series, centered around the habits and traits all people share.

She moved back from New York in 2010, relocating for her day job as a Kohl’s photographer, and most of her subjects since have been in the Wisconsin area. For her latest project, she’s going much further afield: the tiny, landlocked Western European nation of Luxembourg.

The adventure comes as a fellowship sponsored by the Museum of Wisconsin Art, and Bielefeld is the program’s first artist-in-residence. The annual, 10-week residency includes travel fare, a monthly stipend and housing in Bourglinster, a converted castle 15 minutes north of Luxembourg City, where Bielefeld will have the opportunity to live and work surrounded by Luxembourg culture. 

It’s an honor she says she never anticipated receiving, especially after having been able to watch the judging process for Milwaukee’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship the year after she won that in 2012. “That was a huge reality check,” she says, reflecting on the 200-odd entries submitted to that prize’s jury. “I knew there were amazing artists here, but I didn’t know to what level. … I in no way thought I would ever get the fellowship.”

Bielefeld’s works, photographs blown up to a large scale, stand out as particularly striking and intimate examples of portraiture. And she’s recently expanded beyond photography with projects that investigate sexuality and gender roles. One, Ladies Out, is a documentary film that premiered in 2014, depicting a community of Milwaukee lesbians over 40 who get together on a monthly basis to go dancing and socialize.

Her latest show, Androgyny, at Portrait Society Gallery (which represents Bielefeld), follows that trend. The exhibit, which runs through March 14 is primarily composed of solo portraits, depicting adults and children who present androgynously to the world at large. But while taking their photos, Bielefeld also asked her subjects a series of questions about themselves and their life experiences, which she recorded and turned into a single, six-hour audio piece. When setting up her installation, Bielefeld built a non-functioning public bathroom with gendered entrances, acknowledging the space as one where non-gender-conforming individuals are most frequently challenged and forcing her audience to feel some of that tension.

“To me, interactive art has always been the most memorable,” she says. “It just engages you on a different level. If you can get somebody thinking beyond just looking at something … every aspect of the bathroom is very thought-out to have it hit you.”

But due to the limitations of being abroad, Bielefeld says, she anticipates her residency project will stick to photographic mediums, like her earlier work. Her first series, The Bedroom, presents its subjects in their own rooms, suggesting the contents are a reflection of their characters. “I’ve always loved seeing people’s bedrooms, even as a little kid,” she says. “It really says a lot about a person.”

Weeknight Dinners, an ongoing project she started as part of her Nohl Fellowship work, touches on similar themes. In each, Bielefeld captures a single family unit on an average day of the week, eating the food they normally would.

That series, she says, is how she plans to segue into Luxembourg society during her fellowship. Wisconsin is home to a number of small Luxembourg-American communities, most notably in Belgium, Wisconsin, and Bielefeld traveled there to take dinner portraits of Luxembourg-American families. She hopes to take an additional 12 while overseas, “both because I’m just curious how their eating habits are different than ours, but also to immerse myself in the culture and really get connected.”

Bielefeld says those families have also proven helpful in educating her about what Luxembourg culture is like. She’s already learned about the significance of St. Nicholas and his feast day over Santa Claus and Christmas, and about ethnic dishes like mustripen, a blood sausage native to the region. She even says she’s beginning to get a sense of a sort of Luxembourg character trait: a warm disposition inexplicably mixed with a distinctly private nature.

Details like that, and what she learns upon arrival, are what will help her figure out what to do after the first few weeks, once she’s become more acclimated to the region. Or so she hopes. It’s a nervous anticipation, she says, preparing for the fellowship, but she’s optimistic it’ll provide her with the nudge she needs to grow as an artist. “I’m really looking forward to how people do things differently elsewhere,” she says, “And hopefully making a compelling body of work out of it.”

Whatever Bielefeld creates is slated for exhibition at MOWA sometime next year, but that isn’t her concern at this point. She’s only thinking about the frames of photographs, and what snapshots of Luxembourg she’s going to put in them.

Gallery Night and Day guide

It’s time to brave the winter chill and check out exciting new exhibitions around town. Here are a few highlights to see on this Gallery Night and Day, Jan. 16 and Jan. 17. 

‘Lois Bielefeld: Androgyny’ 

Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St., Fifth Floor 

In photography, video and audio, the character of male and female identity is blurred and blended, combining aesthetic interest with social reflection. Also on view will be the annual installation of the Winter Chapel, with two versions this year: one by Bruce Knackert and the other by kathryn e. martin.

‘Engendered’

Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, 273 E. Erie St. 

This wide-ranging group exhibition explores gender, identity and sexuality. As described by curator Niki Johnson, “The bedroom, the body and the queer take center stage, creating a space in which
the subordinate experience becomes empowered.” 

‘JoAnna Poehlmann:
Now and Then’

RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. Fourth St. 

This impressive retrospective includes nearly 400 drawings, assemblages and sculptural works that pay homage to nature and famous names in art history. 

‘Bass Structures:
The Mark of Sound’

88Nine Radio Milwaukee, 220 E. Pittsburgh Ave. 

Audio and visual combine in paintings made by loud pulses of sound shot through paint. The results are curated by Jeff Redmon, and the Gallery Night festivities will culminate in “a multidimensional DJ battle” from 9 p.m. to midnight. 

‘Santiago Cucullu: New Work’

‘Screens and Mirrors: New Paintings by Claire Stigliani’

Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St. 

Two provocative contemporary artists take over both floors of the gallery with paintings, sculpture, video, and other media inspired by pop culture, personal stories, and more.