Tuesday afternoon, we went downtown to look at the collection of outdoor sculptures arranged along Wisconsin Avenue as part of the new Scupture Milwaukee event. Planned to be an annual thing, the exhibit has 22 sculptures from around the world installed along the city’s main street, from its east end (near the De Suvero “Sunrise” installation) west to N. 6th St.

We were fortunate to encounter some of the Downtown Guides who had just taken part in a kickoff event for the exhibition, who were able to give us a map and guide, as some of the pieces are set back from the street, and it’s possible to miss some of the smaller ones.
The pieces represent a wide variety of styles. Most are quite large, appropriate for outdoor settings.

Perhaps our favorite was one of the most spectacular pieces, “S2” by Santiago Calatrava, architect of the famous Milwaukee Art Museum wing. This dynamic piece is made up of interlocking metal sections, held together with tensioned cables. It reminds one of both a buzz-saw and a hurricane map, and looks striking and dangerous.

There’s also “Vortex” by Saint Clare Cemin, an inverted stainless steel tornado reaching for the sky; “Rose #2 (Icon Red)” by Will Ryman; “Immigrant Family,” by Tom Otterness, a charmingly cartoony grouping although ten feet tall in bronze; “Reina Mariana” by Manolo Valdes; and “Big Piney” by Deborah Butterfield, a very effective depiction of a horse as done in found branches (then also cast in bronze).

This was a very interesting exhibit, and gave us a good walk through our city on a lovely day. We hope this proves successful and indeed annual.
On Saturday, April 1, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the new exhibit, "Milwaukee Collects," which is made up of paintings and other objets d'art in the private collections of residents of Greater Milwaukee. The more than 100 works on loan came from nearly 50 collections, showing a great deal of community support. Some of the named donors included names well-known as patrons of the arts, and some unknown to us, and some remaining anonymous.

The exhibition is organized in roughly chronological order, with 19th Century pieces first up. These included representational and sentimental pieces such as Ludwig Knaus' "The Golden Wedding," (http://www.artnet.com/magazine/news/jeromack/jeromack5-16-7.asp); Eduard von Grutzner's fond paintings of portly monks, one of which, "The Catastophe" is in the Museum's permanent collection (http://art-now-and-then.blogspot.com/2014/04/eduard-von-grutzner.html); and some non-Academy French paintings, such as "Elodie with a Parasol," by Jules Breton (http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2017/03/10/art-private-collections-of-the-wealthy/nggallery/image/elodie-with-a-sunshade-bay-of-douarnenez-woman-with-parasol/).

By far the largest part of the exhibition is 20th Century work, and the sophistication of the local collectors is impressive. While "usual suspects," like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are represented, there are significant examples from important art movements like the "Ashcan School," the "Chicago Imagists," and the Dusseldorf School. We fond particularly amusing Erika Rothenberg's 1991 "Another Century of Progress," one of her "signboard" series (http://erikarothenberg.com/#works)a rather more humorous bookend to works like "America, the Greatest Nation on Earth" (not part of this exhibition).

Also just opened is the the exhibit "How Posters Work," which is a display focusing on the graphic design elements that make posters, now a fading art form, effective. Items from the Smithsonian Cooper Hewett collection are central to the show, which includes industrial and governmental designs, as well as examples of posters for films, plays, and concerts.

These were both very interesting shows and we were glad to have seen them.

Milwaukee Collects runs through May 21.
How Posters Work is on display through June 25th.

We went to the Milwaukee Art Museum Saturday, August 6th to see the current shows.

In particular, we went to see “From Rembrandt to Parmigiano: Old Masters from Private Collections.”  As it is described, the paintings and drawings in this exhibition are on loan from private owners, and not normally on public display.  The exhibit consists of fifty-one paintings and drawings lent by a number of collectors in the Upper Midwest, lead by local philanthropist Alfred Bader, who has just donated two additional significant pieces of 17th Century art to the Museum.

Of particular interest were the first two rooms, which concerned “history painting,”  a major genre of the 16-1700’s, which includes the depiction of Biblical and mythological scenes as well as purely historical. These included works by one of Rembrandt’s teachers, Pieter Lastman; van Rijn himself; and van Rijn’s studio-mate and colleague, Jan Lievens.  There were also some interesting examples of paintings “attributed to” Rembrandt, or assigned to the “circle of Rembrandt,” which means probably painted by one of Rembrandt’s assistants/students.

The exhibit very interestingly shows the evolution of new painting styles that evolved during this period, including the still-life, landscape painting, and portraiture.  Interestingly, the Protestant Reformation may have had a very significant effect on the world of art. Since Dutch Protestant painters no longer had the Catholic Church to rely on as patron, they had to find subjects that would appeal to new potential customers, mainly the moneyed burghers of the Netherlands.

The later period rooms, which include more Italian artists, also show evolution of styles, such as the deliberate distortion of figure proportion used by Parmigiano in some of his paintings, and other departures from naturalistic depiction, such as the very marked chiaroscuro used in the Mannerist style.

This was a fascinating exhibit, and we were very glad to have seen it.

The other exhibition we particularly went to see was “Corot, Daubigny, Millet: Visions of France,” which consisted of a collection of forty-one prints from the museum’s collection. These were done in an early sort of photo-etching technique called cliché-verre, or “glass negative.” In this technique, a glass plate was coated with ink, and then the ink removed to create an image. The plate was then placed on photographic paper and exposed to make a contact print.  This was a very quick and simple printing process, and some artists used it as a sketching medium or to preserve quick drawings.

This exhibit is taken from a collected set of prints by the artists  Jean-Baptist Camille Corot, Charles-Francois Daubigny, and Jean-Francois Millet, all members of the “Barbizon School”, which preferred naturalism over romanticized subjects. The set, collected by art dealer Maurice Le Garrec in 1921, consists of rural scenes of France.  The very simplicity of the medium brings the personal approaches of the artists into sharp contrast.  Although all were famed landscape artists capable of very finely finished works, Corot’s prints are extremely sketchy, as though making memoranda for later. On the other hand, Daubigny’s prints are much more finished works, good enough looking to be displayed like woodcuts or etchings.

The big exhibit going on at the Museum currently is “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood.”  Benton was a 20th Century American painter and muralist associated with the Regionalist movement. The exhibit focuses on his visit to Hollywood in 1938, in which he was commissioned to create a series of paintings about the movie industry. Given broad access, he drew many sketches, some of which were eventually amplified into full-sized paintings. Many of the sketches and intermediate treatments are on display, as well as paintings from the series. The exhibit also includes a number of paintings from a series dealing with the early American Indian Wars, and other subjects.

Benton’s paintings are big, bold, and dynamic, with sharp contrasts of dark and light (rather like a modern version of the Mannerist paintings we had seen upstairs).  The figures all tend to have heroic proportions,  in a fashion I associate with WPA murals or Communist Propaganda, but without the typical sharp-edged drafting.  Benton’s figures tend to be very blobby, for lack of a better term. His tempera painting is two-dimensional with large areas of flat color, which gives the impression that the figures were molded out of clay and then squashed onto the canvas with a rolling pin.

Historically, Benton did some very significant pieces, among them The Year of Peril, begun in 1941, which warned of the dangers of Fascism and Nazism with nightmarish images which both harked back to the propaganda posters of World War I, and pointed the way for those that would come in World War II. However, Georgie and I both agreed that Mr. Benton’s artwork was not to our taste, however significant.

After looking at the exhibits, we had lunch at the Café Calatrava, the small restaurant in the Museum. Informal, it is located on the lower level of the Calatrava Wing, and has an unrestricted view of the lake. The menu is not large, but offered a good range of choices.  I had the Roasted Hanger Steak, accompanied by a salad of Romanesco, arugula, and parmigiano, with an aged balsamic dressing, that was very good. Georgie had whitefish, which was also very nice. Service was fast and friendly. We would definitely eat there again.


On Friday, July 15th, we drove back over to Madison for the seventh day of the Madison Early Music Festival. We made good time driving, and arrived early. With some time to spend, we spent it quite profitably viewing the exhibition of Japanese wood block prints currently on display.
Taking up two rooms of the museum’s first floor, the show included a great variety of styles of prints. Classical pieces such as examples from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, or Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Road were represented, but there were many others we had not seen the like of before.

One of the very striking exhibits was a set of six prints by Hiroshi Yoshida, The Seto Inland Sea. Each one showed the same basic image of a moored ship in harbor, with the colors changed in each one, so as to depict pre-dawn, then morning, afternoon, evening, and night, with the sixth scene enshrouded in fog. Notes to the pieces confirmed our thoughts, that the artist had been influenced by Monet, with his studies of shifting light on haystacks or cathedrals.

Another, a tryptich, depicted an amazingly antic scene of a battle taking place on a rooftop. Two noble samurai are dueling, while a squad of feudal police and other samurai are trying to apprehend them with apparently small success. Titled, “Scene of the Battle on the Rooftop of Hoyukaku Pavilion,” by artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, it is an episode from a “semi-historical” novel called Nanso Satomi hakkenden (“The Tale of the Eight Loyal Dogs of the House of Satomi”).

There was also a fascinating series by Yoshitoshi, often referred to as the last great master of wood block printing, Handsome Heroes of the Suikoden. This series is based upon the 14th Century Chinese novel, The Water Margin. Each depicts one of the characters fighting a ghost, demon, or other eldritch creature. Published as a bound volume, each vividly colored image is roughly the size of a comic book or pulp magazine cover. Since each one incorporates a block of calligraphy, there is a strong impression of seeing the covers of a Japanese version of Weird Tales.

It was interesting also to see the evolution of wood block printing into the modern age. Always a commercial medium, 1931 saw a series, Modern Styles of Makeup, by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, a fashion-plate sort of work that presumably appeared in the pages of a newspaper or women’s magazine.

It’s a very worthwhile exhibit. The show continues through August 14th.

On Saturday afternoon, June 11th, we went to 42 Ale House for the “Made in Nerdwalkee” art and craft sale. This was a fascinating show, which has expanded from the function space to an outdoor tent (fortunately, not too hot when we were there). This was a really nifty show, that showed how technology has affected arts and crafts. Besides traditional jewelry, soaps, drawings, and fabric arts, there were also items made with Three-D printing, or computer-controlled laser cutting. We spent a good hour walking around the displays, chatting with the artists and admiring the goods and the many clever designs.
Sunday, June 5th, we stopped in to the Villa Terrace Museum for the annual opening of its Renaissance garden. This amazing site stretches down the bluff from the Villa atop it down to the shores of Lake Michigan, incorporating handsome mature plantings, and a spectacular staircase fountain.

This year, the grounds included an installation art piece by local environmental artist Roy Staab. The piece, entitled “Shadow Dance” consists of huge overlapping hoops of bundled reeds, five circles and an ellipse, overlapping and suspended at different levels on a framework of saplings. The work is very impressive when viewed from above from the Villa, and when walking around it on the lawn. To examine it up close and see the uniformity and precision of the bundling and lacing is croggling, as is the perfect circumference of the circles, knowing that he does all this work by hand. The weather and the gardens were beautiful.

The Villa also has a photograph show of a selection of Mr. Staab’s other installations, called “Suspended in Time,” and a collection of art baskets curated by Staab, “Beyond Baskets,” all of which were very interesting.
On Thursday evening, April 14th, we went to the Haggerty Art Museum on the Marquette University campus to see their current exhibits. This small museum consistently has interesting shows, and this season’s collection was particularly interesting.

“Women” was a common theme to all the exhibits. There was “Joan of Arc: Highlights from the Permanent Collection”; “Carrie Schneider: Reading Women”; “Page Turners: Women and Letters,” and “Bijinga: Picturing Women in Japanese Prints.”

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the reconstruction of the nearby Joan of Arc chapel, the museum pulled out four interesting pieces from its collection. There was a beautiful alabaster bust and a medieval-styled tapestry, both showing the “Maid of Orleans” as a shepherdess. The evening sunset light had a fascinating effect on the bust, as the expression changed if it was in shadow, or if the full sun was falling on it. The saint’s warrior phase was represented by a silver reproduction of a statue by princess Marie de France which shows Joan of Arc in armor, praying; and a study for a cathedral fresco, which shows a close-up of a formidable laurel-crowned saint scrutinizing her viewers.

“Reading Women,” by Carrie Schneider, has an interesting premise. The exhibition is a collection of poster-sized photographs depicting women reading works by women. In addition to the photographs, there is a four-hour long video installation of close-ups of the readers, which includes one hundred subjects. While there is a variety of women and settings in the photos, I was struck by an undercurrent of sameness in the poses. The majority of the women depicted are young. They mostly have a cozy-looking spot to sit or recline, most often by natural light. They all have serene expressions of contemplative concentration. Most all of them are reading serious literature, non-fiction or biography: in the collection of a hundred books, one is an Agatha Christie; there’s one Austen and one Bronte; after that the lightest work might be Zora Neale Hurston’s folklore collection. We didn’t have four hours to spend watching the video, but I would be surprised if any of the readers were depicted smiling or laughing.

It was interesting how this dovetailed with the “Page Turners” collection, which deals with written works about women reading, women’s education, and women’s rights. Through the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries, women readers were depicted as thoughtful and serious, the same slant as given by Ms. Schneider’s works. Of course, the women of earlier centuries were expected to be reading mostly prayer books. In the 19th century, we see more intellectual ferment, as both leisure reading in the form of novels for women, and books, articles, and broadsides for and against women’s education and rights began to appear. These texts are also represented in the collection, with illustrations reflective of the respective publishers’ often unflattering opinions on the subject.

Upstairs, there was a very interesting collection of Japanese woodblock prints. Although coming from a number of different genres, they all fall into the class of “bijin”, or “beautiful woman” pictures. Some were illustrations from classic stories, some were essentially advertisements for courtesans, some records of life in the kabuki and noh theaters (in which the beautiful women are actually men), and everyday life. Usual suspects like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro are represented along with other less-known artists. This was a particularly beautiful collection, with the artists’ meticulous depictions of fabrics as they fold and fall being just amazing.
On Sunday, March 27th, we went to see the exhibition “Nature and the American Vision,” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This exhibition features masterpieces from the New-York Historical Society’s acclaimed collection of landscape paintings. The exhibition charts the emergence of the Hudson River School, considered the nation’s first original aesthetic movement.

Although the collective art works produced are often referred to as being of “the Hudson River School,” there was much more going on than just a “school” of painting. Writers and poets contributed to the movement, and many of the painters wrote extensively about the artistic, philosophical, and spiritual groundings of the ideas.

The school in particular sought to evolve a uniquely American vision and aesthetic based upon the observation, study, and recording of the American landscape. In part, the paintings preserve the unspoiled and fabulous wildness of America’s vast expanse, not just in the Hudson River Valley, but all up and down the East Coast, as far west as Yosemite, and into South America.

The founding artists of the movement, such as Thomas Cole, were born and trained in Europe, and brought polished technique and attention to fine detail to their often panoramic paintings. Later, Hudson Valley School artists traveled to Europe and applied their practice to creating expansive views of the Old World.

This exhibition was fascinating, in part because it preserves color views of landscapes since vastly changed. We do not, these days, think of New Jersey as a rural Arcadia, but many of the New York-based painters went afield there to find the pastoral and wilderness settings they sought. It’s interesting to see pre-photograph depictions of Niagara Falls, knowing how much erosion has changed the shape of the Falls in the decades that have passed. The paintings are in themselves beautiful, but perhaps they have their greatest value in preserving the vision of a land that was to the artists’ eyes, shining and full of promise.

“Nature and the American Vision” continues at the Milwaukee Art Museum through May 8th.

Much of the exhibit space at the Milwaukee Art Museum has been closed for months while being repaired and renovated. These spaces were re-opened this month, and on Saturday the 26th, we went to check it out. We were pleased and impressed.

Basically, the major improvement is much better use of space. The two parts of the older building make up large rectangular areas only really broken up by a central stairwell, so, theoretically, one could cram in as many dividing walls to hang things on as one could and still leave space to see the larger pieces. The Art Museum didn’t go that far, but there does seem to be more wall space for hangings, but enough open space to appreciate what is on view. The total number of pieces on exhibit has been increased from 1500 to 2500. Critics have been very complimentary toward the renovation, including a significant article in the New York Times of December 28th. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/arts/design/milwaukee-art-museum-reinvigorates-with-renovations.html?emc=edit_th_20151229&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=23107975&_r=1)

This effect is most noticeable in the lower-level contemporary art area. The very austere high-ceilinged spaces make excellent locations for the frequently large modern paintings and installations. Beyond the familiar Warhol and Lichtenberg pieces that have been mainstays of the collection, there are now many more very interesting pieces on display. (A daunting number of which are titled “Untitled,” which makes me realize that it would be very easy to curate a large exhibit on that theme--.)

The upper level, housing the historical collections, has been broken up into intimate rooms, with wall colors and treatments that support the theme of each room. We were glad to see that a version of the “Layton Gallery,” which seeks to recreate an art exhibit as it would have looked at the time of the Museum’s founder, has been preserved, as have iconic exhibits such as the 19th Century German painting collection.

The Milwaukee Art Museum will never have the size or scope of something like the Art Institute of Chicago, but it has always been a very good museum and now is much improved. Its collection gives a nice overview of the history of Art from ancient to modern which is accessible within a leisurely day.
On Sunday, June 14th, we drove to Racine to visit the Racine Art Museum. The drive itself was not without its adventuresome aspects, as not only is the main freeway exit to downtown Racine, Highway 20, closed, the rain in the area wasn’t as gone as we had hoped, and there was some rather tense driving between Franksville and Racine on the detour route as there was a fortunately fairly brief downpour.

We managed to find the Museum without difficulty, and also found free parking (on Sunday) in a ramp one block east. I don’t know if it was the daunting rain, or if it was Sunday, or both, but downtown Racine was very quiet, and we were two of a dozen or so people that visited the Museum while we were there. Admission was a very reasonable three dollars each, and the lady at the counter was very helpful and friendly, stashing our dripping umbrellas out of the way for us.

The Museum currently has two major exhibits. On the first floor is “Contemporary Art Jewelry at RAM,” which was fascinating and worth the price of admission itself. The exhibit was made up of recent additions to the Museum’s permanent Jewelry collection, and included some really unusual and interesting items. Also part of that exhibit (although stretching the definition of jewelry) was a piece entitled “Byobu,” by Mariko Kusimoto, which was a toy theatre made out of metal, decals, and magnets, which allowed one to assemble scenes and characters paper-doll fashion.

The second floor hosts “A Whole Other World: Sub-Culture Craft: Artists Inspired by Doctor Who, Star Wars, Steampunk, and Superheroes,” which we had specifically come to see. This was, as one might expect, a very eclectic exhibit. We were met by three fantasy dresses by Timothy Westbrook, which were also featured in oil paintings by Gary Leonard, an unusual juxtaposition. Other fashion items included dresses by Silversark, and clockwork jewelry by Creek Van Houten (Compass Rose Jewelry). There was a display of “jetpacks” by Magnus Effing, Charles Tritt, and others of the “Airship Fortuna” crew. Centerpiece of the Doctor Who portion of the exhibit was an enormous quilt, depicting the The Tenth Doctor, 96 by 68 inches (eight feet by five feet eight inches) done in white and sepia tone squares each roughly the size of a large stamp. Star Wars was represented by a thirty-foot long “Coruscant Tapestry” (by Aled Lewis) and a croggling four-foot long “Millennium Falcon” (by Thomas E. Richner) composed mostly of cardboard. Cheong-Ah Hwang provided intricate cut-paper bas-reliefs of superheroes which were an elegant contrast to humorous hand-knitted “supersuits” by Mark Newport. (I thought the familiar red and blue “Sweaterman” cleverest.)

This exhibition continues through September 6th. Reviewing the Museum’s website, I’m annoyed to discover that there is the additional exhibit, “Sci-Fi, Superheroes, and Steampunk: RAM Community Art Exhibition”, which is at an entirely separate location, the Wustum Museum. Particularly annoying since the route we took in and out of town drove us right past the Wustum, on Northwestern Avenue. Foo! I must read websites more closely in future. However, the Wustum is closed Sundays, so we couldn’t have seen it anyway--. Which is annoying in a different fashion--. The main exhibits are worth going to just for themselves, but I would plan to go on a day when I could see both museums.
February 26th, We went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the current exhibit, “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” which is a fascinating selection of designer fashions shown at the Ebony Fashion Fair during its run from 1958 through 2009. Consisting of over one hundred pieces curated by the Chicago Museum of History, the exhibit is a showcase of fashions designed for—and, increasingly, by—African Americans. http://mam.org/inspiring-beauty/

Occupying the exhibit space in the Calatrava wing, the show begins, fittingly, with a handsome blue suit worn by Eunice W. Johnson, editor of Ebony magazine, and founder of the Fashion Fair. It then segues into the fashion collections, opening with a 1972 Emanuel Ungaro ensemble of a red, blue, green and purple suede coat over a crocheted bodysuit, and thigh-high stockings. This was followed by a 1988 Christian LaCroix cocktail outfit in black and white, accented with a bold red scarf. Then, there was a black and red Pierre Cardin “pop art” patterned dress from 1970, and a 1978 Yves Sant-Laurent “Picasso” dress with a skirt of multi-colored satin swirls.

Time and space prohibit me from describing in detail all of the amazing outfits we saw. Just about every major designer you can think of was represented: Givenchy, Bob Mackie, Courreges, Paco Rabanne, Valentino, Bill Blass, de la Renta, Thierry Mugler, Patou, and many others. Common elements in many of the pieces were bold use of color, extensive application of beading and sequins, daring cuts, and accents such as fur and feathers, although there were some more subtle designs as well. Borrowing from non-Western cultures such as Moroccan, Chinese, and Japanese, was also evident.

Of course, fashion, as Georgie says, is an “extreme sport,” and some of the designs fell into that category: Bob Mackie, Sarli, and Naeem Khan produced “evening gowns” that were variations on the theme of strategically placed lace or beading on sheer net. There were mostly backless gowns, and others with interesting cut-outs. Others were extreme in different ways: the entirely sequin-covered man’s evening suit in salmon and lavender plaid (Guy Laroche, 1972) is certainly striking, but where would you wear it?

Among all the wonderful designs, of course there had to be a few clunkers, and Vivienne Westwood came up with two of the worst: one being an assymetrical lumpy brown “evening gown” that appeared to have been made out of a furniture cover with parts of the furniture still inside. Another outfit, in black, blue, and gray from the Mount Mary collection, consisted of a coat with an angular pattern, plaid pants, and a checked top. The coordinated colors and fabrics make it an ensemble, but otherwise the effect is “I dressed in the dark.”

The exhibit is tastefully arrayed on attractive mannequins of varied complexions, which works well. The exhibition catalog is one of the better I have seen, with full page pictures of all the outfits you most want pictures of, posed on live models.

The exhibit runs through May 3rd before moving on to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. (For compete tour schedule visit http://www.artsandartists.org/. If you can’t find a venue near you, the catalog can be ordered through the Milwaukee Art Museum store on line.
2013 is the 125th anniversary year of Milwaukee's public art museum, originally the Layton Art Gallery, which was a mile or so away from the present Milwaukee Art Museum, on Cathedral Square. The first Gallery housed the collection of Fredrick Layton, philanthropist and collector, who decided to open his collection to the public in 1888. When layton died in 1919, he left his artworks to become the foundation of what would become the Milwaukee Art Institute, and eventually the Milwaukee Art Museum we know today.

The "Mr. Layton's Gallery" tribute to the founder takes up one of the larger galleries, and is densely hung ("salon style") with works that were added to the collection by Layton. These include pieces that have been on permanent display, such as "The Last Spartan" sculpture, and paintings "The Woodgatherer," and some that were taken from the vaults. Masters such as Winslow Homer ("Hark, the Lark"), Bouguereau ("Homer and his Guide") and Alma-Tadema ("A Roman Art Lover") are all represented.

It is very interesting to compare this exhibition with the "Treasures of Kenwood House," which covered a roughly equivalent period of individual collecting. By contrast with Lord Iveagh, Fredrick Layton seems to have had a more classical and less sentimental aesthetic. Although Layton shows a typically Victorian preference for landscapes either beautiful or dramatic, absent, at least from this selection, are any pretty children, and the portraits seem to have been chosen more for their interest than for their beauty.

This one gallery provides a very interesting sample of the Museum's early permanent collection, and of Milwaukee's cultural history.
Sunday the 14th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see their current traveling show, "Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsbourough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London." The Milwaukee Art Museum is one of four museums in the United States to present this exhibition of forty-eight masterpieces on tour from the Iveagh Bequest collection.

The Iveagh Bequest is named for Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. The forty-eight paintings in this exhibition are mostly drawn from Lord Iveagh’s collection and represent the greatest artists of their periods, including Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Thomas Gainsborough (English, 1727–1788), Sir Joshua Reynolds (British,1723–1792), Frans Hals (Dutch, ca. 1581–1666), and J. M. W. Turner (English, 1775–1851).

Portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish works dominated English aristocratic collections in the late nineteenth century, and the Iveagh Bequest is very representative of that tendency. A highlight of the exhibition is Rembrandt’s famous "Portrait of the Artist" (ca. 1665), one of the artist’s last self-portraits and one of only a few of his many self-portraits that show him in the act of painting. The picture suggests Rembrandt’s confidence in his reputation as an artist. Seeming to be a bit larger than life, the figure of Rembrandt benignly dominates the viewer. Among the several fine Gainsboroughs in the exhibition is the full-length portrait "Mary, Countess Howe" (ca. 1764). Such portraits were very popular during this period, owing to a great admiration for the aristocratic portraits of the seventeenth-century artist Anthony van Dyck, who was royal painter to Charles I of England. The exhibition features two portraits by Van Dyck, including the impressive "Princess Henrietta of Lorraine Attended by a Page" (ca. 1634).

In addition to collecting portraits of lovely ladies, Lord Iveagh was not immune to Victorian sentimentality, and included paintings of children in his collection. These portraits often served as reminders of the fleeting innocence of youth. One of the masterpieces of this genre is "Miss Murray" (1824–26) by Thomas Lawrence, depicting a charming three-year-old girl gathering flowers in the lap of her dress. (Georgie noted that the "little princess" style hasn't changed much in almost two hundred years--.)

We were very glad to have the opportunity to see these fine paintings in real life: those that were familiar are much more impressive life-size. Georgie was fascinated to find some by the well-known masters that she'd never seen reproduced anywhere.

he Iveagh Bequest has been housed at Kenwood House, a neoclassical villa in London. With Kenwood under renovation, this collection is traveling outside of the United Kingdom for the first time. The exhibition continues through January 13th.
Sometimes you know an artist's work. Sometimes you know an artist. How many serious art collectors do you know?

Georgie became acquainted with Mary and Michael Tatalovich partly because they work out at the West Allis Athletic Club, where she does, and as library patrons. Since Georgie knew Michael requested magazines such as "Art Forum," art became a topic of casual conversation during workouts, and she learned that the Tatalovichs shared interests in music, opera, and ballet as well.

Therefore, when we learned that the Haggerty Museum of Art was going to have an exhibition showing drawn from Mary and Michael's fine art print collection (which is to be donated to the Haggerty), we had to go.

It really is a very interesting exhibit. Not least, it made me wonder what the Tatalovich's house is like, and where on earth they keep their collection, since a lot of the pieces on display are quite large, some in excess of four feet on a side--.

Logistics aside, the Tatalovich's collection includes works from the 1960's to the present day. The exhibit includes their first purchase, a black and white etching by Leonard Baskin, titled "Edvard Munch," a 1964 print they purchased in 1965. As the exhibition catalog notes, "Within the diversity of the collection, there are certain proclivities for large-scale and brightly colored works and, most often, for artists that are less than shy about hue."

This is certainly true. The exhibition is notable for pieces such as Ellsworth Kelly's "Purple," which is a roughly four by three foot chevron of the title color. There are also very intricate works such as Chuck Close's portrait "John".

There are many well-known artists included in the collection: Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder are all represented. As well, there were many artists that were new to us, but whose works were equally interesting. If you are at all interested in contemporary art, or the various forms of printmaking, this is a very good exhibit for you.

The exhibition continues through August 5. Admission to the Haggerty Museum is free, although donations are appreciated.
On June 1, the Milwaukee Art Museum opened its current special exhibit, "The Posters of Paris,Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries." Georgie and I went to see on June 4th.

The exhibit covers the high period of French poster art, from the 1870's to the early 20th century, with concentration in the 1890's which was the peak of the poster phenomenon.

Advances in printing processes in the 1870's made large, colorful posters easy and cost-effective to produce, which rapidly made posters THE favored advertising medium. The exhibition includes photographs of walls plastered three stories and more high with rank upon rank of every sort of advertisement. With such competition to catch the public eye, effective use of color and design became a necessity for success.

The exhibition opens with the work of Jules Cheret, called "the father of the poster." His masterful use of color and lively, often humorous designs paved the way for other, more expressive and dynamic artists to follow.

The most famous of these was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He radically changed poster style with his use of bold blocks of color, sharp line, and recognizable, though minimal, silouhettes. If nothing else, it was worth coming to this exhibition just to see some of these posters in real life. One is used to seeing them on a book page, or small reproductions. In reality, the famous Toulouse-Lautrec poster for the Moulin-Rouge featuring "La Goulue" is more than six feet tall, which gives it a much more significant impact.

The exhibition consists of a hundred posters by Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, and Alphonse Mucha, among others, advertising cabarets, theatres, beers, and the oftern wonderfully weird celebrations of that other transformative technology of the time, the bicycle.

Highly reccommended. The exhibition continues through September 9th.
On Monday evening the 7th, we went to Boswell Books on Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee for a reading by cartoonist and writer Alison Bechdel, creator of the "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic and author of the highly regarded graphic autobiography "Fun Home," which was concerned with her complex relationship with her father.

Now, she is touring in support of the release of her new book, "Are You My Mother?", which is her second volume of autobiography, and, as you might expect, deals with relations with her mother. This, as Bechdel admitted, was a rather more touchy task than writing "Fun Home," because, unlike her father, Bechdel's mother is still alive and able--though largely unwilling--to comment on the process.

Reading from a graphic novel to an audience would not have been optimal in years past, but, thanks to small portable projectors and programs like PowerPoint, Bechdel was able to project pictures from the first chapter of the book while giving the commentary that went along with them.

The book looks and sounds fascinating--as "Fun Home" was in that slow-motion-train-wreck sort of way--and the audience of easily 200 people was quite intrigued. There was a question and answer session after the reading, in which Bechdel said that she was essentially finished with the "Dykes" comic and had no plans for any more--a disappointment, but not a surprise, given it has been on hiatus since 2008.

We bought a copy of "Are You My Mother?" to take home and read. I'll post something here when I finish it.

I thought businesses had got over the vogue for saying they desire creativity in their employees, but recently I heard it again. This annoys me greatly, because from all I've seen, they don't, really. They see that money can be made from creativity sometimes and they want that potential - without all the mess, time, error and expense involved.
They want to adopt their brain children, not gestate and give bloody birth to them themselves.

Creativity very often is inefficiency in action. Creativity willfully goes down dead-end alleys and stays to rummage in the dumpsters. And most of the time what it finds is interesting, useless junk, not treasures. Which it enjoys anyway.
Creativity lives on waste. It needs enough material to ruin and discard in order to come up with the truly nifty, surprising things, and to get them right.
After investing time and effort, Creativity changes its mind, and can't give good solid reasons why. After finding a workable combination, Creativity goes on to try all the rest anyway, because knowledge is good even when it isn't authorized or being paid for.
Like Edison, Creativity knows that finding out all the ways a project won't work is an important and desirable stage of development. Business calls this Failure; especially if it persists longer than a Quarter.

Business values profit, efficiency, organization, economy, consistency, profit, accountability, right answers, steady progress, and all that good left brain stuff.
Creativity values that too, - as it might value a "good" set of dinnerware too precious to ever get around to using often. Because Creativity tends to break things.
Business seems to want the golden eggs without having to feed and house and breed the troublesome goose.

It's also true that discipline, skill practice, judgment and objective assessment are ingredients of Creativity. They form the framework that inspiration can illuminate. And there's Creativity in minimalist situations too, where it finds ways to do wonders with barely anything.
That's the respectable, industrious part that Business finds attractive. But unless they can accept that their hired Creative people must be welcome go out to play and ruin their expensive new shoes, they don't really want them.

Anyway, this is how I see it.
Imagine finding that a cache of unpublished manuscripts by all your favorite authors had just come to light. As an aficionado of the Impressionist school of art, that’s rather what attending the exhibition “Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper,” is like. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen all, or even most of the well-known Impressionist paintings, but I do have a pretty good familiarity with the school, and even books tend to concentrate on the oil paintings and “big” works.

So, it’s a real pleasure to get a chance to see this collection of one hundred and twenty five works by Impressionists, almost all of which were new to me. Among the other ways in which the Impressionists differed from traditional schools of art was in treating drawing as being of equal importance with painting, so these works are not “just” sketches or studies for paintings, but fully finished works, often as large, detailed, and colorful as any of the oils.

Artists exhibited in the show include all the major Impressionists, such as Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec, but also lesser-known artists like Paul Signac, Armand Guillaumin, Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzales, and Odilon Redon, among others. Pastels, which were popular with the Impressionists, are just one of the mediums used in the show. Gouache, watercolors, crayon, charcoal, and others are represented.
The show was organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, in cooperation with the Albertina Museum of Vienna, and brings together pieces from a large number of collections, making it a rare opportunity to see them all in one place. This is a must-see if you are a fan of the Impressionists, and very interesting even if your interest in the visual arts is only general. The exhibition continues through January 8th.

The exhibition was co-curated in Milwaukee by Christopher Lloyd, guest curator, and Laurie Winters, director of exhibitions at the Museum.
Sunday, July 24th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to follow up the "Summer of China" exhibits we hadn't seen. The Museum was having a Chinese cultural festival that weekend as well, with vendors, exhibitors, perfomances, and food, so that was an additional incentive to visit again.

The additional smaller exhibits included "Emerald Mountains: Modern Chinese Ink Paintings from the Chu-tsing Li Collection," which contains examples of work by mid-twentieth-century artists adapting centuries-old techniques of ink painting to modern concepts of style. This was a very interesting exhibit with many beautiful pieces done in modern versions of the famously subtle and restrained "mountain painting" style.

"Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710–1830" shows pieces created in Great Britain and America during the eighteenth century, during the same time when the Qianlong emperor was incorporating Western influences into his designs of the Qianlong Garden. This was a small exhibit, but fascinating as it shows the evident popularity of the "Chinese" style for all economic levels. In fact, I was most struck by how crudely made some of the pieces were. One of the most popular products was what we would now call "knock-offs" of the "Blue Willow" type of porcelain design. The exhibit includes not only very fine copies of this style, but some that only resemble the originals in the use of the classical blue pigment on white porcelain. A couple of the pieces look as though the designs were drawn by third-graders, surprising since the color process is rather difficult to control. It's also surprising that better artists weren't engaged, but showing that, since this stuff was still saleable even though at low-end it must have been wildly popular.

The last exhibit is an installation by Yue Minjin, "Contemporary Chinese Warriors," which is a pointed parody of the famous terra-cotta tomb warriors. The figures, garbed as modern Chinese working men, have hands over their ears, eyes closed, and mouths gaping in a grinning or laughing grimace. The over message is that "everyone's happy in the workers' paradise," but the distinct real message is "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"--practical advice for those living under a government with a poor record on human rights in general and free speech in particular--.

We also walked through "The Emperor's Paradise" again, taking a second look at our favorite pieces, and enjoyed the short cultural program which presented Chinese music, dance, martial arts, and juggling, and sampled some very good pot stickers and egg rolls from "House of Confucius".

This has been a very excellent set of exhibitions. Kudos to the Milwaukee Art Museum staff not only for snagging "The Emperor's Paradise," but also for the work put into the supporting exhibits.
On Sunday, June 26th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum, in particular to see the travelling exhibit, "The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City."

This exibition includes ninety objects from the Qianlong Garden and the Forbidden City—murals, paintings, furniture, architectural and garden components, jades, and cloisonné. The Qianlong Garden is named for the Qianlong Emperor, who reigned from 1736 to 1796, making him the longest reigning Emperor of China, and one of the most influential. A devout Buddhist, the Qianlong Emperor decided that, if he reigned for sixty years, he would then retire and spend the rest of his life in contemplation. Accordingly, he had the Garden complex built as a "retirement home". Regrettably, although he did reach the sixtieth year of his reign, the Emperor died before going into his planned for retirement. The Garden was closed off and remained unused to the present day.  The Palace Museum and World Monuments Fund are in the process of restoring the site, which makes these items temporarily available to travel.

The Emperor supervised the entire project, and it reflects his deep learning in Buddhist and Confucian doctrine, his exquisite taste, and his pleasure in innovation, including newly introduced Western concepts such as glass-glazed windows, perspective painting, and tromp l'oeil decorations. No effort was spared in the preparation of the Emperor's sanctuary, and it is evident that the finest crafters were employed. However, there is almost nothing that is gaudy or overblown.

I must say that seldom have we seen a more beautiful collection of objects, and certainly never anything like as many from one source. In particular, the botanical themes which are used to unify the garden exteriors and interiors, are particularly gorgeous. These inlcude three-dimensional window frames carved to represent tree branches, 'rootwood' settees and tables, thrones with flowers picked out in pearl and precious stone, and a wonderful series of screen decorations that were only rediscovered in preparation for the exhibition to travel.

In addition to the "Emperor's Paradise" exhibition, the MAM's "Summer of China," includes five other exhibits. We also looked at "Warriors, Beasts, and Spirits: Early Chinese Art from the James Conley Collection" which occupies the adjacent galleries, and features more than forty ancient Chinese tomb artifacts, including carvings, ceramic sculptures, and architectural fragments.  "On Site: Zhan Wang" is an installation of one of the artist's stainless steel "scholar's rocks," which was very impressive.

"Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710–1830" was not set to open until June 30, so we will be going back to see that and "Emerald Mountains: Modern Chinese Ink Paintings from the Chu-tsing Li Collection".

"The Emperor's Private Paradise" continues through September 11, 2011.



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