On Tuesday, July 11th, we drove to West Bend to see the Museum of Wisconsin Art. The Museum itself is a striking new wedge-shaped building near downtown, which incorporates studio and meeting spaces, as well as a modestly –sized gallery area.

We were drawn particularly by The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit. This exhibit consists of women’s clothing dating from the Civil war to the late 20th century, all of which belonged to one family and was preserved in the attic in a home in Marshfield, Wisconsin, in 1972. The garments include both Paris designer-bespoke fashions, and home-sewn designs, as well as items from exclusive American stores. The preservation, particularly of the oldest clothes, is amazing, and makes them truly museum-quality pieces.

Along with this, there is a display of contemporary clothing by Wisconsin designers, some of whom are “Project Runway” veterans. As might be expected, most of these are more art pieces than clothes (such as the bristly coat made out of zip ties, (“Breed Coat” by Alex Ulichny), but some of them Georgie would cheerfully worn to appropriate occasions, such as the elegant “Cotton Candy in the Rain,” by Peach Carr, and the “Kaleidoscope” dress by Lynne Dixon-Speller.

Continuing the clothing theme, there was also a room displaying vintage children’s clothes by Wisconsin based designer Florence Eiseman, which we found very interesting and showing a very handsome but practical aesthetic.
On Tuesday, February 23rd, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to see the new travelling exhibit, “Ultimate Dinosaurs.”

Curated by the Royal Ontario Museum, “Ultimate Dinosaurs” is an up-to-date exhibition that focuses on dinosaur specimens excavated in the Southern Hemisphere; South America, Africa, and Madagascar, many of which are quite different from the geographically separated Northern Hemisphere tyrannosaurs and ceratopsians we tend to be familiar with.

This is a heavily interactive exhibit, with lots of computer graphic augmentations, including VR “cameras” you can point at the skeletons on display and view reconstructions of how the fully fleshed saurians might have looked.

The show includes fifteen fully articulated and very impressive casts of dinosaur skeletons, prepared from some of the most complete fossils ever discovered. Included is the Giganotosaurus, the south’s equivalent of the Tyrannosaurus, but sporting large functional hand-claws in addition to its mouthful of slashing teeth. Also included is a single vertebra from the spine of a Titanosaurus, which currently holds the record for largest land animal ever. The vertebra is easily five feet tall, bigger than most dinosaurs’ skulls.

Other specimens include Amargasaurus, distinctive for its large neck spines that measured up to 1.6 feet long, giving the animal a long frill along the length of its body; Cryolophosaurus, the first dinosaur named from Antarctica, Majungasaurus, the largest predatory dinosaur that lived in Madagascar, and the tongue-tangling Futalognksaurus, a giant long-necked sauropod (shown in computer video, as it would be too large to fit in the building--).
The exhibition also includes a number of video displays depicting the geological changes due to continental drift and glaciations from the time of the dinosaurs to the present day, and projecting into the future.

This was a really fascinating exhibit and well worth seeing if you are interested in dinosaurs at all. It is running through early May,
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.
Sunday morning, December 20th, we went to the Public Museum to check out the renovated “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit.

The basic layout of the exhibit has not changed much, the major change being the streetcar “time machine” entry, which is quite cool. As you move through the car, each set of windows shows a different time period street scene scrolling by, with some of the same buildings in so that you can see changes over time. The vignettes are animated so people walk on the streets, smoke comes from chimneys, etc.

Although the street is still set at night, it seemed to me that the illumination level was slightly brighter than in the past, which made details easier to see. The soundscape has been augmented in a number of ways. The phonograph in “Granny’s” house wafts music onto the street. There are transient sound effects such as thunder, and the sound of horses’ hooves on the street. Some sounds, such as a conversations in the printers’ shop or the barber’s shop, are triggered when you stand in certain places.

A unique addition is the smell of bread which is quite noticeable in the vicinity of the bakery.

The restored police call box is the major addition to the exhibits, and the movie house is now open and running continuously (Melies’ Voyage dans la Lune was playing when we were there). The General Store has been opened up so that you can step in and look around, which gives you a much better look at the thousands of items on the shelves. Other than that, memory fails as to what else might be new or different from the last time we were there, there are so many details and things to see.

I remember coming to Milwaukee to see the museum when I was a boy, when the exhibit was still relatively new, and thinking it was just the neatest thing. I still think so.
On Friday, August 16th, we drove up to Oshkosh to see the Public Museum’s unique Steampunk exhibit. The weather was good and we had a pleasant drive.

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a general-interest historical and natural history museum that occupies the former Edward P. Sawyer mansion. This beautiful and historic home has had a modern wing added on that houses about half of the exhibits. The house, built in the early 1900’s, is worth seeing just for itself, and provides a perfect setting for the neo-Victorian Steampunk exhibit.

The exhibit itself occupies several adjoining rooms on the second floor, and is very well laid out. One of the best things about the exhibit overall is the comparison between Steampunk fashion and tech and the actual period styles and devices. For example, the clothing portion started at one end with genuine period outfits drawn from the museum’s collection, and phased over to the more outré Steampunk styles. A display case holding elaborate Steampunk helmets and hats faced one containing late 19th century military helmets. An exhibit of “ray guns” sits next to one of authentic weaponry of the era.

The curators drew pieces from all over the country, including the South and Southwest, and from professional artists as well as hobbyists, the latter including a collection of rocket packs on loan from the “crew” of Southeast Wisconsin’s “Airship Fortuna.”

Other notable items on display included a Steampunk dollhouse, and a Steampunk conception of a “Mars Rover” robot. Also on hand were some artifacts from TV and motion pictures: “Uncle Irwin” an elaborate brain-in-a-jar prop from “The City of Lost Children,” and a set of prop and setting diagrams from “The Further Adventures of Jules Verne.”

The Steampunk exhibits are immediately adjacent to exhibits on the American Civil War, frontier life in Wisconsin, and the lives of immigrants in the 19th Century, so lots of other things of interest as well although not part of the featured exhibit. The exhibition continues through September 8th.
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.
On Saturday the 22nd, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to take in their current traveling exhibit, "Real Pirates". The exhibition, assembled by the National Geographic Society, centers on the brief but busy career of the pirate ship "Whydah," which ran aground, capsized, and sank in a storm off Cape Cod on April 26, 1717.

The exhibition imbeds the story of the Whydah in a history of piracy in general, in the Atlantic and Caribbean in particular, and in the history of the latter days of the Slave Trade.

The Slave Trade is significant, since the Whydah, commissioned in 1715, was purpose-built by a consortium of London merchants, as a slaver. She made one voyage from Africa to Cuba with a cargo of slaves, in early 1716. After selling that cargo at Cuba, the Whydah and her new cargo of precious metals, sugar, indigo, spices, rum, and "medicinal ingredients" was pursued and overtaken by pirate Sam Bellamy and his ships, the galley "Sultana" and sloop "Marianne". After a three-day chase and desultory exchange of gunfire, the Whydah surrendered, and was taken as a pirate vessel by Bellamy. (Slavers, which tended to be heavily armed, and whose "cargo space" could readily be converted into accommodation for large pirate crews, were prized as pirate ships.)

"Black Sam" Bellamy was an Englishman who had emigrated to the Cape Cod area, and who had "gone on the account" (i.e. become a pirate), according to legend, because he lacked money to be able to marry. In a bit more than a year, he went from being an apprentice pirate to commanding a small fleet, and capturing fifty prizes, which made him relatively, one of the most successful pirates ever. Unfortunately, he couldn't beat the North Atlantic in its rage, and he, 143 of his 145 crew, and all of his treasure went down with the Whydah.

In 1982, a diving crew led and funded by underwater explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah, one of the few authenticated pirate ships ever found. Since then, over 200,000 items have been recovered from the wreck site, including the ship's bell, many of her cannon, and chests full of silver and gold pieces.

The exhibit includes a representative sample of the artifacts from the Whydah, a partial reconstruction of the ship, the aforementioned historical material, and a section on the discovery of the wreckage and retrieval of the booty. The exhibit is enlivened by pirate-costumed docents who interact with the visitors in a variety of accents befitting the cosmopolitan makeup of pirate crews.

We found the exhibit very interesting, and fascinating to be able to see closely the remnants of this turbulent time. The exhibition continues at the Milwaukee Public Museum through May 27th, 2013.
On Monday, November 14th, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to see the exhibit entitled: "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt." Now, it has to be confessed that there's probably only one piece in the exhibition that Cleopatra the 9th actually touched, that being a parchment document granting a tax concession (politics has not changed a lot since Cleopatra's day, evidently,) which bears her "make it so" imprimatur. However, the exhibition does contain 150 artifacts from the Ptolemaic period, most of them recently recovered from Alexandria harbor, where they have lain since that portion of the great city was destroyed by earthquake and tsunami nearly 2000 years ago. This is an era much less seen in museums than that of the Pharaohs such as Tutankhamen, and showed some interesting stylistic differences even in such things as colossal statues that we found fascinating. There was some very handsome jewelry, and a number of very fine coins. The exhibit also contained information new to me on the Queen's convoluted family tree, and on the numerous political intrigues, rebellions, and wars the Queen survived before her final fatal confrontation with Rome.

Very interesting and recommended for fans of Egyptology.
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.
 
On May 1st, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the exhibition of
"The Woman With the Veil" (La Donna Velata), a Renaissance portrait by
Raphael (Raphael Sanzio). This is possibly the second most famous
portrait of the period after DaVinci's "Mona Lisa", and for my tastes, a
more beautiful one. Painted by Raphael supposedly as a response to
DaVinci, it shows a very different aesthetic. The color pallet, although
limited, is warm and glowing both in the model's skin tones and her
satin gown, quite distinct from the somber "Mona Lisa". The poses are
both similar, but Raphael's model touches the breast of her outfit with
one hand, rather than having both modestly in her lap, which seems
somehow more spontaneous and intimate. Time has preserved the color of
her lips and cheeks, and the shadows at her eyes. It may be an artifact
of the paints used at the time, but "Mona Lisa" seems colorless by
contrast.

Unlike its exhibition of DaVinci's "Lady with an Ermine," the Milwaukee
Art Museum has not arranged an entire show around this piece, instead
setting it off in a room to itself, with a nice presentation on the
history of the artist and what is known or surmised about the work and
its model. The painting is on loan from the Pitti Palace in Florence
and rarely travels, so we felt we were privileged to see it in real
life. "The Woman with the Veil" will be on exhibit at the Milwaukee Art
Museum until June 6.
http://www.mam.org/exhibitions/details/raphael.php
Monday, January 28th, I took a vacation day so that we could take a
break from the pervasive chill of winter. A number of Milwaukee County's
cultural or educational institutions are free admission to county
residents on Mondays, including the Mitchell Park Conservatory and the
Milwaukee Public Museum.

The recently refurbished Conservatory (a.k.a. "The Domes") is free 9AM
to noon, so that was our first stop. The Arid dome was set to seasonably
cool (but not cold) temperatures, but it was still comfortable to walk
around in and admire and wonder at the amazing gnarly shapes of the
palms, cacti, succulents, and other thorny flora of the desert climes.

The Tropical dome is always warm and moist, and provides layer upon
layer of greenery to enjoy. As always, I was struck by how much wealth
there is in the threatened tropical forests, as you can see cacao, figs,
bananas, and citrus fruits and other staples of our diet among the
orchids and the creepers.

The Show dome has changing displays, and this month was doing the
"Garden Railroad" show with large-gauge model trains running between
flowering plantings and, this year, a whimsical collection of Lego
building models.

Then, we went over to the Milwaukee Public Museum, with our particular
objective to see the newly mounted Hebior Mammoth, which the Museum has
obligingly located in its main lobby. The story of the mammoth skeleton
is an interesting one. A number of mammoth skeletons have been found
about 30 miles south of Milwaukee in rural Kenosha County, and were
excavated by Marquette University researchers in 1994. Unlike in the
movies, the bones did not go immediately to a museum, but lay in the
basement of the property owner awaiting a buyer for more than a decade.
Interest was sparked when the bones were accurately carbon-dated to
being more than 14,000 years old. This is significant because the bones
had been found "disarticulated" meaning separated, bearing cut marks
from butchery, and in company with stone tools, which showed evidence of
human activity in North America a millennium earlier than the Clovis
culture, which had previously been believed to be the earliest. In
addition, the skeleton is exceptionally complete, with 85% of its bones
present.

Donors purchased the bones for the Museum in 2007, and the articulate
cast of the impressively large skeleton has recently been put on
display, with a more detailed exhibit in the works. (In particular, I
would like to have the butchering marks pointed out: at present, there
is no guide, and I wasn't sure if I could pick them out or not.)

While there, we also went into the "Butterfly Wing" for another dose of
tropical air, and to enjoy the sight of the beautiful insects flying
free. We did not stay very long, but did linger over the Victorian
Museum exhibit, looked over a small exhibition from the Museum's coin
and currency collection, visited the Torosaur (another notable fossil)
and admired the taxiderimically mounted skin of Samson, the Milwaukee
Zoo's famous gorilla.

While downtown, we also nipped into the Milwaukee Public Library Central
Branch, and checked out several CD's not available anywhere else, which
made it a very good cultural day for us.

On Sunday afternoon, Georgie and I made our first trip to Pier Wisconsin on the lakefront to see the Discovery World Museum, and especially the Reiman Aquariums. 

 

The Aquariums are part of the “Aquatarium” portion of the complex, which, besides the fish tanks, includes a number of other exhibits. The wave-motion machine at the entrance was quite fun to play with, and the first exhibit on the ground floor is a fascinating scale terrain map of the Great Lakes basin, complete with water and fish. 

 

Upstairs are exhibits relating to the age of sail on the Great Lakes, including a full-scale replica of a small schooner, the Challenger. There are also some enjoyable interactive exhibits demonstrating the actions of simple machines as they relate to shipping.

 

The lower portion of the exhibit hall is taken up with the aquarium, which is very nice and, in my opinion, somewhat superior to the aquarium facilities at the Milwaukee County Zoo, if not as varied. The viewing areas are larger and brighter, and altogether easier to see into.  They are also daringly arranged, with tanks that you can walk over, under, and through, some of which give the starling visual effect that you could reach out and touch fish swimming just above your head. The exhibits include a “touch tank”, a smaller version of the one recently in use at the Zoo, which allows visitors to actually touch rays, small sharks, horseshoe crabs, and, in a separate tank, sturgeons. (While it’s interesting to be able to see these creatures so closely, I have to confess I am ambivalent about it, since they are almost continually getting annoyed by the people, at least on busy days.)

 

We toured through the rest of Discovery World, which is rather a work in progress. One fascinating exhibit showed various types of gear trains, escapements, and mechanical movements, interspersed with mechanical toys making use of the principles. There were a number of other interesting exhibits, such as one incorporating an infra-red camera that let us see our heat image on a screen, but we found a number of things were not labeled, or had insufficient instructions for their use. And, as always with anything incorporating interactive exhibits, some were out of order, and some under construction.

 

While Discovery World is rather cool, I have to say it’s just a bit pricey for what you get: general admission for adults is $16.95 each, plus parking for two or so hours at $7.00 brings the expedition cost to $40.90. This compares with $11.25 adult admission for the County Zoo in peak season ($9.75 in winter), and $11.00 adult admission for the Milwaukee Public Museum, both of which are larger and more extensive facilities. Parking at the Zoo is $10.00 per car all day, and it is possible to park free on nearby streets if you are canny. There’s also cheaper parking near the Public Museum, but Discovery World doesn’t have any free parking nearby at all, although the O’Donnell park garage is a short walk away and may be cheaper for future visits.

 

 

The same day we went to see "The Illusionist," we had been to see the exhibition "Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We knew in advance that this facinating travelling show had been assembled with the help of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, but the fact that this show happened this season was another entertaining coincidence.

This exhibition focuses on the Biedermeier period in Central Europe from 1815 to 1830. It brings together almost 300 examples of German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian paintings, furniture, related decorative arts and works on paper that document character of the period and demonstrate how it was a precursor to modernism. The term "Biedermeier" is actually the name of a fictional character-Gottlieb Biedermaier-who came to life in the 1840s in a Munich weekly satirical magazine. This "everyman" represented the typical German citizen, more interested in a comfortable home than political activism. The tendency was to pare forms to their essentials, merging the useful with the beautiful. This exhibition examines Biedermeier painting, furniture and the related decorative arts as a style and a cultural attitude.

We found the exhibition fascinating on its own and also a useful warm-up to Vienna exhibit galleries, particularly the Modern Collection at the Upper Belvedere which covers the Biedermeier period also. We found a lot of items, such as the tower clocks, tables and tea sets to have a lot in common with examples from the splendid "Arts and Crafts" exhibit, although separated by almost a century in time and great deal of political and artistic water under the bridge. A lot of the furniture was strikingly modern looking even by modern standards, and all of it beautiful by any standard. (On the other hand, I'd have a hard time living with some of the wallpaper designs--.)

The period is well documented by the exhibit. It is interesting to see how a style can grow just on its own merits, without the overarching manifestos that tend to accompany modern artistic movements. (Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the author, played a part in the later times due to his fascination with color theory, but he did not play the same role in the Biedermaier era that William Morris, for example, did in the Arts and Crafts movement.)

The show is well worth seeing if you are interested in the evolution of Modern art and design, and not just if you are planning a trip to Austria. The exhibition continues through January 1, 2007.

Milwaukee Art Museum Exhibit page:

http://www.mam.org/exhibitions/exhibition_details.aspx?ID=47
On Saturday, June 3rd, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the exhibit "Masters of American Comics," which the museum web site touts as "the first art museum exhibition to examine comic strips and books on this expansive scale. Each artist is represented by in-depth groupings presented as a series of individual retrospectives featuring a range of each artist's works from conceptual sketches and finished drawings to printer's proofs, tear sheets, printed newspapers, comic books and graphic novels. The exhibition layout highlights individual contributions of the artists and the ways in which they reinvented the medium to significantly influence their peers and subsequent generations."

Pretty heady stuff. For a long-time comics fan like me, there was not so much in the show that was revelatory, but it was a great chance to see things like color pages of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" full size and in the real. To see the original drawings as well was a treat. There were a couple things that struck me: first, how wordy many of the old strips were. We spent two hours on this exhibit and did not have time to read through all the strips that were on view. Certainly, the craft of story telling through sequential art has evolved a lot since Windsor McKay's day, but still, I found there was more story content in one page of "Little Nemo," or "Thimble Theatre" than is in the entire funnies section of our current paper, including the glacially paced modern incarnation of "Prince Valiant." Second, vocabulary has really dumbed down: we marveled at the high-flown language used in one of the episodes of "Krazy Kat" (!) which I'm sure any modern comics editor would kill today since it would be too dense for the "rubes". Third, by and large, the modern funnies are poor things. A lot of strips like "Little Nemo" or "Kin-der-Kids" had full pages to themselves. Examples of "Thimble Theatre" (featuring Popeye the Sailor) still took up more than half the page and had sometimes more than sixteen decent-size panels. It is no wonder that Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin & Hobbes" quit comics partly in protest at the continued shrinkage of space allotted to comic art in the newspapers. Fourth, art for art's sake has largely gone by the board: I was astonished to see examples of an apparently annual "fall color" page from Wisconsin's own "Gasoline Alley," in which Walt Wallet did nothing more humorous than meditate upon the beauty of lovingly rendered autumn leaves and landscapes. Watterson is one of the last to have done such art panels, with the only survivor being Brooke McEldowney, who makes bold use of black and gradient screens in his daily strips, and occasionally slips in an offering that is merely a charming drawing of his young heroine, Edda, as a dancer.

Fifth, the territory of adventure strips with continuing stories has been entirely yielded to the comic books. I can remember when our paper still had "Buck Rogers," "The Phantom," "Steve Canyon," "Kerry Drake," and other continuing stories. Checking the major syndicate sites now, the only adventure strips that still exist are the aforementioned "Prince Valiant", the current pale incarnation of "Dick Tracy" and (loosely speaking) "Alley Oop." Otherwise, "joke a day" strips like "Garfield" rule the roost, although a lot of sitcom strips like "Crankshaft" and "Jumpstart" frequently have continuity and story lines of sorts.

Therefore, it's not surprising to see that, after starting with Windsor McKay's "Little Nemo," and Lionel Feininger's "Kin-der-Kids," and working through E.C. Segar ("Thimble Theatre"), George Harriman ("Krazy Kat"), Frank King ("Gasoline Alley"), the exhibit departs the newspapers after Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy") and Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates", "Steve Canyon") for comic books via Will Eisner's "The Spirit", and returns only for a look at "Peanuts", Charles Schultz' creation that has spawned so many imitators. Comic books are represented by an impressive array of Jack Kirby Marvel period art, and Harvey Kurzmann, who gave us "Mad" magazine. For modern-era alternative comics, there are good examples of Robert Crumb's work, and samples from Art ("Maus") Speigelman.

I was disappointed by the representatives of current comic art, Gary Panter (Jimbo), and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth), since I find their styles derivative, usually consciously so. I think perhaps better art and artists could have been found for this portion of the exhibit.

There is only so much space in any exhibition and the curators are limited to what can be had--still, I was somewhat disappointed that no mention was made of such important comics as Hal Foster's classic "Tarzan", Alex Raymond's immortal "Flash Gordon," Harold Gray's "Little Orphan Annie," Siegel and Schuster's "Superman," Bob Kane's "Batman" or Al Capp's notorious "Little Abner." (Although, one of the "Spirit" strips on display lampoons both Capp and Gray as well as Chester Gould--).

Nevertheless, an excellent exhibit, very well mounted and displayed, and well worth looking at if you care for the "funnies" at all. The exhibit continues through August 13th.
We made time to see the traveling exhibit, "St. Peter and the Vatican," which is stopping at the financially troubled Milwaukee Public Museum for its last show in the US. We hope it will help the Museum out, since it's being very popular, but it is also obviously a very expensive show to house. The exhibit consists of more than 300 pieces, including pieces of artwork and sculpture that remain from the churches and basilicas that were eventually replaced by the monumental St. Peter's, accompanied by a detailed and interesting timeline on the ups and downs of the Papacy, the Vatican, and the great basilica. There are, as you might expect, reliquaries, monstrances, and jewel-encrusted chalices that frame the mental image of holy treasures, but many other less usual things of great significance. We were most struck by items like an old, worn altar cloth, embroidered by humble nuns, in satin stitch of such fineness that to the casual eye the pattern might have been taken for woven in or printed on. We also always seem to find, in these exhibits, some odd thing you never thought might have existed. Who knew, for example, that altar vessels would include such a thing as an ecclesiastical drinking straw? Yes, a gilt metal tube with a mouth shield that makes it look rather like a mad-scientist's pipette crosses with a trombone mouthpiece. How is it used? I have no idea, but it was fun to see, as were the magnificent vestments, crooks, thrones, and other regalia.
he Milwaukee Art Museum is hosting an exhibit on the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Arts and Crafts Movement name was coined in 1887, when a group of designers met in London to found an organization-the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society-for which applied art would be valued as equal to fine art. Many in the movement championed the moral and spiritual uplift that would come with the revival of making objects by hand. The improvement of working conditions, the integration of art into everyday life, the unity of all arts, and an aesthetic resulting from the use of indigenous materials and native traditions also were central to the movement's philosophy.

The Arts and Crafts Movement, in large part, was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern. While its adherents idealized the pre-industrial past, they did not reject the present. They believed that machines were necessary but should be used only to relieve the tedium of mindless, repetitive tasks. Britain, at the very epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, was the center for designers most opposed to the dehumanizing consequences of factory production. Without joy in labor, making goods would have neither merit nor value. At the same time, they felt that objects should be affordable and useful, and therefore, objects such as the exhibition's Small Window Bench, made by the Charles P. Limbert Company in 1907, were produced in factories. The conflict between these two beliefs, and the attempts to reconcile them, comprised the focus of design debates during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the movement was overtaken by two world wars, which pushed industrialization and mass production into the forefront, and giving rise to the following period of "modern" design, the best of which was expressed by Brooks Stevens and his ilk, and the worst of which tends unfortunately to be still with us.

The exhibition contained many lovely items from books (a Canterbury Tales printed by William Morris and illustrated by pre-Raphealite painter Edward Burne-Jones--oh, drool!) to tableware, furniture, and architecture. Some of the pieces were beautiful, some bizarre, but they tend to share a sense of homey design and having been made by and for real people. I think it no coincidence that watercolors of Scandinavian and British designs tend to look like Tolkien's paintings of Bag End--. There were examples given from nations I had never associated with the movement, such as Finland and Hungary, and a well-produced concise timeline for each country. This exhibit was fascinating and well worth the time.
On a rare free fall Sunday afternoon, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to take in this travelling show organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. This was a very impressive exhibition, consisting of more than 90 paintings and several sculptures, covering the period well, and being representative of the vraious styles in vogue in America from time to time. Portraiture, landscape, historical and "genre painting" were all included. Notable pieces included a very fine portrait of George Washington, by Rembrandt Peale; "Cotopaxi", a landscape of an erupting volcano, by Frederic Church, and the "Young Girl," by Robert Henri, a portion of which has been used as the symbol of the exhibition. Although there were many fine portraits, and "Cotopaxi" is spectacular, the one we went back and looked at longest was the "Portrait of a Lady in Black," by William Merritt Chase, a rather poor reproduction of which can be found here:

http://www.dia.org/collections/amerart/tonalism/43.486.html

She seems to have just risen from the chair behind her, her imperious expression and the cock of her head suggests she is not pleased. We found it a lot more dynamic and interesting than the Sargent painting of "Madame Paul Poirson" which is hung next to it. By comparison, the formal pose lacks interest, although the techincal style is superb. In defense of Sargent, that one is far from the best of his portraits, many of which are lively indeed, but it is a good example of his skill.

Perhaps my other favorite was the bronze sculpture of a broken-nosed steelworker standing on an I-beam, the pulley block of a hoist in his hand. It seemed very emblematic of the time and the country, and heroic, although in a workaday situation. Unfortunately, I can't remember the sculptor's name, and asusual with my favorites, isn't prominent enough to be mentioned in the available publicity.

Suffice to say, a very worthwhile exhibition. Admission is $12.00, and the show will be here until January 30.

We found this overall
On Wednesday, May 26th, we were able to realize a year-old goal, and visit the home of theatre stars Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, now open as a museum. The home has been almost completely restored after decades of neglect following the death of Fontanne, and is most unique in that it as closely as possible represents the way the home would have looked in its heyday, when both artists regularly retired there during the summers, and had as guests other luminaries of the theatrical world. It is fascinating to see the guest room that Helen Hayes favored, the one that Noel Coward insisted upon, and the one where Lawrence Olivier was a long-term resident when down on his luck. Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, and critic Alexander Woolcott were among the many others that visited there as well. It is commonly said that every room there is arranged as a theatrical set, and I see that in several of the rooms. However, few theatrical sets are as intensely decorated as the public rooms of the main house, studio, and cottage. Lunt engaged a set painter to add character touches to these rooms, a weekend commission that stretched to years as the walls were intricately painted with decorations, portraits, and bible scenes, accented with hand-cut and accented wallpapers. The rooms are also furnished with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, figurines, and other artworks. For all the theatrical importance of the setting, the amount of memorabilia on display is surprisingly small. Lunt and Fontanne seem to have preferred to surround themselves with things they found beautiful and personally significant rather than things like autographed photos or posters (although there are a few on display). In later years, Lunt took up the decoration of the cottage himself, and the walls there are muraled in a vigorous primitive style recalling his boyhood years in Finland. (Lunt, though born in Milwaukee, lived in a Finnish community with his mother and stepfather for a time, which seems to have a strong effect on his tastes.) One can easily see how the beauty and seclusion of the setting, in an unincorporated hamlet in the Kettle Moraine area, must have contributed to the artistic revival of the Lunts and their guests. On the day we visited, which was both the first anniversary of the museum opening and the Lunts’ wedding anniversary, there was a dedication ceremony adding the property to the list of National Historic Landmarks, making it one of 30 in the state of Wisconsin, and one of only ten nationwide dedicated to the arts. We came in shortly after the ceremony was ended, and had a very fine tour with just ourselves and one other person, herself a former volunteer, along with the docent, which was great fun and allowed to look very closely at whatever we wished.
On Sunday morning the 2nd we went to the Milwaukee Museum to take in the travelling exhibit of Egyptian artifacts titled "The Quest for Immortality." This exhibit is only stopping in the Midwest at Milwaukee but is staying through early August. It is a very impressive collection with a number of rarely-seen items and very well displayed. The section of god statues had some very beautiful and impressive pieces, especially the statues of Isis and Sekmet, and very unusal pieces such as the "Osiris Ressurecting," and a falcon-headed crocodile. The section on tombs had the really spectacular coffin of an official, which was intricately decorated with heiroglyphics over the entire interior as well as the exterior. Even the underside of the lid was decorated, something you cannot see in most exhibits. Other notable items were a MASSIVE stone sarcophagus top which undoubtedly weighed tons, and an eight-foot long model Nile barge. The last room of the exhibit was the full-size reproduction of a room from the tomb of Thutmose III, reproducing the wall paintings that reproduce the full "text" of what I believe is commonly known as the "Egyptian Book of the Dead" but is referred to by a more scholarly name that I can't recall now.

My one gripe with the exhibit was this room, which was intended to reproduce the way explorer would see it, so it has annoyingly creaky plank flooring laid down (as it would have been to "protect" the orginal floor) and rather dim lighting, which is used in tombs to avoid fading of the paintings. I would have preferred to have had some unrealistically brighter lighting.

If you are coming, be aware that the exhibit is pricey: If you are not a Museum member, the admission is $18.50 over and above the Museum admission. This makes it well worth taking out a membership, which allows you free Museum admission any time, and the special exhibit is only $5.00 for members. The Milwaukee Public Museum is a fine Museum for its size, and a membership is well worth it, since you can't really see it all in a day. The Rain Forest reconstruction is worth the price of admission by itself.

More info on the museum and the Quest exhibit here:

http://www.mpm.edu/
On Sunday morning the 20th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the actual show on Brooks Stevens, Milwaukee's famous industrial designer. We had already taken in the related advertising show at Insitute of Art and Design, but this was the main event. Stevens' work encompassed everything from railroad cars and buildings to toasters and desk sets, and from the practical to the wildly impractical. Examples were on display. Outside the museum itself, a section of temporary railroad track held a Skyview lounge car, which once had been the tail-end car of the famous Hiawatha passenger trains on the Milwaukee Road. There was also an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, which Stevens modernized, and an Excalibur touring car, Stevens' retro design based on the Mercedes SSK.

Inside, we again had emphasised the extent to which Stevens had shaped the world we grew up in: steam irons, dryers, vacuum cleaners all assumed iconic shapes under his direction. If you imagine a classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a John Deere tractor, or an outboard boat motor, or a mahogany speedboat, you are probably visualizing a Stevens design. Of course, I was attracted to his automobile designs, which included a customized 1938 Cord roadster (drool!), a limited-edition Cadillac-based car called "Die Valkurie," (also beautiful in a 50's way), various Jeep and Studebaker projects, and six-wheeled electric car for Johnson Controls. Ironically, Stevens is quoted at the end of the show as having said that he did not design things to be in art museums! it just goes to show that good design can be timeless, despite even the maker's intentions.

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