Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MOWA to My People

Why the heck would anyone go to West Bend, Wisconsin?

I can give you a reason. Besides the fact that there's a pretty awesome Goodwill, there is also a great little museum called The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA). I tried to find this museum in December and my GPS led me astray. I now know it's because MOWA moved locations in April of 2013 to a swanky new building that I'm sure will be added to Wisconsin's list of boastworthy architecture (if not to Google Maps). Perched on the river in downtown West Bend, it swanks in modern geometrical elegance.

The whiteness and use of windows are slightly reminiscent of MAM's Calatrava, but pared down to meet the needs of a more modest West Bend. Luckily I went on a sunny day and the design of architect Jim Fields had its full effect on me as I moved throughout the space.

Currently on view is the Wisconsin Artists Biennal, a judged competition open to applicants statewide. This year the exhibition includes 53 pieces of art by Wisconsin artists selected by judge Molly Zuckerman-Hartung (this is one of the coolest artist websites I've seen, be sure to check it out). "Each piece has a story; come join us for the conversation." No problem, MOWA. What I found to be intriguing about this exhibition was the way I reacted to not only the artwork, but to the hometown of the artist in combination with the work. I found myself saying, "How could an artist from ______ make a piece like that?" It was as if I was looking for a characteristic of that town in the person's art. Which is why it was incredibly jarring when I saw something I never thought I'd see: a Menomonee Falls artist.

Bruce Humphries, Hand Cranked Sound Machine, 2013

If I imagine the kind of art that I think would come out of Menomonee Falls, this is not what it looks like. Seeing the name "Menomonee Falls" on the wall made me feel kind of exposed, as if other people in the gallery would make assumptions about my hometown based on this piece. I don't think of Menomonee Falls as a place that typically fosters artists, but I guess if it yielded me, Bruce, a handful of teachers, and a couple other people I know who went on to study art in college, then maybe there is a force lurking in the quiet suburban neighborhoods that supports artistic life after all. This town ain't big enough for the both of us, Bruce!

Next, another artist living close to home.

Janet Roberts, Earth Angel, 2013

Roberts hails from Brookfield, a place that I actually just recently referred to as "worse than Menomonee Falls." But I love this painting! The text on the woman's tattoo reads: "Rockabilly Girl." I looked it up and could only find one tattoo place in Brookfield, Lakeside Tattoo. I wonder if this is where rockabilly girl got her tat...

Speaking of tattoos (as if I haven't done enough of that lately...), another cool piece.

Brent Crabb, True Love, 2013

Crabb resides in Green Bay. I found a short bio on a website called Inkdrop Arthaus that reads, I studied commercial art in La Crosse, WI. I then went on to study drafting and mechanical design in Green Bay, WI. I have done illustration and logo work, renderings for developers and real-estate companies, numerous commission drawings, and worked many years as a monument layout artist. The site also has several pages of Crabb's superb graphite drawings. It appears that he draws what he sees in front of him rather than what he sees in his head, which makes me wonder if "True Love" was an event that he observed in real time at some tattoo parlor in Green Bay. 

The next piece was done by a Madison artist, one of many in the show.

Lee Ann Kleeman, Still Life with Bugs, 2012

The work is made from pieces of stitched fabric, a play on a traditional still life. Oddly enough, out of anything in the show, this piece reminds me the most of the place it came from. But that's because the Madison I know is a cute little white house of a family member that I usually stay with when I visit. To others Madison might be a place where they had the worst hangover of their lives, or visited the capitol building, or went to college. In that case, this piece may not seem very Madison at all. 

I'll compare my experience at MOWA to listening to music made by people that I'm friends with. It's hard to think of it as something to listen to casually and get into because for me it's almost a bit awkward to hear my friends being expressive. It felt the same way at this exhibition. When I look at art at other museums, I guess I don't really care where the artists are from. But this time it was personal. 

One last thing I liked about MOWA was that they had an open collections storage, which is a concept that was introduced to me recently.

Other institutions like The Brooklyn Museum have been implementing this tool for awhile now. Students, scholars, and the general public can gain a sneak peek at what the museum has in storage and they don't even have to make an appointment or special trip to the basement to do it. This is actually the only open storage space in an art museum in Wisconsin. MOWA is ahead of its peers in this respect at going above and beyond to create a unique museum experience.

One thing I will say, if you do take a trip over to West Bend, make sure you've got at least $12 in your pocket. The museum charges a $12 entry fee that makes you a member of the museum which you can then enter at no charge for a year. I understand that by doing this it gives people an incentive to visit the museum again, but I feel like the institution itself is enough reason to visit more than once in a year. You've got the powa, MOWA. Use it! Also, I really could have used that extra cash to go to Goodwill afterwards...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wiscons(in your skin)

If you live in Wisconsin, chances are you've seen someone- maybe at a bar, or taking a dip in the lake (in nicer times), or gettin' some grub at a restaurant- sporting a Wisconsin tattoo. Actually, if you live anywhere, it's very possible you've seen someone with a tattoo referencing a geographic location. Someone sent me this article awhile back about tattoos to commemorate your favorite place, and since then I've noticed a lot of people around me with tattoos referencing "place." I would go so far as to say that it's a trendy thing to do right now, knowing full well that the word "trend" doesn't exactly have the nicest connotations. There are a lot of things that are trendy that are really annoying, such as: #yolo, Blogger (ha), going to Iceland (guilty again), cat memes, "Jersey Shore" (still trendy, right?). But I like the "place" tattoo trend. What's wrong with being okay with where you're from? Or celebrating the ever-increasing popularity and accessibility of international travel?

Recently I was wondering if I could gain some kind of insight into this trend on a local level and get a better idea of what has motivated my fellow Wisconsinites to get Winked (Wisconsin-inked, just made that up). So I racked my brain for a list of all the Wisconsinites that I know with a Wisconsin tattoo, and although I didn't have much of a chance of getting Justin Vernon on the phone, I did find some pretty cool dudes who were willing to share their Wisconsin tattoo stories with me:

Hometown: Janesville, WI
Current Town: Appleton, WI

1. How old were you when you got your tattoo? It was about a month after my 20th birthday.
2. Where is your tattoo located (body part)? It's on the outside of my left thigh, basically right where my palm touches my leg when it's hanging down to the side.
3. Describe the day you got your tattoo? It was a very strange day - I worked at a camp for folks with special needs in Minnesota that summer, and a group of us had to drive from our normal camp in Annandale to one a couple hours north of there. A few of us had been deciding we wanted to get tattoos, I had spent the two weeks prior sketching a bunch out, so we decided to try to get one on the way. Our best bet was Duluth and Superior, we had to drive through those, but our research for places and timing didn't really work out. So, eventually, we ended up finding one tiny place in the town we were staying in for the night. I had to go back in my pictures to remember the place, it was called Shadowmasters Tattoo in Cloquet, MN. None of the other folks, upon seeing the tiny place and how excruciatingly long mine took, got their tattoos. They ended up having to wait around 2 hours for me.
4. Why did you decide to get this tattoo? It was that summer that I decided I wanted a tattoo at all. A lot of it, honestly, had to do with the fact that a third of my coworkers that summer were British and that most of the others were from MN, where the camp was. I had a lot of pride in my home state, since that was my first time "living" outside it, and the British girls that I was friends with just all had a ton of tattoos. It was much more normalized for them and they didn't really "get" the boundary that tattoos represent in American culture. It was around the time I was realizing how much I love Wisco, from age and time apart and even just that year of political events. I drew my tattoo, and all drawings had a bunch of patterns and things, but the one thing I kept constant was the Wisconsin foundation. I printed sheets of paper with 5-6 little Wisconsins on them and then did all my drafting around those.
5. Describe the best or most memorable reaction you have gotten in response to your tattoo? Honestly, people reply mostly to the tattoo as a whole, rather than just the little Wisconsin. If it hadn't been my first tattoo, I'd have gotten it larger so the Wisco would be more prominent, and I intend to get a more prominent Wisco one someday (after the rest of my list). When I point out the Wisconsin, though, and people make it out, they like the pattern, and think it's pretty cute that I added the two dots for Janesville and Appleton. Mostly people just think it's neat that I drew mine, I didn't realize that was so uncommon.
6. Post-tattoo thoughts. Would you do it again? Expand upon the tattoo? Get rid of it? I would do it again, but huge. I did the mural style because it was my first and I was scared. I want a big Wisconsin with patterns, or maybe one with the geologic map. I've become very well-acquainted with the earth of our state now, I want to keep it with me. Maybe I'll keep a trend of getting them out of state, too, though it means that the tattoo artist screwed up door county quite a bit.

Hometown: Menasha, WI
Current Town: Appleton, WI

1. How old were you when you got your tattoo? Twenty-two.
2. Where is your tattoo located (body part)? On my left bicep.
3. Describe the day you got your tattoo? I was actually in Denver, CO and was visiting a friend that I had met in Louisiana, and I had this feeling that day that I wanted to get a tattoo. So we made it our mission to get tattoos. I had been thinking about getting a Wisconsin tattoo for awhile, and saw that there were a lot of people who had Louisiana tattoos and thought that was cool. None of my top three choices of tattoo parlors were able to do a tattoo on short notice because they were booked full, but one of my friends was calling other places and we called a shop that was about to close and there was a girl that was willing to do it.
4. Why did you decide to get this tattoo? Well, since I was little I wanted to get out of Wisconsin because I thought it was boring and there was nothing to do here, and it was just mundane. But then once I moved away the first time when I was a junior in college and spent a significant amount of time outside of the state I started appreciating the beauty and scenery in Wisconsin and the people in Wisconsin. My favorite quality is how humble everyone is. (By the way, people in California don't know what anything else besides California is).
5. Describe the best or most memorable reaction you have gotten in response to your tattoo? When I flew back to Louisiana after my trip to Denver, there was one person who thought that Wisconsin was Alaska. I also had guy at a table at Stone Cellar who asked, "Is that the state of Wisconsin on your arm?" and he thought it was really awesome and then the next time that guy came in he had actually gotten the same tattoo in the same place.
6. Post-tattoo thoughts. Would you do it again? Expand upon the tattoo? Get rid of it? I guess the only thing I've really been thinking of is that I wish that I had thought about the details a little more because what I have is really just a simple outline of Wisconsin, and I love it, I didn't want anything too complex, but having seen other people's tattoos of Wisconsin I've seen them with more intricate topographic detailing, so I guess that was my only thing. But at the same time I'm glad I got it when I did, and I like being spontaneous.

Hometown: Stoughton, WI
Current Town: Milwaukee, WI

1. How old were you when you got your tattoo? Eighteen.
2. Where is your tattoo located (body part)? On my back (right shoulder).
3. Describe the day you got your tattoo? I got my Wisconsin tattoo over two sessions at Colour of Skin in Eberswalde, Germany. I don't really remember any specifics of how the day went. I'm pretty sure it was spring and I rode my skateboard down to the shop. Denny, the tattoo artist and friend, made fun of the original picture I brought. It was a stenciled outline of Wisconsin with crossbones on it (I was eighteen...). He ended up making it look way cooler.
4. Why did you decide to get this tattoo? I was living in Germany and it was the first time living away from home. I thought it was important (and still do) to remember where I came from. Though, I probably didn't need to get a tattoo to do that. Maybe I should get a tattoo of my name so I don't forget that either...
5. Describe the best or most memorable reaction you have gotten in response to your tattoo? When I moved to Milwaukee, a lot of people thought it was a "Wiskullskin" tattoo which is a local t-shirt company. It was a complete coincidence but funny to realize that I tapped into some fad unknowingly. I knew some people who had Wisconsin tattoos and had seen Wisconsin outlines with skulls inside of them, but did not know how popular it was until I moved to Milwaukee.
6. Post-tattoo thoughts. Would you do it again? Expand upon the tattoo? Get rid of it? I don't really think about it too much. I can't see it, so it's just kind of there. When I do think about it, I think more about the time that I got it instead of the tattoo itself. I also think about how skull tattoos are an awesome idea when you're eighteen and become increasingly less awesome the older you get. I like it, though. I don't regret getting it.

Hometown: Actually, somewhere in Connecticut, but I grew up in Menomonee Falls, WI
Current Town: Sheboygan, WI

1. How old were you when you got your tattoo? I was twenty-two.
2. Where is your tattoo located (body part)? On the inside of my left forearm.
3. Describe the day you got your tattoo? Ha. It was a Friday. The senior bar crawl was happening that night. I was dating a stupid hockey player. I mean, like, really stupid. But he made me a margarita beforehand, so that was nice I guess. Until I got to the tattoo place and had to sign a form promising that I hadn't consumed alcohol in the last eight hours. Whoops! But let's face it, as a senior in college, your blood is pretty much made out of alcohol anyways. Two of my Blonde Goddess friends, Anna and Claire, came with me. The guy at the shop (called Eye Candy Ink in Appleton) probably thought it was funny to see these three girls come in. It was over in like 2 minutes. I barely felt it. The guy was super chill, and we talked about how awesome Wisconsin is. He was afraid to do the straight line at the bottom of the state but he didn't mess up. Later that night I went to the bar crawl, and I'm pretty sure a few people slapped the tattoo. Oh well, it survived.
4. Why did you decide to get this tattoo? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. It kind of reminds me of what Andy from "Parks and Rec" says about getting married to April: "I mean seriously, I cannot emphasize how little we thought about this." I wouldn't even say it was so much about Wisconsin as it was about the fact that I knew my life was about to go through a very drastic change. My stupid, spoiled, and yet incredibly beloved college life was about to end. My friends would be dispersing across the country. My awesome jobs at the library and WLFM were about to be handed over to other people. I didn't know if I would have a constant artistic outlet in my life anymore. I was pissed off, and I was scared, but at the same time, it was one of the happiest and most ecstatic times I can remember in my life. I got my tattoo in a place where I can always see it so I can remember that stupid, crazy time. 
5. Describe the best or most memorable reaction you have gotten in response to your tattoo? Billy Ward. A charming and flirtatious married man who worked at Chateau St. Croix Winery with me in St. Croix Falls, WI over the summer. He loved the tattoo, and said it was one of the coolest things he had ever seen. I described to him how I planned to get the tattoo with the top part of Wisconsin (the Apostle Islands) facing upwards towards my wrist, but was told by my tattoo artist that this would have been considered an 'upside down' tattoo. Not wanting to be constantly seeing it upside down myself, I just decided to get it sideways. Upon hearing this story Billy said something along the lines of, "I can relate to that. I always kind of felt like I was drifting sideways through life." Oh, Billy. No wonder you have so many kids...
6. Post-tattoo thoughts. Would you do it again? Expand upon the tattoo? Get rid of it? A lot of people warn others not to get tattoos because they think they will regret getting them, but honestly, I think I like mine more now than when I first got it. I've had more time to think about it, and to think about what it means to be "from" somewhere. It seems like we spend so much (necessary) time trying to get away from where we're from. I've done this, of course. But there's only one place that you can call home, and to realize all the things about it that are remarkable is often more complicated than realizing all the things that are remarkable about a place halfway across the world. Plus, I'm intrigued by the fact that so many different types of creative, artistic, and hardworking people fit within the confines of this "state"- a mere conjunction of lines determined by water and politics. It's the only place I want on my skin.
Special thanks to Steph, Lucas, and Taylor for letting me take a creepy and annoying interest in their bodily modifications.

Monday, February 10, 2014

YAM, MAM, Gram, Sha-ZAM!

YAM= Youth Art Month started this Sunday at JMKAC. The education team prepped for it all of last week by hanging art, creating labels, and filling out honorary YAM certificates. When the kids arrived on Sunday they got to see their art on the wall and then choose from several fun art-making activities. The first was a tile-making workshop inspired by some of the new A/I work that is being installed right now, and the second was a hat-making workshop with artist-in-residence Brian Schoneman.

Hat-making workshop

Tile-making workshop

These photos were taken before things got good and messy, but don't worry, plenty of mess was made. In fact, my favorite moment from Sunday was when a small, shirtless child slapping paint onto a tile was told by his parents to stop making a mess. I told him it didn't matter, that we make messes here all the time, and he looked up at me with wide, awestruck eyes and said, "You NEVER clean up here?" 

Obviously, we do. But the great part about these workshops is that the kids don't have to. It really is an unadulterated art-making experience for them, and something they will remember for their whole lives. Speaking of which, these Sheboygan-area youngsters have a strong vision even in the early days of their art-making practice. My favorite piece from the YAM exhibition:

[Student's name omitted], BEAUTIFUL OOPS!, 2013
Text: A smudge and a smear can make magic appear.

It's almost too much to think about.

True to its title, the YAM work will only be up for a month. GO SEE IT. [Thought: Rename this blog to "Go See It Yourself, Dummy."]

MAM= More thoughts on "Uncommon Folk" at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week. A few days after I visited this exhibit I had the privilege to take a tour of the JMKAC collections storage with registrar Larry Donoval, who has been with the arts center for 30+ years. Although I can't reveal too many details about the experience, I will reveal this: You can smell the art. Years upon years of obsessive art-making are stacked in contortionistic compartments in the bowels of the arts center, and if you get close enough, I mean reaallly stick your face in and inhale, you can smell the human presence in the artwork. Like you walked into the home of someone who was just cooking soup. 

I still think the show at MAM is really awesome. But after seeing our collections storage, it now feels fragmented. The difference between JMKAC and other institutions that collect art is this: Other institutions collect a person's work. JMKAC collects a person's soul.

Speaking of souls.

Gram= Grandma Ruby. I don't know why I haven't done a blog post on her sooner. She died two summers ago, but she left behind more than just memories of herself. Which is a good thing, because in the last years of her life, she didn't really have any of her own memories at all. Suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, my entire family had the gruesome experience of watching her transform into a person that none of us knew. But what was terrible for us was a thousand times worse for her. In these late years, she couldn't even paint, an activity that she spent countless hours perfecting in her beautiful home in St. Germain, Wisconsin. 

Ruby Tompkins, Heart box with flower

Ruby Tompkins, Two birds

Ruby Tompkins, Santa

Ruby Tompkins, Strawberry

Ruby Tompkins, Figure drawing

Although she never sold or showed any of her artwork, my grandmother left behind more work than we are probably even aware of. We have our own collection of her work at our house in Menomonee Falls, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are still paintings sitting Up North in my grandparent's former basement. Probably not the best place for them, but at least if they were ever found, they would still smell like Ruby and Don.

At JMKAC we have workshops through a program called SPARK! that provide persons with memory loss the opportunity to make art in a supportive and controlled environment. They are simple activities that range from casting to gardening, but they are a wonderful opportunity for Alzheimer's and dementia patients to get out and do something meditative. Like the kids at the YAM opening, everyone finds joy in making a mess. The YAM kids will remember it forever. The SPARK! participants will experience it in whatever way they can. Either way, something great gets left behind. A smudge and a smear can make magic appear.

Here's to you, Ruby. Memories are overrated anyways.

Sha-ZAM!= Well, that's just for fun.

This is a weird post. A beautiful oops, if you will.

"As artists we are hunter-gatherers." 
-Louise Berg, JMKAC Senior Education Specialist

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Lot of Folk in the World

Scratch that. A lot of folk in Wisconsin. At MAM. Right now.

Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Folk Art, which opened last Friday at MAM, is an ambitious and impressive show that was flawlessly executed by the fine folks [definitely pun intended] at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It's a big show. There was a lot to see, and I might have to go back again. And maybe again.

I can't possibly write one blog post about all my observations about this show. An account of the number of times I squealed and ran across the room to get a better look at something could probably fill up a whole page. I took a ton of notes and have been thinking nonstop about everything that I saw. If I wrote about all of this, nobody would read this post. So instead, here are my top three favorite things from the show:

#1- Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein Untitled, 1957

Von Bruenchenhein was a Milwaukee artist known for the psychedelic paintings you see above, tiny structures made out of animal bones, and a diverse set of photographs featuring his wife Marie as the subject. A large body of Von Bruenchenhein's work was obtained in 1983 by The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, mostly through the efforts of then and current director Ruth Kohler who says that visiting Von Bruenchenhein's house for the first time was "one of the most astonishing and moving experiences in the arts" she has ever had [Source: "Taking the Road Less Traveled" by Ruth DeYoung Kohler]. I've been confronted with Von Bruenchenhein's name several times since working at JMKAC and haven't been able to experience any of his original work in the flesh until this weekend. It was worth the wait. Von Bruenchenhein's "unicorn explosion" aesthetic could give artist Lisa Frank a run for her money.

#2- More tramp art


Yes indeed. There were several pieces labeled as tramp art in the exhibition, proving that I am the dumb one who has never heard of this art movement until I wrote last week's post. There was also a book on tramp art in the gift shop entitled "A Legacy in Tramp Art" by Clifford A. Wallach, revealing that there is more than one scholarly piece written about the topic by more than one person. My mind. Is blown. Maybe indexicality is real, too.

#3- Ice fishing decoys

Various Artists, Group of Ice Fishing Decoys, 19th and 20th century

Maybe it's because I miss summer, but I really loved this big wall of fish. Not only was it aesthetically very cool but I love the idea of celebrating the craftspeople who made these colorful little decoys and the very necessary act of fishing, hunting, and obtaining food for survival. This section of the exhibition, entitled "Decoys," also featured other crafted decoy animals such as snakes and ducks. Have you ever stared at a giant wall of ducks? 

In conclusion, go see the show for yourself, dummy. You might feel a little "folked up," because there's a lot to see, but it is a very cool opportunity to see an exhibition by one of the leading institutions of folk art in the entire country. 

Speaking of which, Milwaukee is awesome.

In moving to Sheboygan, I accidentally rediscovered Milwaukee. It's a nice accident. I have been out of touch with it for about four years, and now I have returned with a new set of eyes to see a city that is electric, beautiful, and raw. Not only am I discovering places and people that I never knew before but I've been reconnected with a few "folks" that I haven't seen in awhile and they're still as awesome as I remember them to be. It's kind of like finding an old shirt that you haven't worn in awhile or unearthing a candy bar in your car that you forgot you put there (sounds gross, but it's great).

Wisconsin is proving once again to be a complex labyrinth of stories, history, people and culture that I can't seem to find my way out of. It's small, but it's big; seemingly shallow, but in reality deep.

Hey Wisconsin, I love you like a boyfriend.

PS- "Certificates of Presence" featuring the work of Julie Lindemann will be up at the Portrait Society Gallery until March 8. Don't miss this show, either!