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!

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