Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gallery FIGHT

Maybe it's all the kickboxing I've been doing, but I really wanted to punch someone at Gallery Night on Friday.

Despite the fact that this action could have potentially landed me in jail, I still kind of wish I would have done it. Why? BECAUSE THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

I want to explain myself, but before I do I should say that this was my first Gallery Night in Milwaukee, and I can easily admit that I didn't exactly get the full experience. I stayed only at the Marshall Building, and didn't even attempt the Gallery Night Bus that took people to different locations throughout the night on Friday and the next day. Also, I went by myself, and to be perfectly honest, an event like that is just not as fun when attended solo. It would have been nice to have someone to drink wine with. And also to have someone to help fight off the mobs and mobs of people that were packed into the building. I'm not making this up, look:

Every time I tried to move up or down a level, this is what I encountered. I felt incredibly claustrophobic at most points during the night, and physically ran into at least ten people while trying to maneuver my way through the galleries. Not to mention I could not find an open bathroom for the life of me. Always a problem.

At one point I even considered jumping out this window because I literally couldn't push my way out of a room.

But luckily there was food pretty much everywhere, so I was able to munch while I was waiting to be freed from the throng.

(These were good)

There was also a book sale in case I needed to do some light reading while waiting.

It's hard for me to say if I saw any art that really resonated with me. Not that I don't think there was good stuff there. That's not what I'm saying. It's just that there were so many people that it was really hard to stand and look at anything for very long, and any kind of "resonating" that could have happened was dampened by the mass of bodies. I can surmise that these were the things that I thought were good:

Shannon Sullivan, from "On Growth and Form"- Grey Matter Gallery

Sullivan's "On Growth and Form" was a part of the NCECA conference in March. Above is an example of one of her "Faceted Composites," a series of ceramic pieces that are reminiscent of natural rock formations. 

Karen Halt, from "Birds and Beasts of Uncommon Beauty"- Elaine Erickson Gallery

Halt, who currently resides in Chicago, may be my new favorite semi-local artist. From between the cracks and crevices of the densely packed crowd her paintings emitted a serene and soothing glow. Looking at her work was sort of like eating ice cream on a hot day. Refreshing. Emphasis on the fresh. Halt is doing an incredible job of keeping the medium as alive and active as her still-breathing subject matter.

Eristole Siewert, from "Stupid Vessels"- Gallery? (I forgot, it was busy in there, okay?! Also, sorry for the blurry photo.)

Maybe it's just where I'm at right now, but I really liked Siewert's approach of not taking herself or her vessels too seriously. Let's face it, life is kind of a stupid vessel.

Amy Cropper, Maize- The Fine Art Gallery 

I'm from Wisconsin, but corn imagery never gets old to me. I enjoyed the use of watercolor in this series of paintings to create a delicate, infantile rendering of a Midwestern staple. 

Darlene Wesenberg Rzezotarski, The Frog PrinceThe Fine Art Gallery

This whimsical ceramic frog takes me back to my frog lovin' days. Which were actually not all that long ago, come to think of it. Rzeztoraski's family of fairy tale creatures presented a curious mix of literature, folklore, and of course fine art, as the name of the gallery suggests.

Selected Arrangement from "Arrangements: Keith Nelson"- Portrait Society Gallery

Heck yeah. I think it's safe to say that I think Debra Brehmer is a pretty cool lady. I've liked everything I've seen in her gallery, but I thought "Arrangements" in particular was a really solid show. Because of the intricacies and connotations of the pieces I would recommend visiting this gallery when there are a lot less people in the room. Also, be sure to check out John Shimon's "Rural Utopia," a selection of works from his Blotchy Blobs Blog.

Before I start bashing individual people for lingering stubbornly in front of pieces while I was trying to look at them, I'll conclude my recap of Gallery Night, or, what I could glean from Gallery Night by peeking around people's shoulders and over their heads and under their legs and through their arms.

And that is why I should have punched someone. I don't even think it would have been a bad thing. I would have gotten to see more art, and people would have realized they were standing around like dummies. A few weeks ago I wrote this post, which was sort of comparing the way people act at art events as opposed to sporting events. Friday's Gallery Night was reminiscent of a sporting event because of the mass, energy, and excitement of the crowd, and that's awesome. It's exactly what I think an art event should be like, and I'm really impressed that Gallery Night drew out such a large number of people. Any complaining I'm doing right now is just because I wish I would have been more prepared. Seriously. I should have brought a boxing glove.

PS- Just in case anyone thinks I need anger management or something, I will say that I felt totally fine once I walked out the door and back out to the parking garage and had this really awesome view as I walked up to my car: 

Ahhh. Peace and quiet. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I had been there before

Yesterday I got to go back to Lawrence.
It was kind of like this picture, which I took there about a year ago.
Everything was familiar, but kind of turned upside down.

Instead of learning, I taught.
Instead of paying, I got paid.
Instead of celebrating 50 Days, I crashed 50 Days.

I would like to call attention to the Digital Processes Blog. The guys in this class are doing some great work, and I hope you will take the time to check out some of their videos. It felt like a special privilege to be able to judge their work (even if it was on a scale of quinoa-elbow mac). It gave me a lot of perspective on how much I've learned since being out of school. I hope the things I talked about weren't too depressing. But sometimes we all need a little tough love. Thanks for having me, and good luck to the seniors who will be graduating soon!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Four buildings, one Wisconsin. Oh yeah, and go Brewers.

The Four Buildings 

Miller Park

Milwaukee Art Museum

Paul Burmeister, Leaning a Little, Burlington, 2013

Mary Nohl House

On Saturday I went to a Brewers game. I haven't been since high school, and it was different than I remembered it to be. Maybe it's because I had never been to a Saturday night game before, or maybe because I had never attended a game when the Brewers were doing so well. Whatever the reason, there was a sense of electricity in the air that I did not recall from previous games, and it was not entirely due to the thunderstorm outside. It reminded me of an experience I had in college once, when I attended a party at Phi Tau house the night that the new members had been inducted into the fraternity. The entire house was like a playground. Excited people were in every corner of the room, dancing and drinking on every surface. Sliding down railings. Standing on tables. I recall this experience as one of the best nights I had in college, although I was not particularly invested in the fraternity or any of its members before that night. 

That's kind of how I felt after the Brewers game. In general, I don't care about the Brewers, or any other sports team. I don't think I would watch a game on TV even if the Brewers were 20-0. But on Saturday night I felt like I cared. In the same way that the Phi Tau boys transformed their house into a jungle gym of elation, the Brewers fans turned the stadium into an intoxicated whirlwind of baseball pride. People were crying and chanting. A fan was diligently displacing a bar stool from the upper loge decks to the first floor as we walked down the twisted ramps. People wore face paint. People drank beer. People were So. Infectiously. Happy. 

So of course it got me thinking about something completely unrelated, which is the Milwaukee Art Museum. If you haven't heard, they're expanding, and although the expansion is a positive step for the museum in the eyes of many people (entrance on the lake side of the building wahoo!), it is being scrutinized by others. 

It reminds me of stuff. Stuff that's going on now, and stuff that's happened. When I was in fifth grade, I did a current events report on the di Suvero/ Calatrava controversy at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Long story short: there is a large sculpture by Mark di Suvero located in front of the brise soleil if you are approaching the building from the west. To some it looked like a bird taking off into the sunset. To others it was an obstruction of a view of a beautiful new building. Although the heated debate has cooled down since I was in fifth grade, I would imagine that there are some who still deliberately look beyond the sculpture when approaching Art Museum Drive.

Another thing I remember from my youth is the controversy over Miller Park. I was young, but I got the gist. Tax payers didn't want to pay public funds to support a building for a privately owned sports team. A sales tax that Milwaukeeans still pay today, propelled to a higher level of acrimony when literal blood was shed in the construction of the stadium. 

A more recent but just as heated issue is the fate of the Mary Nohl House in Fox Point, which will be dismantled and moved to Sheboygan this summer. For those of you who don't know anything about the issue, you can read an article on it here. Much like the di Suvero/ Calatrava debate, it is such an intense argument that if I was in fifth grade right now and did a current events report on it I would still probably remember the details eleven years later. 

Maybe this isn't related, but I'm also reminded of a painting that I saw recently at the Charles Allis Art Museum on N. Prospect. The exhibition was "Forward 2014: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now." Seeing as how I also recently saw the Wisconsin Artists Biennal at The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) I can comfortably say that I'm pretty much up to date on what artists are currently doing in Wisconsin. Burmeister's painting of a  disheveled grain elevator in Burlington was one of my favorite pieces from Survey to Biennal. Flat as a board, but packed to the brim with implications. The artist brilliantly managed to blend a feeling of bland apathy with a feeling of his own desperate nostalgia for a type of building that is so critical to the identity of Wisconsin. I succeeded in finding a bit of related noise on the topic: The Wisconsin Barn Preservation Program which is spearheaded by the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. All it says to me is, it's history, folks. We sure ain't gonna build anymore grain elevators. It's not exactly controversy, it's just kind of a nice gesture. 

I'm pretty sure what I'm getting at here is that Wisconsin is a bizarre place. When I went to the Brewers game on Saturday I felt kind of guilty for having such a good time, and it's because I usually feel like people place more importance on and generally just enjoy sports more than they do the arts. But the whole time I was there I was thinking about the Miller Park and MAM controversies from my childhood, and the Mary Nohl controversy, and the dumb stupid grain elevator and its apparent lack of controversy. We're tearing things down, we're building things up, and the way we're reacting doesn't make any sense. 

Why does the same state that made such a stink about a new stadium have so much freakin' fun at the games? 

And why does one city have the same intense feelings for said stadium that it has for the placement of a sculpture at an art museum? 

In addition, why is this state politely preserving a historical barn or two while at the same time viciously rejecting the preservation of a beloved art environment? 

And if in 50 years MAM starts to fall apart will we fight to save it, or will we conveniently tear it down because it's easier to do that than it is to accommodate the changes that it would take to preserve it in all its glory?

It sounds like I'm mad, but I'm actually not. I love the complexities of Wisconsin and its people more than I love anything else that I think about. But if I were to hear an outsider's perspective on my home state I might feel a little bit embarrassed. It appears that we have a bit of an identity crisis as to what we deem to be important. As someone who has lived here almost my entire life, I know that the turbulence stems from an enigmatic blend of ideals; stagnant comfort as a cushion for progressive change. We're afraid to take risks on new things, but once we do we maintain a fierce conviction that we've done the right thing. 

My recommendation, and I know you won't take it, because you're from Wisconsin: wear a few different hats. Not Packer hats, because they're tacky. Metaphorical hats. Make this state into your jungle gym of elation, and play in it. Enjoy its many facets, instead of fixating comfortably on just one. I'll be there, if you want to hang out. Maybe we can tailgate outside MAM this summer. Or maybe we can show up at Miller Park and quietly ponder the progression of the game. 

If you look up you'll notice that either building opens and closes at a fixed point in the direction of the sky. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

And I quote, "The day of the night watchmen is long past"

Anyone ever ignored the security guard at a museum?

I have.

I guess I don't really know why. Maybe it's because I enjoy taking sneaky pics of art that isn't supposed to be photographed and I think that they can read my mind. Or maybe it's just because it's their job to be mean to us, and we all know it. 

I have never contemplated how hard of a job that actually is until I started talking to some of the guards at the arts center. For example Mary, a security guard who, as I quickly found out, is not a "security guard" at all but a "Master Security Officer" trained under strict and militant guidelines to wander through the halls of institutions and be ignored by assholes like me.


Meet Mary. She preferred not to be photographed, 
but did allow me to photograph her awesome badge

Where are you from, Mary? Sheboygan Falls, WI

How long have you been a guard here? 14 years

Have you ever been a guard anywhere else? Yes, I worked for Homeland Security. I was stationed in American Samoa National Park in Hawai'i for 4 months. I got to see Pearl Harbor, and explored the island well, because I didn't know if I'd ever be back.

What is the strangest thing you have seen while on duty here at the arts center? One summer we had the Festival of the Arts and the tornado siren went off and everyone started coming inside so we had to pack everyone in the arts center whether there was room or not. We also had to start packing people into the basement. Soon there were so many people that we decided to put them in the church across the street from the arts center. We were commended for our quick thinking, but boy was that nuts.

What is something everyone should know about being a security officer? It takes a lot of training. We are constantly taking classes and going to seminars. It's very rigorous, and we have to follow a set of military-like rules. That's the difference between a guard and an officer. If someone is a guard they haven't had years and years of training like I have.

Do you have a favorite piece in the Arts/Industry exhibition? Yes, two:

I like them because they just look like you want to touch them, and you can see the texture on them so well. They look like they should be fountains outside.

What other hobbies do you have? Well, I might surprise you. I carve with wood and stone. I've actually sold some of my pieces. Stone I'm still working on and still learning. I took stone carving in college and one day I actually got a call saying that my professor had died and that I was in his will. Turns out he had left me his stone carving tools.


When I was done interviewing Mary I thanked her for allowing me to question her. She's a bold lady who's not afraid to say what she's thinking to anyone. I've actually witnessed her sneaking up behind children who have refused to listen to her warnings not to run around the galleries. So I was slightly surprised when she said, "You're welcome. We're kind of invisible people, you know. It's nice to be quoted."

As a note to all security officers: I can't guarantee I won't stop trying to snap illegal photographs behind your back, but next time I'll smile in your direction and hopefully you can forgive me. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It Was A Magical Space

Today is Tuesday, and I could probably describe my weekend as magical. I've referred to an event as magical before on this blog, in this post from December in which I hinted that using the word magical was ultimately a cop out on my part. 

Cop out or not, when I look back on my weekend it felt like magic. Milwaukee. Sunshine. New friends. Old friends. Alli. No sleep. No problems. No rules. Similar in emotional ecstasy to how I felt when I drove down the Mississippi River in December to Prairie Moon Road. Completely different days and locations and yet, one word still applies.

At one point this weekend I found myself talking to Debra Brehmer, owner and director of the Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee's Third Ward. We talked more than we looked, but I did get a chance to see the most recent show, a ceramics exhibition that, like the exhibitions at JMKAC, MAM, WPCA, and several other Milwaukee area galleries, was a part of the NCECA Conference that was held in March. Needless to say, I've seen a lot of ceramics in the past month. And happily so; I don't have much of a ceramics vocabulary at all. Which is why, when I saw this piece, I felt like I was finally being spoken to in a language I understood. Well, sort of: 

Thomas MΓΌller, This Is A Magical Space


What does it mean, and why did it fit in so perfectly with the weekend I was having?

In my training to be a docent at JMKAC I have been taught a technique that prompts viewers to break down pieces bit by bit until there is nothing left to break down. For example, the question, "What do you see?" leads to the question, "Why do you say that?" which leads to the question, "What else do you see?" until the discussion fizzles out or the eighth graders I am speaking to start looking at me like I'm an alien. 

It's an effective technique. In using it to teach others I have ended up learning more about the art than I knew before I started giving tours, without reading any additional information about the pieces I have been touring.

I thought I might try the technique on this blog with Magical Space. I don't have a group of eighth graders in front of me, which will make it easier, but I also don't have a group of wonderfully observant third graders either, which will make it harder. All I've got is this space. Blogger. A more confined space than the gallery in some ways, but in other ways an infinite space. Cyberspace. My space, and the space inside my head.

Ready, let's go.

  • Pronoun. 
  • "The person, thing, or idea that is present or near in place, time, or thought or that has just been mentioned. The thing that is closest to you or that is being shown to you. The present time."
  • Letters.
  • Word.
  • In English.
  • Helvetica.
  • Ceramic.
  • Sculpture.
  • The gallery.
  • Milwaukee.
  • The floor.
  • The Marshall Building.
  • The specific room in the gallery.
  • The space inside the circle.
  • The beginning of the sentence.
  • Verb.
  • "3rd person singular present indicative of be."
  • Letters.
  • Word.
  • In English.
  • Helvetica.
  • Ceramic.
  • Sculpture.
  • Definite, not opinion.
  • Indefinite article.
  • Letter.
  • Word. 
  • In English.
  • Helvetica.
  • Ceramic.
  • Sculpture.
  • Singular.
  • One.
  • The only.
  • One of many.
  • Adjective.
  • "Produced by or as if by magic. Of or pertaining to magic."
  • Letters.
  • Word.
  • In English.
  • Helvetica.
  • Ceramic.
  • Sculpture.
  • A matter of opinion.
  • Strange.
  • Wonderful.
  • An extension of magic.
  • Mysterious, enchanting.
  • Fantastical. 
  • Three syllables.
  • My weekend.
  • Noun, often attributive.
  • "A period of time; also, its duration. A limited extent in one, two, or three dimensions. An extent set apart or available. The distance from other people or things that a person needs in order to remain comfortable. One of the degrees between or above or below the lines of a musical staff. A boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. Physical space independent of what occupies it. The region beyond the earth's atmosphere or beyond the solar system. A set of mathematical elements and especially of abstractions of all the points on a line, in a plane, or in physical space. A broadcast time available especially to advertisers. Accommodation on a public vehicle. An opportunity for privacy or time to oneself."
  • Letters.
  • Word. 
  • In English.
  • Helvetica.
  • Ceramic.
  • Sculpture.
  • The gallery.
  • Milwaukee.
  • The floor.
  • The Marshall Building.
  • The specific room in the gallery.
  • The space inside the circle.
  • The end of the sentence.

This is a magical space. Five words with a million different connections. One word that I keep using to describe things happening in my life. Except in this depiction the "m" is crumbling and has fallen to the floor, breaking the seemingly endless circle of the sentence in the word that seems to be most important. If I were to read this sentence out loud I would probably read it as, "This is a meuagical shpace," because that's how the fallen letters look like they would sound. 

As I'm sitting writing this blog at a coffee shop in Sheboygan I'm thinking, "Is this a magical space?" It doesn't feel like one at all. I had a terrible Monday (a Meuonday, maybe?) which was a complete contrast to my wonderful weekend. My butt kind of hurts and I've got a crick in my neck. There's a high schooler a couple feet away from me practicing sight singing in a squeaky falsetto, and this place always plays the same music. If I saw Magical Space in this coffee shop I would probably think, "Well, no, it's not."

But maybe for some a visit to this shop is magical in the same way that a trip to most galleries is magical for me. If I were giving a tour to third graders I might ask them, "Where is your magical space?" I can just imagine the answers now: my bedroom, a treehouse, Narnia, outer space. 

I can end by saying that when I think of Magical Space I get the urge to drive back to Milwaukee, curl myself up in a ball in the middle of it, and stay there. Back to my magical weekend and that moment in time. I guess that's my conclusion. The artist isn't referring to a physical space but a moment in time in which we are observing a piece in a gallery and we either feel something from it or we don't. When we look back on the moment we'll remember it, but some of the details will start to crumble. By using words instead of imagery he is trying to access our ability to remember certain phrases and aphorisms better than we remember the specific details of images. But he also doesn't want us to place too much importance on the words, so he physically disfigures them to remind us that these are still ceramic objects and this is an art piece. 

Magical. Meuagical. It's clearly not a cop out adjective if another artist is using it in a high art setting. But it's already fading and losing its meaning as Meuonday turned into Tuewshday and Tuewshday will slowly turn into Weedneshday. 

When I look back on my weekend, I'll remember the sun.