I have been meaning to write about a visit to the Racine Art Museum (RAM) for a few weeks now.
The Racine Art Museum is an art museum in Racine. "Duh," you might say, but if you really think about it, an art museum in Racine is quite extraordinary. It's akin to an art museum in Sheboygan, or West Bend, both of which of have been written about in detail on this blog. Racine even reminded me aesthetically of Sheboygan. On the drive into town I encountered crumbling buildings long relieved of their original purpose basking unabashedly in the June sun.
But when I arrived at the museum, things didn't feel quite so "small town" anymore. The attractive white building stood out from the other shops and storefronts in the downtown Racine area. It looked like it belonged to a much bigger town. Unbeknownst to me, the museum as it stands has actually been around since the '90s, a repurposing of an old bank building. This was kindly explained to me by a nice lady sitting behind the front desk, who otherwise seemed slightly confused about the current content in the museum. I thought perhaps she might have been a volunteer.
Left to explore without any real idea about what was in the museum, I picked up some pamphlets and began to peruse. Although the building was modest in size, I stayed for about an hour and a half, amazed at the volume as well as the quality of the exhibition. Between the exhibitions, "Once Upon a Time, Fairytales, Fantasy, and Contemporary Art", "White Gold, The Appeal of Lustre," and "Some Pretty Interesting Characters: Works from RAM's Collection, Chapter 2," there were way too many pieces that I liked to document on this blog. So I narrowed it down to four:
Jason Walker, Wild Savage, 2009
Glazed porcelain with lustres and driftwood
This piece was not very big, but it felt intimidating. It did not seem to fit entirely with the other pieces in "White Gold." Many of the other pieces were embellished utilitarian vases and containers- what I expected from this exhibition- but this piece stood out like a true wild savage in fierce opposition to the norm. I know nothing about Jason Walker or his background, but I felt like he had a much stronger voice and pushed the medium much further than the other artists in the show.
Syliva Zampa, Gold Skull (Heavy Mental Series), 2012, Skull (Heavy Mental Series), 2012, Half Skull (Heavy Mental Series), 2012
All pieces glazed porcelain with lustres
Skull jewelry. Wearable art that I can't afford. Looks like something Urban Outfitters would want to sell in a cheap plastic variation. If I had the money, I'd buy the real thing.
Jack Earl, Carrot Finger, 1981
Glazed white earthenware with china paint
I became acquainted with the work of Jack Earl during my internship at JMKAC. The work that I saw was as whimsical and humorous as this piece. Toilets adorned with smoke stacks. A ceramic conversation between factory worker and artist. This piece went a step further and was accompanied by this text which I have written out in full for your enjoyment:
I knew a guy who had a carrot for a finger. I guess he had it when he was born cause he had it when I met him in high school when we was boys. It was just a carrot stickin' out where a finger ought to have been. When I first noticed it I looked out of the corner of my eye at it a few times and then got used to it and didn't pay it any attention. Nobody else did either, they were all use to it. Sometimes some younger kid would holler "Carrot Finger" at him from a distance but he didn't pay any attention to them kids. When he got older and went to church, a wedding or a funeral, he would keep his carrot finger in a pocket so he wouldn't distract from the service. He got married to a local girl here, a real nice girl but not as pretty a one as he could have got, I suppose, if he hadn't had a carrot finger. They had three kids and they all came out normal. Anyhow, one time he was walkin' in the woods. It was in December, one of those special days in December when the sun is real warm and little white fluffy clouds was passin shadows over you once in a while. He had plenty of clothes on since it was December and it was nice and warm and he layed down in the grass on the side of that hill was watching the clouds drift by and listenin to the bees buzz. You know how nice it is to hear bees on a real warm winter day. Well he was layin there and he went to sleep but what he didn't know was that there was a lot of rabbits in that woods. When he woke up his finger, the carrot one, was gone. He told me he thought it might grow back but it didn't.
Rachel Rader, Three-Tier Diatom Sweet Stack, 2011
Glass and Austrian crystals
This piece was also accompanied by a story- a story of Queen Scarlatine of the Sea People living under the Coquille Empire in approximately the 15th-18th century. It was one of many supposed "artifacts" found from this fictional world and "preserved" for all to see at the museum. Other artifacts included an intricate crown and scepter, and more pastry items.
After I was done at the museum I walked up and down the main street in Racine. That day I had put some photos on Instagram of the trip with the hashtag #averyminiroadtrip. Racine is only an hour away from Milwaukee. But it was still a road trip, right? And I still learned something, and saw something I had never seen before, right? Did I really need the semi-self deprecating hashtag to accompany my very pleasant trip? For social media purposes I somehow felt that I did. But secretly, this #veryminiroadtrip was enough to conquer my wanderlust for the day.
In my new life in Milwaukee I find myself in a strange state of mind. I somehow thought that the move from Sheboygan would mean that I have more of a social life outside of work. In many ways, this is true. But in other ways, now that I have the option to stay in rather than staying in for lack of any actual things to do or people to see, I find myself choosing to stay in more often than I thought I would. I seem to be okay with introversion here, because here it's optional. I am enjoying the results of my independence. I currently have no roommates. My only company is my dear cat, who, despite the occasional naughty behavior, is still the love of my life. I have imposed artistic challenges upon myself such as "10 pieces in 10 days," in which I am trying to make a piece of art every single day for 10 days (photographs don't count). I have more time to read now than I have in a long time, and am finding that I would rather go to a park and read than go to the bars. Everywhere I look I am seeing travel photographs and reading travel blogs, and for some reason I don't have the painful jealously I used to have when seeing these things. I feel very determined to have a simple and comfortable life here in Milwaukee. I've spent too much time in the past year moving from one thing to the next, never feeling entirely satisfied with where I was. I want to be able to say that I found joy in the simple things like a #miniroadtrip to a small town, or a morning cuddle with my cat, or a peaceful bike ride to work.
I have a natural urge to keep moving, physically, intellectually and mentally. I will never expel this urge entirely, but I'm becoming more comfortable with the thought that you can grow as a person while remaining in one place. Milwaukee still doesn't exactly feel like home, but it feels better than anything else I tried in the past year. It still remains a mystery to me why I felt so compelled to move here, but I feel like I'm on the brink of something strange, wonderful, and exhilarating.
"What I mean is, what makes people unhappy is not too little choice, but too much. Having to decide, always to decide, torn every which way all of the time."