Monday, November 2, 2015

Tarnanthi: Art in Adelaide, Australia

Tarnanthi is an aboriginal word from the Kaurna people of South Australia. It means to come forth or appear – like the sunrise, or a seed sprouting. For many cultures, first light represents a new beginning. I was fortunate, not only because I was able to travel to Australia and visit the Art Gallery of South Australia but also because this exhibit called Tarnanthi had just been unveiled. Billed by the museum as the “most ambitious exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in its 134 year history,” Tarnanthi was more ambitious even than that. It really is a series of 21 distinct exhibitions and those exhibitions were just part of a citywide festival of indigenous arts. 

Here is but a very small sample of what I saw at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Traditional indigenous paintings on eucalyptus bark by various indigenous people.

Detail of “Dead man” from the Gunbalanya people of western Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory.

This is a detail of just one of several rooms devoted to the weavings of contemporary indigenous artist Yvonne Koolmatrie, of the Ngarrindjeri nation. The weavings reference traditional eel, fish and animal traps, along with scoops, baskets and other utilitarian woven objects. Koolmatrie, whose art practice was inspired by her experiences as a seasonal worker and a “lifelong relationship with the river,” became a “pivotal figure” in contemporary aboriginal art. She represented Australia in the 1997 Venice Biennale.

One of the things I liked best about the installation of the permanent galleries in the museum was the placement of contemporary works amongst traditional ones. The piece in the center of this gallery features the headless, skinned bodies of two horses. Called “We are all flesh,” by Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere, it has been one of the more controversial ones, according to the museum staff person I spoke with.

This series of portraits was created between 1944 and 1947 by Australian artist Sidney Nolan.

One of the things I did not care for was a penchant for hanging paintings and framed works on paper on mirrored walls positioned in the middle of galleries. I found it distracting to see the reflections of other works of art on opposing walls, not to mention people moving through the gallery. Here is one of Hokusai’s famous woodcut prints of “Fuji in Fair Weather.”

An untitled photograph by a contemporary Swiss artist named Claudio Moser seems to float in the doorway between two galleries.
This is the second of a series of stories about art experiences during my recent foray to Australia and New Zealand. To read the first, click on Toi o Tāmaki.

To read stories from my excursion to the Antipodes, go to Urban Wilderness. To see a series of photos from Australia and New Zealand, go to my flickr album.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Toi o Tāmaki: Auckland Art Gallery

image courtesy eventfinda
The Maori words Toi o Tāmaki are a literal translation of the English: Auckland Art Gallery. In backlit steel they run together across the polished stone exterior of the museum. I love that the two languages are given equal footing. From the permanent signage affixed to the building, to museum publications, website and even to the T-shirts worn by gallery staff, the institution is consistently identified in both languages.

As striking as that is to someone like me who is visiting New Zealand from the U.S. for the first time, it is hardly the most distinctive thing about the museum. The main entrance is a soaring atrium space with tall timber columns that flare outwards overhead like the canopy of the forested park into which the building is nestled. I found it exceptionally beautiful when I was there but I’ve since learned that it’s also internationally renowned.

The World Architecture Festival (“the world’s largest architectural event,” according to its website) named the Auckland Art Gallery as the Building of the Year for 2013. If I hadn’t had the good fortune to visit New Zealand I would never have known.

The collection was as interesting as the architecture and includes what seemed to me a healthy mix of Maori and European-oriented artists. I’ve always enjoyed visiting places like this where you get to see outstanding work that falls outside the canons of Western art historical convention. I didn’t take any photos inside the galleries but I enjoyed seeing the site-specific work of New Zealand artist John Ward Knox that was installed around the outside of the building.

Hardly Held Lightly, John Ward Knox
Clearly referencing natural, delicate and ephemeral spider webs, these not only are enormous and made of industrial-strength steel chain link. They also, literally as well as metaphorically, connect the architectural structure with the surrounding trees, thus reinforcing the architect’s vision of the gallery as a haven within the protective environment of the forest.

To see a slide show of the award-winning gallery, click here

To see a series of photos from Australia and New Zealand, go to my flickr album.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Friends of Hank Aaron hit a home run!

The annual fundraising Run/Walk organized by the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail was held on Saturday. The weather was great, attendance and spirits were high. I played my habitual role as photographer (which gets me out of running!) and I got a few shots to share.

The course began at Miller Park and went down Canal Street as far as 32nd St. This is the view from the 35th St. viaduct of Canal St. early in the pack.

The course looped back through Three Bridges Park.

The Milwaukee Bucks' drumming corps was on hand at the Valley Passage Bridge to charge up the crowd for the final leg.

I managed to catch quite a few runners and walkers as they crossed the Valley Passage Bridge, including Mayor Barrett (left).

Pam, one of the volunteers added cheer to those crossing the bridge with her mascot, "Honk Aaron" the goose.

To see many more photos go to my flickr album.

Full disclosure: I am a board member of Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail. And happy to do it!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Renewable Wilderness is Within

"The Renewable Wilderness is Within" is a quote taken from one of the more unusual sculptures in the Lynden Garden collection. The sculpture, "Open-Air Writing Desk" by David Robbins, is unusual for several reasons. One is its location away from the mown lawns where nearly all of the other sculptures reside, which is a part of the Lynden property to which I am drawn--for its relative wildness.

As one of the 2015 Artists in Residence I have not lived in the barn since March. But I have been active, making day trips periodically to check on things, to see how the seasons affect the mood of the place. This post is a brief update with a very small selection of images and an invitation to see many more posted on flickr.

I have long admired and enjoyed the Lynden Sculpture Garden. As a photographer, the opportunity to spend a more concentrated time there as Artist in Residence provides perspectives to which I have not previously attended. I have been able to see the familiar in unfamiliar ways, such as this small, minimalist sculpture called "Windfall" by Robert Murray.

I am also privileged to observe many more than I would otherwise of the frequent transient interventions that are a regular feature of the programming, such as this detail of a cyanotype installation by Milwaukee artist Tori Tasch.

The "gardens" part of the Lynden Sculpture Gardens have also drawn my attention far more than they have in the past.

And the formal gardens are only a portion of the floral displays. I caught this sunrise surprise out in the wilder section of the grounds.

And while nature is not characteristically symmetrical, I seem to find it in unexpected places.

Though asymmetry suits me just fine.

Last Saturday I gave a guided tour of the gardens and grounds. I was asked if I have a favorite sculpture and I do--while it lasts. As I told the group, there are so many sculptures throughout the grounds that it is easier to tick off the short list of those for which I find less affinity. But I do have a favorite and it is "The Feast," a temporary installation by Linda Wervey Vitamvas. When it was first installed over a year ago it consisted of two shelves placed next to the shoreline on the pond. On the shelves were a large set of earthenware vessels, mostly plates, bowls and chalices. These were made from clay harvested on the Lynden property. Over time the unglazed pieces began to decay and fall into the water. Recently the two shelves came entirely unmoored. The few pieces of pottery that remain now float among the lily pads. I have enjoyed watching entropy take its toll, nature reclaim the art, the earth reabsorb the earthenware.

Next week I will once more be ensconced in the barn on the premises, an artist in residence in fact as well as in name. So, there will be further updates, be assured. 

To see more of my work go to the 2015 Artist in Residence album on flickr.

I've also posted separate albums of special events at the Lynden. If you missed the in earlier posts, I invite you to check them out as well.

 The Winter Carnival was in February (left).

The 5th Anniversary celebration was in May (below).

The Fairy Queen Fantasy was performed on the grounds in June (left).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Art in Portland, OR: personal selections.

Although my primary reason for a recent trip to Portland, OR was to attend a convention (the annual Unitarian Universalist General Assembly), I did manage to skip out long enough to visit the Portland Art Museum. Here are a few of the things that caught my eye.

The museum provides several types of offerings even before you enter the building.

There is a small, enclosed courtyard between the two buildings that make up the museum campus. Modern and contemporary sculptures have a home there. Deborah Butterfield's horses have long had a particular appeal for me. It was my great fortune to have had her as an instructor at UW--Madison (way back when!) This one, entitled "Dance Horse," has a distinctive and compelling gesture, at least for me.

The entry plaza was graced with a series of decorated pianos that had been sponsored by businesses and civic groups.

The decorations were eclectic and many of them reflected the interests of the sponsoring organizations.

All of the pianos were playable and several could be heard being played at any one time, both outside and inside the museum. The inharmonious cacophony made my stroll through the collection more poignant. "No Wrong Notes" is a quote by Thelonious Monk. Wonder what he would have made of this arrangement. I thought it was fun. It was certainly an entertaining draw.

The outside of the building itself serves as a kind of canvas as enormous posters are hung on the walls to promote the current exhibitions inside. This one is for a show called "Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris!" The sculpture is "Floating Figure" by Gaston Lachaise.

Another giant poster depicts Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei peering back at you. I found this juxtaposition with one of the sculptures in the courtyard to be trenchant.

Inside you could see Ai Wei Wei's "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold." Here you see a close up of one of the 12 animal heads that make up the zodiac.

Not having a lot of time, I did a quick run-through of the historical galleries to get a flavor. I noted that the local landscape and cultures were a common motif, as you might expect. Mount Hood is a particularly iconic favorite, seen here in an 1885 painting by William Samuel Parrott.

It's hard for a visitor to Portland to miss Mount Hood. I didn't get quite the Romantic view of it that the 19th Century painters sought, but I digress.

I'm quite fond of Inuit and Northwest Coast Indian art and so was looking forward to seeing what Portland had to offer in this vein. I was not disappointed. This tiny set of ivory figures, called "Tupilak," are by unknown Angmagssalik Inuit artists.

This "Drum Dancer" is by Aqjangajuk Shaa, a Canadian and Cape Dorset Inuit.

In the section on late 20th Century abstraction I found this atypical (for me anyway), thickly impastoed painting by Jules Olitski. I seem to recall having seen one of these somewhere before but I'm much more familiar with his sprayed color field paintings.

Walking around a corner, as I did, one can come upon this huge earthenware piece by Richard Notkin in a manner that puts you up close to its textured, relief surface, which is quite interesting.

However, only when you walk back away from it do the variations in the burnt clay surfaces resolve themselves into the overall gestalt. It's called "The Gift."

No, this isn't the museum any longer. I also went for a hike into a small corner of Forest Park, billed as the "largest urban forest in the world." At the trailhead I found this unattributed suite of sculptures. My story about hiking into the largest urban forest will appear on my other blog, Urban Wilderness, when I get around to it. I hope you'll join me again then.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fairy Queen Fantasy at Lynden Sculpture Garden: Bravissimo!

If you made it to the performance, then you've experienced the magic and I don't have to say a word. Enjoy a few photographic reminiscences.

If you missed Fairy Queen Fantasy, which was performed twice this weekend on the grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden, allow me to give you a small taste of earthly and other delights.

The fairies, who could appear from anywhere, were warm and welcoming.

The story, adapted as an opera by Henry Purcell, was based on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." While I'm not normally an opera fan, the few that I've seen and found memorable have stretched the genre in creative ways. I will remember this one a very long time.

Over 50 performers led an audience estimated at over 400 (on Friday evening) in two directions around the central pond. Professional members of Danceworks and Milwaukee Opera Theater were supported by a cast ranging in age from seven to seventy-seven (I was told.)

The settings were stunning as musicians and dancers alike took advantage of the monumental sculptures that grace the landscape.

The lighting was spectacular!

The musicians were suitably dignified and occasionally--and appropriately--undignified. They managed to be heard in the outdoor environment, accompanied now and then by sirens on Brown Deer Road and bullfrogs in the pond.

Even the younger fairies were poised and well practiced...

...and when they weren't performing themselves, they were engrossed by those who were.

At the climax, when both groups of performers and their trailing audiences had made a full circuit and returned to the patio, the audience was invited to join in the fun.

In the end, in what seemed to be (from the startled and amused looks on the musicians' faces) an impromptu departure from the script, Oberon swept Titania off her feet.

But wait, there's more. If you'd like to see the complete set of photos from both a rehearsal and the Friday night performance, go to my flickr album.

Full disclosure: I am serving as one of the Lynden's Artists in Residence for 2015.