Thursday, June 22, 2017

“Secret Sculpture Garden” opens at Milwaukee Hilton



Joel Pfeiffer’s steel and glass “Walk of Wonder” is inaugural exhibit

Milwaukee’s newest art venue, the Hilton Milwaukee City Center hotel, inaugurated a sculpture garden with a gala opening last night. The “secret” must refer to how hard the garden is to find without asking (if you haven’t been there before.) It certainly isn’t being kept a secret. The publicity for the show brought out a host of visitors. I arrived early and it was already crowded.

Perhaps the secret is why it took so long for the Hilton to capitalize on such a wonderful space to showcase sculpture.

The monumental steel and glass works by Hartland sculptor Joel Pfeiffer are perfectly suited to the formal garden. Rigorously geometric polished steel forms are accented with similarly geometric glass. For me, the “Walk of Wonder” in the show title was most evoked when the bright evening sun shone through the swirling glass patterns.

Pfeiffer is not new to sculpture on a monumental scale. His 9’x38’ ceramic “peace mural” hangs in the D concourse of Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. That fruit of an international goodwill “clay stomp” involving thousands of people and 6 tons of clay has a twin in St. Petersburg, Russia. The auspicious year of its creation was 1989.

Long known for his ceramic art and over 80 of his collaborative clay stomps, Pfeiffer has more recently turned to glass making. All of the sculptures in the “Walk of Wonder” were made within the past three years, he told me.

Joel Pfeiffer
I hope this will be the first of so many sculpture shows at the Hilton that it won’t feel like a “secret” garden for long.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Hank Aaron State Trail graced with new sculpture



A new public sculpture graces one of the quiet sections of the Hank Aaron State Trail. From 76th Street west the trail cuts a long, straight, level—and largely uneventful—path through West Allis. The busy eastern sections of the trail near downtown and in the Menomonee Valley provide constant reminders of their urban setting. While West Allis is far from rural, the trail has a much calmer feel to it, especially now when its buffer of trees have leafed out to hide the adjacent homes and businesses.

There has been another difference between the eastern and western sections of the trail until now. The Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail has a public arts committee that is responsible for planning, siting and placing public art along the trail. Earlier efforts—such as Katie Martin’s sculpture, “A Place to Sit,” and Chad Brady’s Valley Passage mural, among others—have gone to the eastern portions.

The newly placed sculpture near 89th Street is a modest start at correcting the imbalance. Five poles carry laser-cut symbols designed by students at Milwaukee’s High School of the Arts. Each pole presents a series of symbols with themes that relate to the trail and the community through which it runs, such as veterans (the Trail runs right through the VA hospital grounds) and West Allis industries.

This detail shows a pole with symbols representing midway rides at the nearby State Fair grounds. After consultation with the West Allis Historical Society, the designs were created as a class project under the direction of MHSA art teacher Carrie Hoelzer. Mentors at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and a Milwaukee company called Design Fugitives assisted with the fabrication.

The western end of the trail is designed to connect with the Oak Leaf Trail. However, the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project has necessitated a detour at 94th Street. When I went there to reconnoiter the current status of the work I discovered that spring rains had created their own impediment at a recently constructed tunnel under the freeway. (I hope the drainage issue is resolved before this section of the trail is reopened!)


Full disclosure: I serve on the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail public arts committee.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Five reasons I love Milwaukee!


McKinley Beach and the skyline of Milwaukee
Nearby nature and the arts combine for a high quality of life

Recently Milwaukee Magazine, for which I write a column called Urban Wilderness, asked contributors to list reasons why we love Milwaukee. My slightly amended answers are listed below. The magazine used one of my own photos to illustrate the first of my answers and then a couple of stock photos after that. I’ve included all of my own photos in this version—as you would expect! 

Warnimont Park, Milwaukee County Parks, Cudahy
1. Lake Michigan. Not only does Milwaukee have public beaches and parkland for a front yard in its downtown but also miles of lakefront parks that stretch the length of Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee River Greenway, view north from Locust St. Bridge
2. Four rivers. All four of Milwaukee’s rivers—the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic and Root—have been endowed with parkways that enable citizens to hike and bike long distances in natural settings.

The Big Bang over the Calatrava wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum
3. Calatrava. The newly improved Milwaukee Art Museum is the place to go to for outstanding art, and even after 16 years the Calatrava wing with its kinetic roof still seems like a miracle—a very worthy setting for fireworks!

The tropical dome in winter, Mitchell Park Conservatory
4. The Domes. The Mitchell Park Conservatory is the best place to go when the weather is lousy; of course they need to be repaired!

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
5. The theater scene. Milwaukee has so many theatrical offerings it’s impossible to keep up with them all: the Milwaukee Rep, Pabst Theater, Renaissance Theater, and Next Act, to name just a few.

Scenic Route: MKE in Riverside Park
In fact, on occasion my favorite things overlap, as in this performance of “Scenic Route: MKE” wherein the dancers used Riverside Park and the Milwaukee River as a stage.

The original version of this story was posted by Milwaukee Magazine on April 12, 2017.

To see more reasons why I love Milwaukee go to my Flickr albums.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gaudí in Barcelona: Spectacular and unique

SW side entrance to La Sagrada Familia - The Passion

Some people, I know, have heard of Antoni Gaudí. Many have not, however. And unless you've studied architecture or Barcelona or something related, it's hard to come to grips with how exceptional his designs are. I taught architecture for many years and thought I knew what to expect. I certainly was looking forward to my first visit to Barcelona with great deal of anticipation. But even so, I was not adequately prepared...


Portal detail, NE side entrance to La Sagrada Familia - The Nativity
We didn't beat around the bush. We went to see Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece first thing in the morning on our first day in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is a cathedral and having seen large gothic cathedrals its size was not unexpected. And I was familiar with his unique organic style from photographs. But the scale of it all and the sheer beauty was breathtaking. He achieved a monumental scale without the bulky encrustments of flying buttresses that make the exteriors of gothic cathedrals seem impenetrable. The stone appears to float upward rather than to press down on the earth. The tall spires remind me of beach castles made by dripping wet sand.


The sense of floating was even more pronounced on the interior. The abstract stained glass cast uneven colors into the vast nave, one side warm reds, oranges and yellows, the other cool deep blues, aquas and pale greens. 

The vault appeared to be supported on the trunks of great trees that led the eye upwards towards an eerie configuration of circular forms. I felt as though I was being inspected by a gargantuan spider with multi-faceted eyes that hovered overhead in wait. 

It was a cold, blustery weekday morning and yet the entire interior was full of people before we left. We learned that this building, which had been abandoned for decades after Gaudí's untimely death in 1926, is now the single most popular tourist attraction in Spain. But it is hardly the only one...



Casa Batlló is an apartment building squeezed among a row of them along one of the major boulevards in the center of the city. The facade is unlike any of its neighbors, however, with its colorful and undulating art deco detailing. We almost didn't go inside. We'd just come from La Sagrada Familia (ticket price: 29 euros - over $30). The price of admission at Casa Batlló was 22 euros and we balked briefly. But our traveling companions convinced us to pop for it and we were blown away for the second time that day.

The entire building, the maintenance of which is supported solely by those steep admission prices, has been turned into a museum and it didn't take long to learn why. Every detail has been meticulously restored and preserved--and by every detail I mean that Gaudí actually designed every single thing in the building. (This was reminiscent of Gaudí's contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, who also famously designed buildings down to the doorknobs and dinnerware.)



One of the many remarkable details was the tile in the atrium that rose through all six floors. Cast in shades of blue that grew progressively paler in hue so that it would all appear uniform as the natural light coming down through the skylight diminished. 



Gaudí is famous for his chimeys and Casa Batlló is an example of why this is so. Another novelty characteristic of his style (and also in harmony with the style of the Art Deco period to which he relates) is the fact that he designed the entire building without square corners.



The attic floor clearly demonstrated his novel and effective use of the catenary arch, which we learned is at once derived from nature and inherently more stable than other arch shapes. Gaudí employed it in many of his designs, including La Sagrada Familia.



For a change of pace we next went to a park. Of course it wasn't just any old park. Parc Güell, as it is called, was also designed by Gaudí. In this view across the terrace the spires and cranes above La Sagrada Famila can be seen in the left background. The terrace and main entrance area to the park required another admission fee. This time we chose to go around to the public (free) sections. We were not disappointed.



The park rises up a steep hillside and the main design feature is a serpentine walkway that leads throughout the park and up to the summit.


As with his buildings, the causeway-like structure was organic in character and utterly
unique in style.

Beneath the Gaudí arcade we enjoyed lovely strains of music by a local duo who played instrumental covers of popular songs by the likes of Coldplay. 


Later in the week we toured yet another of Gaudí's masterpieces, Casa Mila, aka La Perdrera (the stone quarry). Unlike Casa Batlló, this multipurpose structure is still in use, with commercial enterprises on the ground floor and residential apartments above. 



One of the highlights, again, was the rooftop with an even more elaborate (and famous) display of chimneys. Here you see just a few of the many.


The structure is organized around two atriums, asymmetrically located. The tour did include one apartment that has been restored with its original furnishings.



You know right away when you see the door to the building that you are in for an unusual architectural experience.

So, there you have a brief selection and quick tour of Gaudí in Barcelona. We did go back to La Sagrada Familia on our last day there, in order to see it at night. 


The omnipresent construction cranes were even more prominent lit up by the floodlights that illuminate the facades at night. 



For a few more photos of Gaudí and many more photos from Spain, go to my Flickr album.

And if you missed my earlier posts from Spain, scroll down or click the links to check out Calatrava in Valencia and the Miró Museum.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Valencia does Calatrava in a BIG way!


Valencia is on the Mediterranean Sea on the east coast of Spain. Milwaukee is on Lake Michigan on the east coast of Wisconsin. Valencia and Milwaukee, with metropolitan areas of about 1.5 million, are approximately the same size. Aside from those two facts, the two cities have almost nothing in common. Oh, except we do have Calatrava.


The difference is, while Milwaukee is justifiably proud of its iconic Calatrava-designed art museum, the suite of buildings that world-renowned architect designed for his home town make our single structure look downright puny. Yes, there are people in the photo of the Science Museum above to give it scale, though you'll have to look closely. The Milwaukee Art Museum's Calatrava wing could fit inside this building--with its wings open--and there would still be room to spare. But wait! There are four more buildings in what is known as the City of Arts and Sciences--along with two bridges.


The opera house (above) looks like some kind of alien spaceship out of Star Trek has landed in this medieval city. In fact, nothing in Valencia--or pretty much anywhere else--prepares the unsuspecting visitor who happens upon this futuristic assemblage of structures. Allow me to take you on a tour...


Panoramic view with the Planetarium in the left foreground and the double arcade called L'Umbracle on the right.


The Agora, a concert and exhibition hall, seen here through the cable stays of one of two Calatrava bridges that cross over the complex, which is in a park setting that is below the surrounding city.


The dome of the Planetarium seen from the promenade of L'Umbracle.


The open arcade of of L'Umbracle, which sits atop a parking garage, is a rigorously ordered botanical garden...


...and the promenade doubles as a showcase for contemporary sculpture. The installation on view when I was there was by an artist named Rogério Timóteo. Behind the sculpture you can see (left to right) the Science Museum the Agora and the asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge.





L'Umbracle at dusk.

The Science Museum after dark.



And the opera house... whew! I was there and it's still hard to believe it's real.

Stay tuned. These Calatravas in Valencia were spectacular, but Barcelona has Gaudí. I'll show you those soon.

Meanwhile, if you missed my review of the Miró Museum, click here.