Monday, January 9, 2017

A poem/prayer for the New Year

Prayer for this House

by Louis Untermeyer

May nothing evil cross this door
and may ill fortune never pry
about these walls may the roar and rain go by

By faith made strong these rafters will
withstand the battering of the storm.
Though all the world grow chill will keep us warm.

May peace walk softly through these rooms,
touching our lips with holy wine
until every casual corner blooms into a shrine

With laughter drown the raucous shout
and though the sheltering walls are thin
may they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.

Images from Casa Sophia, Managua, Nicaragua, site of my latest artist residency.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: A year of art, architecture!

Untitled (Painter), Kerry James Marshall, MCA Chicago, IL
Arts Without Borders transcended geographical boundaries this year, with visits to such far-flung locations as Managua, Nicaragua and St. Petersburg, Russia and while traveling during the year I tried to report on the curious and remarkable. But that was never intended to be the primary meaning of the name. 2016 was a particularly good year for interdisciplinary arts, as the name Arts Without Borders was intended to signify. Art, like life itself, is everywhere. It is fluid, flexible and practiced on many different levels and with diverse intentions. While I like art museums and have had the pleasure to visit quite a few this year, including a couple pretty amazing ones, I find art that doesn't fit into a museum especially appealing. Art in the woods, music on the beach, dance in the river! It all happened this year.

Here is the year in review, a selection of memorable artistic things that I had the great fortune to see and do. I'll keep the captions brief. Most of the selections are from blog posts and will include links for those who would like to see more.

Bust of a Woman, Picasso, MOMA, New York, NY
Picasso is among the more famous of artists and yet the Museum of Modern Art managed to assemble a surprisingly fresh exhibit that focused on his sculptures: Picasso does sculpture at MOMA.

The High Line, New York, NY
I went to New York in January with the express purpose of seeing the High Line in winter. Little did I know that the day after I arrived the whole city (including the High Line) would shut down due to a blizzard that dumped a record-breaking 2 ft. of snow in one day. The blizzard was a delight, though: Making the best of the New York blizzard.

Frank Stella, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
The blizzard also meant more time in museums. The Whitney, newly located adjacent to the High Line, had a wonderful retrospective of Frank Stella: A visit to the new Whitney.

Curator Brandon Ruud with Niagara Falls, Louisa Davis Minot. MAM.
Back home the Milwaukee Art Museum had a good year with diverse exhibits. My personal favorite was Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School, which I reviewed for Milwaukee Magazine.

Grains of Sand (detail), Robert Tannen, Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, AR
On the road again in March, I drove to Houston for a conference. One reason for driving was to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, created by Alice Walton of Wal-Mart fame. The full day I spent there was well worth the effort and inspired three separate posts:
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: Part 1 (outdoor sculptures)
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: Part 2 (special photo exhibit)
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: Part 3 (permanent collection)

Bayou's State, Danceworks, Milwaukee, WI
Andrea Burkholder is a choreographer from Louisiana who created a dance with an environmental theme about the loss of wetlands there. She also created a Cajun dinner for those who attended the two performances in April and invited me to participate by displaying photographs of Milwaukee's waters to give it local flavor. The collaboration, a first for me, also involved her use of a set design inspired by a body of my work called "Accidental Art: construction fences in the landscape." I am grateful for the opportunity and I loved her dinner and performance: Bayou's State: dancing into oblivion.

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, detail of facade, Detroit, MI
The art scene in Detroit rocks! My second trip to Detroit in recent times allowed me to visit more than the usual attractions, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, Heidelberg Project, Motown Museum, riverwalk, etc.

Detroit, MI
For example, driving around the largely depressed and often vacant neighborhoods outside of downtown led to a few surprising discoveries like this lone house with a lovely mural on it. Many more photos on my Detroit Flickr album.

Scenic Route MKE, performance in Riverside Park, Milwaukee, WI
Joined this time by her husband Daniel, Andrea Burkholder and their company brought dancing outdoors and, yes, in the river. The four-part program--one in each season--called Scenic Route MKE took place in Riverside Park. I witnessed two of them, spring and summer, and it was quite a treat: Scenic Route: MKE dances in the park.

Kitka River, Ilkka Halso, Helsinki Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland
In June I was fortunate to be able to travel to Helsinki, Finland with my wife, who was there on business. I reported on Helsinki's varied art scene.

Temppeliaukio ("Church in the Rock), Helsinki, Finland
The highlight of Helsinki, however, was not one of the several art and design museums, but this spectacular domed church that was excavated directly into exposed rock: Temppeliaukio: Helsinki's "church in the rock."

Winter Palace, the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Without hyperbole the peak art and architecture encounter of the year was our day at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. We could have spent several days in its network of buildings, except that our visa-free side trip to St. Petersburg from Helsinki required us to leave Russia within 72 hours of arrival! The Hermitage is not only the largest art museum in the world; it also includes the Winter Palace, home of the czars. Which is like taking the Louvre's collection and mashing it into Versailles. My post was titled: The Hermitage Museum: Art overload!

Real Time performs at Alfons Gallery installation of "Concrete River," Milwaukee, WI
On a more personal level, another peak experience was a collaborative installation at the Alfons Gallery with environmental artist Melanie Ariens and my photography. Concrete River: Memorial and promise on the Kinnickinnic incorporated concrete-like panels to hang the photographs as well as a shrine and reliquary composed of detritus scavenged from the river itself to create an immersive experience. On top of that, the Burkholders continued their collaboration by creating a dance performance (above) in the gallery space that was inspired by the themes of the installation: Nothing kills a river like concrete.

Eliza's Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities, Fo Wilson, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee, WI
While we're speaking in superlatives, my favorite single art work (if such a multi-dimensional installation can be called that) of the year was right here in Milwaukee. Ensconced in the backwoods at the Lynden Sculpture Garden for several months, Eliza's Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities by Chicago artist Flo Wilson made a powerful statement with overt references to slavery, among other things: A "peculiar curiosity" lurks in the Lynden Sculpture Garden's backwoods.

Relief mural (detail), Hamilton Wood Type Museum, Two Rivers, WI
After too many years of driving right past the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum on my way to and from Door County I finally decided to stop and take a look. If you, too, are in the vicinity of Two Rivers, WI, it's worth a stop.

True Skool performing for We Are Water, Bradford Beach, Milwaukee, WI
With music, spoken word, poetry, puppetry, and a community participation art installation an event at Bradford Beach in August was the most multi-disciplinary I attended this year. The third annual "We Are Water" event was organized by the non-profit organization known as Milwaukee Water Commons. Billed as a "celebration of Milwaukee's waters," the event has become a mini-arts festival as well as a meditation on the importance of water to Milwaukee and all life on earth.

"Glitch Frog," MTO, Black Cat Alley, Milwaukee, WI
With great fanfare, Black Cat Alley opened in Milwaukee in September. The alley is located on the East Side and is the newest art venue in the city with murals large and small.

Black Star 2, Kerry James Marshall, MCA, Chicago, IL
OK, another favorite: Picasso was wonderful; the Hudson River School was lovely; the Hermitage was overwhelming; but the Kerry James Marshall exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago was simply astonishing! It has my vote as best exhibit of the year. Sadly, I never got around to writing it up for the blog.

St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
I was in St. Louis for one day. The weather was lovely and I enjoyed walking around Forest Park, but the art museum was closed. I made this photograph of one of its facades as an ode to the fragmented and minimal remnants of forest in the park.

Gerald D. Hines Water Wall, Houson, TX
The Water Wall in Houston is a 64-ft. tall, semi-circular monument with a constant cascade flowing down its inside surface. The massive structure is nestled in a grove of 118 live oaks and faces out towards a vast, flat, featureless expanse of grass that takes up a city block. It was designed by renowned architects Johnson and Burgee. So, is it architecture, sculpture, landscape design, or something else? It's definitely imposing. Also popular. I was in Houston for a conference called "Leading with Landscape," organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. I was grateful and honored when they decided to feature my work on their website: It takes one.

Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, WI
You can see a selection of photos from Houston in my Flickr album. The conference and the city itself inspired an essay that I wrote for Milwaukee Magazine: What can Milwaukee learn from "Housonization?"

Wisconsin Photography 2016, Wustum Museum of Art, Racine, WI
I'd like to tie up the loose ends of 2016 with a couple personal notes. In an exhibit called Wisconsin Photography 2016 at the Wustum Museum of Art (a satellite of the Racine Art Museum) I was honored to receive a purchase award--for Inverse, the print in the center of this picture, which you can see more clearly in my blog post.

First Snow, Greenfield Park, West Allis, WI
After my first full year of using Instagram I can report that this image, which I shot in early December, during the season's first snowfall, was the most popular. I'm still not sure what that's worth, but the fact that this image was the most popular validates for me anyway all the time I spend pursuing the Urban Wilderness. And if you're still with me and want to see how important that is, click here.

Catedral Santiago at Christmas, Managua, Nicaragua
Last but not least, I spent the final two weeks of 2016 as artist in residence at Cantera, a non-profit community development organization in Managua, Nicaragua. You can see some of the photographs I made here, but mostly I wrote and much of what I wrote was in the form of haiku. Below is just one. It relates to the image above, which is deceiving. (Some pictures require a thousand words!) The cathedral was severely damaged in 1972 by an earthquake that flattened the rest of the city. For the past 44 years it's been unsafe and closed to the public.

the old cathedral—
behind brightly colored lights
hollow ruin

In closing, a quote for the new year: "The art world is part of the actual world. Let’s imagine and reflect the society we want to live in." ~ Diya Vij.

(The quote is from a recent article in Hyperallergic.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

A residency in Managua, Nicaragua

I've been AWOL for a couple of weeks. But I have a good excuse: I've been out of the country. In Nicaragua to be exact. Over the past ten years my wife, Lynn, has developed a regular working relationship with a non-profit organization in Managua called Cantera. The mission of Cantera is to build a more just, equitable and sustainable society through holistic community development using the methodology of Popular Education. This year Cantera invited me to accompany Lynn in the capacity of artist in residence for a two-week period. We just returned last night.

During my residency I wrote poetry and made photographs that I hope capture a little of the resilient spirit of Nicaragua. On the one hand it is a tropical land with abundant natural beauty and on the other it is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere (after Haiti.) As the residency coincided with Christmas, some of the images reflect the season, which looks very different in Managua than it does in Milwaukee! I'm still editing the poetry but here is one of two initial selections of photos. The other set can be seen on my Urban Wilderness blog.

To see a different selection of photos from my residency go to Urban Wilderness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Mending the Earth in Milwaukee: A new book

A photographer friend of mine has a new book called Mending the Earth in Milwaukee. Her name is Ney Tait Fraser. 

The book contains sixteen stories of yards landscaped with native plants to create mini-Edens for wildlife. The yards sustain pollinators such as butterflies, indigenous species of bees, birds 
and critters that feed raptors.

The owners of the sixteen yards featured in the book were members of Wild Ones. They were profoundly influenced by one of its leaders, Lorrie Otto. Otto was a gifted teacher. The heroic saga of Lorrie Otto getting DDT banned in Wisconsin is also included. 

Otto with children at Indian Hill School where she helped to establish native plants.  

This book is crammed with useful information and is illustrated by photographs.

Mending the Earth in Milwaukee is currently available at:

Woodland Pattern Book Center 720 E. Locust Street Milwaukee.

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on Brown Deer Road.

Wehr Nature Center, 9701 West College Ave., Franklin WI 53132.

Riveredge Nature Center, 4458 County Highway Y, Saukville WI 53080.

The book costs $30 plus tax at all four locations.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Red sky in morning, sailors take warning

For the past two days since the election I have not slept well. I wake up with headaches and a very real sense of disorientation. I look out the window expecting to see a red sky, as if the physical world must have changed along with my interior one.

There have been moments in the past like this one, when I have heard news that I knew at once--in my gut more than my intellect--that nothing would ever be the same again. Yes, the Kennedy assassination. The fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11. The deaths of my parents.

My gut feeling may be wrong. Perception does alter reality, but that is an internal struggle. I know that approximately half the country may have reacted much as I am reacting now if my candidate, Hillary Clinton, had won. That contributes to my disorientation. I must hope that the fears generated by the campaign are not realized in coming months and years....

The fact that nothing has actually changed and that the sky remains blue this morning is almost as surreal as the image of the red sky my imagination has fabricated. But my mental and digitally altered images has put me in mind of that old sailor's proverb: "red sky in morning, sailors take warning."

Here's hoping that this morning's blue sky means clear sailing ahead.

ps. Hoping is not the same as being optimistic. For a less nuanced reponse to the election I recommend Aaron Sorkin's, written in the form of an open letter to his daughters. Click here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day of the Dead displays opening at Latino Arts Gallery

Dia de los Muertos Ofrendas

October 28 – November 18

Latino Arts Gallery

Opening Reception: Friday, November 4 at 5:00 p.m.

Celebrate life with Latino Arts’ annual Day of the Dead exhibition, featuring a dazzling array of ofrendas (altars) prepared by local, regional, and international artists.
Concrete River shrine
Environmental artist Melanie Ariens and I have reprised and reformatted our Concrete River shrine/reliquary and it is on display along with the many more traditional ofrendas at the United Community Center's Latino Arts Gallery
My photographs of the Kinnickinnic River are mounted on panels that represent the concrete channel. Melanie once again has created two assemblages. On one side is a shrine honoring the river, water in general, and the Great Lakes. On the other side is a reliquary composed of detritus removed from the river. In keeping with the spirit of Dia de los Muertos it is meant to symbolize the life, death and rebirth of the KK River.
Concrete River reliquary
I hope you can join us for the opening. If not the exhibit remains on view through Nov. 18. 

The Latino Arts Gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.
The United Community Center is located at 1028 South 9th Street in Milwaukee. For more information go to the Latino Arts website.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

FORWARD opens at the Charles Allis Art Museum

Inverse, from the Lynden Sculpture Garden Series
I am honored to announce that two of my images have been included in FORWARD: A survey of Wisconsin Art Now at the Charles Allis Art Museum. The exhibition, which opened this evening, was juried by Susan Barnett and Brent Budsberg. The show includes 58 works in a diverse range of media and is particularly strong on painting and photography.

HL2016-3, from the High Line Series
FORWARD runs through Feb. 19, 2017 so there is plenty of time to see it. The Charles Allis is located at 1801 N. Prospect Ave. in Milwaukee. For more information go to their website.