Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead at Latino Arts and Walker’s Point

As promised, I recently visited the exhibit of ofrendas at the Latino Arts Gallery in the United Community Center. Then I also visited a very similar exhibit at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (WPCA). Although Halloween is today, the exhibits continue. I recommend them both for their devotion to the theme and the diversity of their installations.

Unfortunately, I missed the parade. But, here is my Halloween and Dia de los Muertos postcard/album from my visits. The descriptions are excerpted from exhibition text panels.

At the Latino Arts Gallery:

“Al pie de la tumba” by Emiliano Lake-Herrera

“This is a visual anthem to the intense nostalgia one experiences with the loss of a loved one.”

"La santa muerte" by Jose Chavez.
For some in Mexico the angel of death is sent by God to take you to Him. Considered a cult, la santa muerte is not sanctioned by the church, but is very much a part of Mexican lore.

Untitled mixed media painting by Luis de la Torre

Luis says he grew up Mexican in the U.S. and his work reveals “two cultures, two histories, and two distinct worlds fused together into a single enigmatic hallucination.”

 “Remember Aztecs” by students at Bruce Guadalupe Elementary School

 “Fronteras/Borders” by Ximena Soza

“Many cross the borders of the world. For some this is a nice dream; for others it is a nightmare.”

At the Walker's Point Center for the Arts:

 Although I missed the parade, I did get to hear these attractive skeletons play a lively tune, along with other performances, for the opening at WPCA. 

 Rosario Cabrera: the first female Mexican painter

Ofrenda dedicated to Cabrera made by the after-school Hands-On class at WPCA.

 Ximena Soza and Christian Munoz

Ofrenda “dedicated to the Chilean miners that for generations have opened the womb of the earth, to those who never left the mine and lived between the dirt and the metal until they died...” and “to the 33 miners who lived in the depth of the Atacama desert for 70 days and were able to be reborn…” and “to their children and grandchildren, so that they don’t have to die in any other mine to remind us that human dignity is worth more than…any metal.”

 Jose Chavez

This detail of Jose’s marvelous installation in the WPCA storefront resonated with me for what I hope is an obvious reason!

“Grandmother’s Kitchen” by Lisa Formanek and Dara Larson

“…Dedicated to the memory and importance of …the grandmother as nurturer, teacher, and keeper of family recipes….” This elaborate and intricate altar was also meant to be interactive. Visitors were invited to enter their own grandmothers’ special recipes into a handmade book. I did.

I offer these photos to provide a taste of the significance and beauty of these installations. But the images don’t do them justice. I hope you will visit and enjoy them in person.

The Day of the Dead continues through Nov. 19 at Latino Arts
and through Nov. 23 at Walker's Point Center for the Arts.
And don't forget, it also runs through Dec. 13 at the National Museum of Mexican Arts. To see my previous post about that excellent exhibit click here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who is JR the “Photograffeur”?

Banksy, the infamous graffiti artist, inflated his notoriety with the mockumentary called “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” I found both his movie and his art intriguing (see previous post). But I just came across another elusive street artist whose work I find truly captivating. His nom de guerre is simply JR. Calling himself a “photograffeur,” he wants his art to do more than tweak the establishment. He wants to change the world with photographic graffiti. A recent body of work called “Women are Heroes” has been plastered all over trains, on rooftops, and other public places in strife-torn countries in an effort to empower women. Although trains sound like a normal place to find normal graffiti, what he does to them is so much larger and more potent it goes beyond even the advertisements that consume entire busses.

The work is incredible. I came across this one example (above) today when I opened National Geographic. But they only published this single image with little explanation, other than it being part of a “global art project.” It took a bit of searching to discover the true nature of the project. Like Banksy, his work lacks official permission and shows up in unexpected public places. Unlike Banksy, JR combines his subversive artworks with lofty humanitarian goals; he solicits help from the communities where the work will be seen; and the results combine massive appeal, powerful messages, and archetypal resonance.

And he’s being rewarded for his anonymous and illicit creations. My search for JR’s images turned up a website called the TED Prize, which gives an annual award of $100,000 to an “exceptional individual” who has an idea that can change the world. Check it out at TED Prize. Apparently JR plans to come out of the closet to accept his prize, but until now has remained anonymous despite the ambitious and collaborative nature of the work.

He does have a website. Here is how his (anonymous) bio begins:

“JR owns the biggest art gallery in the world. He exhibits freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not the museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Act, talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.”

In addition to “Women are Heroes” my favorite JR intervention, called “Face2Face” is a series of monumental faces peering and grinning at passersby from the wall separating Israel from Palestine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not-so-accidental art at the Lynden Sculpture Garden

If you’re on my email list you already should have received an invitation from me to attend the opening of Inside/Outside, which opens this Sunday. This is a sneak preview of and brief introduction to the show, on which I collaborated with Phil Krejcarek.

If you have not seen the invitation, here are “just the facts:”

Inside/Outside: Eddee Daniel and Phil Krejcarek opening reception, 2-4 pm. Oct. 24.
The show runs through Dec. 12.

The opening is free to all. (There is normally a fee for entry. See the Lynden Garden website for details.)

The story behind this show begins several years ago when, during my Urban Wilderness book project, I discovered a 3-mile section of the Little Menomonee River that was “under construction.” Long story short, I found the construction fences that had been strung through woods and wetlands to be aesthetically arresting and conceptually engaging. I produced a series of photographs that I called Accidental Art to indicate that the visual effects created by the installation of fences were an unintended consequence of their utilitarian function. My contribution to the “inside” portion of Inside/Outside includes some of these images, but is more than a reprise of earlier exhibitions. I have continued to experiment with the fence as an aesthetic element, making compositions that are more abstract than my earlier ones. “Shroud” (above) is one example. Phil’s contribution to “inside” is a series of small construction themed sculptures.

For the “outside” portion of our show we did a true collaboration. I had previously installed orange and black construction fencing in and around a gallery exhibit of my photos in order to encourage viewers to reassess the visual impact of fences in the environment. The appeal of installing fencing in and around the sculpture garden was immediate for me and for Phil – who came up with the ideal complement to construction fences: sculptural ladder-like forms.

In order to avoid any inadvertent direct references to Christo’s ambitious earthworks, to which these installations bear superficial resemblance, our fences are intended to remain stubbornly non-sculptural, apparently utilitarian intrusions in the landscape. As such they are meant to symbolically replicate the experience I had of discovering construction fences along the river. As a contrast, both aesthetically and conceptually, Phil created stubbornly non-functional ladder-like sculptures. The orientation of these “ladders” varies with site specific intentions, some but not all of which relate directly to the fences. Among other things, the effect is intended to create tension between notions of what constitutes an art object vs. a functional object.

If you haven’t yet been to see the Lynden Sculpture Garden, which was only recently opened to the public on a regular basis, here is a good excuse to get out there. It is, of course, a premier destination for art in and of itself. If you come to the opening of Inside/Outside you get to see the incredible permanent collection too – free!

For more information about the show, go to Lynden Sculpture Garden.

To see more images of the outside installation, click here.
To read more about Accidental Art and see examples, click here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Día de Los Muertos at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art

Detail of La Flor de Cempasúchil: Flower of the Dead

The annual exhibit of ofrendas and cultural event of el Día de Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – opens at the Latino Arts Gallery at Milwaukee’s United Community Center this Friday. It’s my favorite Milwaukee version and I’ll be sure to see it there. I encourage you to visit if you’ve never been. Ofrendas tradionally take the form of altars and pay tribute to the lives of people who have died, usually family members. Skull and skeleton imagery abounds.

However, if you have the chance to go to Chicago anytime between now and Dec. 13, don’t miss the ofrendas at the National Museum of Mexican Art. It is the largest Día de Los Muertos exhibit in the country and the artists who create installations there often go way beyond the traditional forms. There is one tableau that fills an entire gallery with life size skeletal figures, includes a video display, and has a "ground" image with railroad tracks that visitors walk over. The displays also go beyond the traditional personal memorials to celebrate a wide variety of historical and topical themes. It being 2010, one entire room of the gallery was devoted to memorials representing the bicentennial of Mexican independence from Spain in 1810 and centennial of the Mexican revolution in 1910.

This example, called “The overlooked heroines of the Centennial and Bicentennial,” is dedicated to Mexican women who fought during the two wars.

Detail of above

This detail (below) from another one called “The Encounter of Two Worlds: Battle Scene” shows how explicit – and political – some of these displays can get.

Another room included this thoughtful homage to earthquake victims in both Haiti and Chile. It was a massive group undertaking by school children grades 1-8 at Stone Scholastic Academy, a Chicago public school.

The detail shows some of the poetry written to express the tragic loss and sympathy for the people who
have suffered. According to the display panel, the students understood that the Day of the Dead is about “rejoicing death as the second half of the journey” and that their project should be festive like a birthday party – “remembering the good of people and celebrating their entrance into a new world.”

This more traditional ofrenda (below) features La Flor de Cempasúchil: Flower of the Dead. Cempasúchil flowers have been used as offerings for centuries and symbolize the illumination of the night the way the sun illuminates the day.

And as a bonus, if you visit the museum before Nov. 28, you can also see a second exhibit called Millas y Kilómetros. This brings together the work of nine artists of Mexican descent currently working in Chiapas and Chicago. Here is just one sample by Juan Chawuk called “Migrant Nahual.”



Website links:
National Museum of Mexican Art
Latino Arts Gallery at the United Community Center

Read my post about Milwaukee's two Day of the Dead exhibits here.

P.S. I apologise if the spacing on this post looks a bit screwy. Blogger is giving me a lot of trouble (and I'm not happy about it! - is anyone at Blogger listening?!!!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

MARN brings “Beyond the Canvas” to the Menomonee Valley

You are invited! Artworks fresh from the field and stream – and industrial sites.

October 15 – gallery night: preview and auction, 5 – 9 pm.
October 16 – gallery day: preview and auction, 10 am – 4 pm.

Also on October 16, at 3 pm MARN director Melissa Musante will give a talk about collecting art and, in the evening, the big event…

Artists reception, Public Auction, and Party featuring Trio DeJaneiro, 4 – 8 pm.

It all takes place at Helios in the Menomonee Valley at 1207 W. Canal St. Details at MARN.

Soo Line

The Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN) and the Menomonee Valley have something in common: they have both seen significant growth in the past ten years. After decades of economic decline and environmental degradation, the Valley is seeing new industries and jobs return. Restoration projects and planned parklands also will make the Menomonee River a major component of Milwaukee’s urban wilderness. As a tribute to these developments MARN has devised a special event that will bring artists to the Valley. MARN, which has likewise been experiencing an exciting surge in membership and influence, has also distinguished itself with creative ideas for bringing together artists and the public. Like this one!

It is billed as “Beyond the Canvas: A Plein Air Event Celebrating the Transformation of the Menomonee Valley.”

Artists working in any medium were invited to produce art works in the Valley between October 1 and October 11. (I was out bright and early – sunrise – on October 1 myself. Hey, I have to admit this is one of my favorite subjects in Milwaukee!) Each registered artist may submit two pieces to be exhibited, auctioned, and judged for prizes. Last I heard there were over 40 artists registered. Since I’m involved I’m biased, but I think this is going to be outstanding.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Menomonee Valley over the years and I’ve seen firsthand the transformation that is ongoing. It wasn’t so long ago that very few people went there (except to the old County Stadium.) Now Miller Park, Potawatomi, Harley Davidson, and the Hank Aaron State Trail are just a few of the good reasons to visit. If you haven’t been in the valley – or even if you’re one of the growing numbers of regulars – come to Helios and see it in a new light, through the eyes of painters, sculptors, photographers, and other artists of all types.

Urban Wilderness revisited

The two images that accompany this post are from my forays during this event, but are not the two that you will see at Helios. Let’s make that a surprise. I hope you’ll come find out what they are.

Click here for more information about MARN and “Beyond the Canvas.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Willy Porter at the Pabst, experimenting again

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Willy Porter in concert. One of Milwaukee’s own, he’s a regular at street fairs, Summerfest, and the like. But if you’ve only heard him play at one of those loud venues with their inherent distractions you don’t know what you’ve been missing. (If you’ve never heard him, I recommend you bookmark his website and do it the next time he’s in town) Last night was at least the third time I’ve seen Willy at the Pabst and he has given memorable concerts every time.

The house was not packed – the balconies were not even open – and I don’t understand completely why not. Willy Porter has given some of the most electrifying performances I’ve seen anywhere. On his albums his music sounds like straight up contemporary rock with a unique personal guitar style that I find not only exciting but amazing. In concert, however, the songs are often just the armature for long improvisational set that have more of a jazz-fusion feel to them. That is why the Pabst is my favorite place to hear Willy.

However, Willy is not satisfied to bring audiences the same sound over and over. Few celebrity musicians can pull off the kind of experimentation with style and accompaniment that Willy does. Paul McCartney comes to mind as one who has tried with less than remarkable results. Linda Ronstadt has done it more successfully but with some cost to the constituency of her audience.

Maybe this is why Willy isn’t more of a celebrity. As a fan you have to be willing to let go of expectations. The audience last night seemed, like me, to be mostly loyal fans (although many of them seemed too young to have seen him when he was just getting started.) There was lively chatter from the floor. Willy has always received call outs amiably and often responds with humorous and self-deprecating repartee. “We love you Willy!” rang out clearly right at the beginning; to which he responded softly and convincingly “I love you back!” But there were none of the usual requests for songs this time. I expect this was due to his unusual collaboration with Carp Diem, a string quartet.

As I said, you have to let go expectations. A traditional string quartet is not an intuitive partner for Willy’s percussive and energetic guitar playing and I did think the violins, when played lyrically, tended to slow the tempo more than I would have like on a couple songs. However, overall this worked. Carp Diem proved with a few songs of their own that they were more than a traditional string quartet, burning through some bluegrass and a wonderful piece that had a Hungarian feel to it.

When the match up worked best the strings were being plucked and strummed as percussively as Willy picked his guitar. The audience loved it.

Hey, and if you don’t yet know how to rob a bank, go to and check it out.

Found in Translation

I just want to pass on a thoughtful and humorous essay by author and educator Michael Cunningham (The Hours) about writing. One quote: "...the perfection we look for in art is about as likely to turn up as is the Holy Grail."

Each reader translates a book for himself.

His main thesis is that we who write must do so for our readers as opposed to ourselves. He likens writing to baking a cake, which could be eaten alone but which by its very nature is meant to be presented to others.

If you are a follower of Arts Without Borders, thank you. It is my gift to you.

Read Found in Translation from last Sunday's New York Times.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Too Hard to Keep" at Riverside Arts Center

Do you have a photograph – or an entire album! – that, for whatever reason, you don’t want to see again but also don’t want to destroy? What a concept! “Too Hard to Keep” is a premise and the name of a new archive compiled by Chicago photographer Jason Lazarus. It is also the title of an installation from that archive currently on display at the Riverside Arts Center in suburban Chicago.

I went there recently with the Photo Council of the Milwaukee Art Museum. We saw great exhibits at the Art Institute and Museum of Contemporary Photography as well (and if I have time I will try to write them up, too.) The small storefront gallery has two rooms. As you enter the gallery the walls you see mostly 4x6 prints widely scattered around the walls of the room. There is no apparent order or coherent theme to the images.

In the back room is a more focused installation (above). One wall is filled with a collection of images donated by a single person – consistent with the private nature of the theme none of the donors are identified. They are mostly images of her with her ex-boyfriend. One is left to wonder at the particulars of the relationship, assuming a breakup of a sufficiently unpleasant nature to incite the donor to rid herself of all these reminders.

Opposite that is a wall with a single image that requires little imagination of the viewer to understand the reason for it being too hard to keep. The "negative space" of the wide, white wall adds to the power of the expressive image.

The photo council was treated to a lively explanation of the project and installation from its curator, Jason Lazarus. Lazarus, who teaches at Columbia College Chicago, has established himself as a bit of an iconoclastic photographer. Most of his efforts these days go into projects like this one that involve the collecting and/or curating of other people’s work. As a teacher, I admired his poise and energy as well as the deft and good humor with which he addressed questions from the group that crowded his small gallery. The project is fascinating in itself; the twinkle in his eye as he discussed it was a delightful bonus. I expect his students are lucky to be his students.

If you have a picture that’s too hard to keep yourself and you want to send it to someone who will not only keep it but treasure it, go to TooHardtoKeep. Or you can go there just to learn more about the project and to see additional photos of the installation.