Friday, December 30, 2011

The best of 2011

Welcome to the second annual highlights from the past year at Arts Without Borders. Once again I submit a few of my favorite art experiences of 2011, in chronological order. And may the New Year be filled with art and creativity!

Writing and performing a play over a 24-hour period with ideas pulled out of a hat – literally.

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the Charles Allis Art Museum broke with tradition and invited a slate of artists to do installations in the historic building.

Which was the theme of the Society of Photographic Educators annual conference in Atlanta, GA. A review.

Milwaukee’s Coalition of Photographic Arts annual membership show stimulates reflections on the nature of contemporary photography and the challenges of keeping the organization fresh.

My review of this year’s annual gallery fair in Chicago.

My review of this powerful exhibit of war photography.

My reflections on Present Music’s magnificent performance – and collaborative event – at the Marcus Center and the Milwaukee River.

This post was a slightly amended reprise of my debut as a blogger for Art City. It is a review of what was an excellent and surprising exhibit.

My response to a query from Art City on developments in the art scene from 2001 – 2011.

The best film of the festival rockets to the top of my own personal charts. Read my review and then add this one to your Netflix queue.

Patricia Johanson creates large-scale artworks that help heal the earth.

December – Storm King Art Center.
A visit to my favorite sculpture park, in upstate New York, with a link to my meditation on Dia Beacon as a bonus post.

It was a good year for the arts in Milwaukee. It also was a good year for me personally, I’m happy to say. Two highlights:

Seeing the real Peru: beyond Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, my solo exhibit at Mount Mary College in January.

Gallery 2622, another, very different, solo exhibit at this eponymous gallery in Wauwatosa in August.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays from Arts Without Borders

I didn’t go out seeking abstraction. Far from it – I went out in search of reality, the natural world. I went to feel the solid ground beneath my feet. On the first snowy day so far this season, late though it was, I took a walk in the forest. But what is this reality?

It is a bit of wilderness – or the idea of wilderness – ensconced amongst a well-groomed landscape in the middle of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. How abstract is that?

I photographed a few things that caught my eye. Photography, that most utilitarian and democratic of art forms, has always teetered on the brink of abstraction, despite it’s reputation for verisimilitude.

The snowfall had been too light to blanket the earth. Instead, like a painter’s deft brush, it established highlights, created emphasis where there had been uniformity. The snow, the reality of that natural phenomenon, helped me to push photographs over the edge into abstraction. First, remove most of the color. The overcast sky and the leafless trees, along with the snow, conspired to establish a monochromatic canvas, a nearly black and white world.

The more I looked the more the forest resonated with art. Picasso said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” I started with the snow-dusted trees and my mind filled with familiar images of abstract art.

The straight line of a giant log became a Barnett Newman.

A lyrical swirl of branches reminded me of Franz Kline.

The regularity of textured bark and snowy interstices on another fallen tree created an optical consonance that evoked the work of Bridget Riley.

Though lovely to behold, these small epiphanies were hardly surprising. I’ve been an artist too long for that (and as a photographer I often do go out seeking abstraction.) But they were welcome reminders of the power of art and its inseparability from the human spirit.

Cody, Barnett Newman
I went out in search of nature, paradoxically a nearly abstract ideal in twenty-first century society, in order to reanimate a spirit dulled by the stresses of living in the “real world.“ Is it really surprising that I discovered abstraction?

Chief, Franz Kline
The abstract works of art that came to mind were all created in the fifties and sixties, at a time of great social upheaval and when the threat of nuclear annihilation seemed frighteningly real. I’ve never believed that the artists of that time were immune to those fears, although, unlike some of their predecessors of the previous generation, their art has no obvious connection to real world events. A retreat into abstraction can serve as palliative, if not quite an antidote, to life’s travails.

Arrest, Bridget Riley
Today, too, the real world can seem truly frightening, from the state of the economy to the deterioration of the environment, spiked with political polarization. And so I offer what I hope will be a little holiday cheer: a jolt of abstraction. Art can heal. So can a walk in the forest.

Don’t wait for the season to bring you peace. I invite you to go out and seek it.

For another, very different, take on the same hike in the County Grounds go to Urban Wilderness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Museum of Wisconsin Art breaks ground

The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend broke ground on its long-awaited new building last week. A couple years ago Milwaukee area sculptor and indefatigable supporter of Wisconsin artists, Gary John Gresl, convinced me to become a member with a plea to support Wisconsin art and artists.

I thought I'd share Gary's new message following the ground breaking. I hope it'll inspire you to join with me and become a member, too. Individual memberships are a deal at only $30 per year.

Ground has been broken for the new building to house the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Last week in a field in West Bend, the ceremonial dig began. I was there on that cold damp day, in a crowd of people
who were enthused and dedicated. The real physical work will start in spring, but the reality of a new museum building dedicated to both contemporary and historical Wisconsin artists has come to fruition.

This place will be the focus of activity for many WI artists, their works, their legacies, their futures. Like several other US regionally focused art museums, important attention will be given to the wealth of talents and skills within our defined borders. Children for generations will have the opportunity to learn, to explore and to gain confidence that their own art interests have meaning and importance.

I have been inspired to send this email notice off to you as a result of getting in the mail a check for $25, to be given to the MWA, by a former resident of Wisconsin. This artist had been active in Wisconsin for decades but has been living out of state for over ten years. Her ties to Wisconsin and its art culture remain, and she recognizes the importance of the Museum of Wisconsin Art and what it can do for our reputations and for art education. Her $25 donation, along with hundreds of others, can importantly assist the Museum.

Have you yet turned your attention to this endeavor? Have you supported it by means of cash donations? Can you give $10 or $100 or $1000 toward enriching our local art culture for generations? Have you gone to visit the current old museum building to see the exhibits that have been going on for
50 years? For the next year, while the new building in being built, the current building will continue to house and explore art made in Wisconsin.

The new building will be finished, but the Museum still needs to raise more money in order to continue and complete the reality, to fulfill the dream which is in hand, to build and maintain its mission for decades to come. Perhaps you can be convinced to simply give money to a project that will have long reaching and important effect on our regional art culture?

The Museum of Wisconsin Art is located at 300 South 6th Avenue, West Bend, WI, 53095.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Storm King Art Center

When I visit my sister in Orange County, NY, as I did for Thanksgiving, it always gives me an excuse to make a pilgrimage to nearby Storm King Art Center. Not that I need an excuse; it's one of my favorite places on earth to see modern sculpture. Nestled in the lower Catskills on 500 acres of rolling hills, meadows, and woodlands an hour north of NYC, the sculptures are largely abstract. What I love most about it is the way they interact with the landscape.

I have old favorites that I always enjoy seeing, but it's fun also to see what has been added since my last visit. Andy Goldsworthy has a second piece now, another stone wall, this one undulating around a string of boulders. I got there around midafternoon, after my visit to Dia Beacon (see my previous post), and by the time I reached 5 men, 17 days, 15 boulders, 1 wall, it was too late and too dark to get a good photo of it. (It took 5 men, including Goldsworthy, 17 days to build the wall around the 15 boulders.) You can see a shot of it on their website here, if you want.

My new favorite piece is this one, appropriately called Mirror Fence, by Alyson Shotz. As you can see, I got to this one just as the sun was setting over the mountain across the valley. There are two additonal views of Mirror Fence, along with many others on my flickr page.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dia. Meditation.

Last week I first encountered the Dia Art Foundation’s museum in Beacon, NY. It is housed in a 30,000 sq. ft. former factory. The place and the art invite introspection.



Dual naves of brightly lit white space. Polished wood floors stretch into the distance. Tiny solitary black-clad figure at the far end. Silence.

To the left, variously colored irregular shapes punctuate the white bays the length of the vast wall. Bare wood floor. (Imi Knoebel)

On the right, polished steel plates form a single line down the middle of the polished wood floor. Bare white walls. (Walter de Maria)


Beyond that, more space. Light streams in from skylights overhead.

A small, brightly lit alcove. Mammoth rough-hewn vertical granite boulder stands, improbably, tightly bound in a niche. somewhere in the vast silence of afghanistan in the mountain at bamiyan stand three empty niches. Colossal granite teardrop of the Buddha. (Michael Heizer)

Space.                         Air.

A series of thin strings of black yarn stretched from floor to ceiling emphasize the air around them. Concrete pillars. Galleries opening out to more galleries.


Thin red strings establish a rectangular plane in the space, canted against the rectangular wall floor ceiling planes of the architecture. I step across the thin red line on the floor. Through air. (Fred Sandback)

White walls give way to concrete, then brick. Polished wood floors become polished concrete floors. Finally, two exterior windows. Glimpse of an expansive, empty green lawn.

L-shaped steel remnant of original factory embedded in brick wall. minimal; life mimics art. the place wants to be photographed. Photography not permitted. an issue of control? privacy? marketing? at every turn the place demands to be photographed. i can’t imagine the harm a photo would cause the art or the museum. i resist the urge to sneak a shot. Numerous black-clad guards wander throughout the galleries. issues of trust? They smile when spoken to. Reply to questions with beatific patience.

Finally, shadows. A dark corner contains rubble. Vertical stacks of photographs mounted on steel. In shadow. Horizontal stacks of enormous felt pads weighed down by rusted steel plates. Not a loading dock. Not a storage room. Dark dustless rubble. (Joseph Beuys)

Cleanly bored holes of four geometric shapes in the polished concrete floor. Dark, empty interiors. Invisible depths. A glass wall prevents close inspection. a friendly, black-clad guard, when asked, says that tours inside the glass are available upon request. my request elicits a walkie-talkie call. no reply. maybe later she says. she says that the artist himself installed the glass. it is being viewed as he intended. an issue of control? Mystery. can mystery be created? is mystery endowed from within or without? in the mind of the beholder? The four holes, gated empty lightless bottomless pools, remain mute. (Michael Heizer)

Mezzanine. Four Brobdingnagian curls of rusted steel. Four ambulatory chapels off to the side of the Cathedral. Four short labyrinths to choke a claustrophobic. Four giant steel clamshells. Inside each, a pearl of peacefulness. they want to be outside, in the back, on the grass, under the open sky, open to the heavens. not to the gray coffered concrete factory ceiling. And yet, after a breathless entry, a place to inhale deeply. (Richard Serra)

In the spotless attic, rough windowless brick walls, polished almost liquid concrete floor. Crouched in the far corner, enormous black bronze spider, Gothic in dark silent splendor. Menacing. or not. there are no secrets here, only misunderstandings. Far down the dark hall the black-clad guard leans against the wall, reading. Silent. (Louise Bourgeois)

Suddenly a wall of glass. Exterior windows. Bright north light. Room full of colorful vigorously twisted steel forms, like carefully spaced collisions. almost baroque compared to the prevailing minimalism. (John Chamberlain)

Outside, narrow walled garden. Leafless trees, brown grasses, green hedges in rigid rows. Sounds of birds. Cuckoo. Crows. Unrecognizable sounds. Almost voices. Muttering. Almost intelligible words. what are they saying? they don’t want to be understood. Catalogue text: Sound Piece. (Louise Lawler)

The warmth of the sun.


I did not succumb to the temptation to sneak photos inside the museum, harmless as that prospect seemed. The two images that accompany this meditation are my tribute to the spirit of the collection. They are from the garden, where photography is permitted. I remain frustrated by museum policy.

After Dia Beacon I went to nearby Storm King Art Center, where I could take plenty of pictures. Photo essay on my flickr page.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Art and environmental remediation

In 1969 Patricia Johanson, inspired by close observations of the natural world, made simple pencil drawings of animals and plants in sketchbooks and on loose-leaf pages. Copious notes written in casual long hand surrounded the drawings. Johanson had a vision for designing artworks that were not merely representations of nature – what is more common than that? Nor was her idea to reflect on or abstract those sources.

Johanson, in tune with the Zeitgeist that led to the first Earth Day in 1970, wanted nothing less than to heal the earth using art.

She has been doing just that for decades now, often on a monumental scale.

This past Wednesday, the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, WI hosted Johanson for a talk entitled Science, Art, & Infrastructure. The event was sponsored by the Design Coalition Institute in partnership with UW-Marathon, UW-Madison, and UW-Extension.

Beginning with the humble ideas sketched so long ago, Johanson, who subsequently received a degree in architecture, went on to describe several of her major completed projects.

The Dallas Museum of Art is situated picturesquely on Fair Park Lagoon. Water quality in the lagoon, however, had been so badly degraded over the years that it was biologically dead. Johanson’s solution was a sculptural design based on plant forms that simultaneously buttressed eroding banks and created a series of microhabitats. Unlike most public sculpture projects, the obvious concrete structures are only the most visible tip of the iceberg. Native aquatic plants and animals introduced into the newly rehabilitated environment are as important, if not more so.

Not coincidentally, the sculpture doubles as a playground and outdoor classroom for people young and old who visit the newly invigorated site.

archival photo
courtesy Anthracite Heritage Museum

Scranton, Pennsylvania provided Johanson with one of the most daunting challenges: a landscape utterly ravaged by coal mining. She outlined the historical background, which includes human suffering along with environmental devastation. The many levels of now abandoned underground mines have become a defacto reservoir into which all surface waters, former streams, etc. have disappeared.

Her designs are sensitive to this history as well as current conditions, the needs of the local community, and the intention to help ameliorate environmental problems.

This aerial view of the water treatment facility under construction in Petaluma, California gives a sense of the enormous scale of some of her artistic accomplishments.

Aside from sheer wonder, delight, and appreciation for Johanson’s work, there were four main points that struck me:

This is work that requires enormous amounts of research and cooperation for it to be successful. No amount of self-reflection in the studio can produce such far-reaching and practical results.

Johanson reiterated several times the need for community involvement. She was not there, in whatever the location, to impose an aesthetic concept on the land. She listened to the public and the local stakeholders and her designs respect their needs as well as her own creative imagination.

The third point is sadder, I think. Her presentation as well as her work reminded me of Betsy Damon, who had given a talk at UWM a while ago. Afterwards, I asked Johanson about Damon. Unsurprisingly, they are friends. She went on to say that there were only a few like-minded artists doing these kinds of projects that combine imaginative artistic design with actual restoration and bio-remediation – and they are, like her, all getting along in years.

Young artists are not uninterested in the environment, she said, but they tend to want to draw attention to places or frame issues rather than dealing directly with healing the earth.

There were many young people, university students no doubt, in the audience. My hope is that some of them heard her message and found her example inspiring enough to turn that around.

Finally, as I did when I heard Damon speak, I couldn’t help wishing there is a way that one of these artists could be brought to Milwaukee to do their creative and restorative work. The Menomonee Valley would be the perfect location.

Project descriptions and more images can be found on Johanson's website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crime Unseen at Museum of Contemporary Photography

The Milwaukee Art Museum opened its remarkable exhibit of Taryn Simon’s photography in September. With three impressive bodies of work of an important contemporary photographer, the show brings to Milwaukee work that is both significant and insightful. If you haven’t gone to see it yet, do so.
From The Innocents, Taryn Simon
The Innocents by itself is worth the visit. Simon’s portraits of people who have been convicted wrongly of crimes are powerful and challenging without being melodramatic or disturbing – although the stories that accompany each image should disturb and outrage anyone with a conscience. It remains on view through January 1, 2012.

If you are traveling to Chicago, a concurrent exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography bookends the Simon show nicely. A group show called Crime Unseen has related themes. (In fact homage to Simon is paid by including one of her Innocents images.) Apparently, for contemporary photographers, crime not only pays – as dividends in art world caché – but also is in fashion.
Richard Barnes photographs of the Unabomber's cabin.
From the exhibition text:
“All of the artists in Crime Unseen grapple with a retelling of disturbing crimes. Using photography and other methods, the artists reactivate historical material and open it up to further contemplation. By drawing on techniques of photojournalism, forensic photography, and documentary landscape, the artists actively engage with myth and reality as they question the roles of memory, the media, and evidence in solving and remembering crime.”

Detail from Killing Season: Chicago by Krista Wortendyke shows one of several series of images of crime scenes arranged to resemble the skyline of the city.

“All of the work in this exhibition has tragedy at its root; every artist deals with materials and stories that stem from extremely serious crimes and real murders of real people. Yet they approach the idea of violent crime obliquely. There are no graphic images of real dead bodies here. The artists did not witness the crimes, and their photographs were all made after the crimes occurred—in most cases, long after. …Partly as a rallying cry against forgetting, they confront us with our perverse attraction to horror by skirting it slightly, bringing stories back to life, and demonstrating that the evil side of human nature unsettles our fundamental notions of security, humanity, and control. …By transforming history into something new and current, the artists discourage us from being passive and distant, and in so doing perhaps leave room for an implicit, liberating acceptance that human nature is sometimes unpredictable and flawed.”

The work is intriguing, if not as powerful and compelling as Simon’s. But I take issue with the last statement above. If there are flaws in human nature, so too in the “passive and distant” stance taken by these and many contemporary artists. The photography is technically excellent and conceptually engaging, but unemotional.

Perhaps it is a reaction to tabloid journalism with its devotion to graphic depiction and lurid detail, but contemporary artists can go too far with their “oblique” approach and banal aesthetic. If they wish to “confront us with our perverse attraction to horror” I think they just might want to skirt it less slightly. Taryn Simon’s work balances on that edge beautifully.

The circular images in Tooth for an Eye by Deborah Luster are intended to mimic the shape of a gunshot hole or the view through a gun sight.
However, it’s a strong show and worth checking out for yourself sometime before it closes January 15. The MOCP website has a thorough description of the show.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gallery view

The Alex Webb show at the Steven Daiter Gallery in Chicago was very good, despite appearances in this shot I managed to get while there on a tour with the MAM Photo Council.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

MAM turns 10

If you don't get the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or missed today's Cue section, I invite you to visit Art City. Prompted by the 10th anniversary of the opening of "the Calatrava," Mary Louise Schumacher has provided a wonderful overview of the last decade at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

from Quilts at Gee's Bend, MAM
And if you missed my own reflections on the last decade in Milwaukee Art (which didn't emphasize MAM), check out "Remembering ten years of Milwaukee Art."

Nature Belle, Roy Staab, Hank Aaron State Trail

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Rescued by Design" and Hip Hop heraldry

Although the writing in the New York Times is invariably excellent, coverage of visual arts, sadly, is usually relegated to the last pages of the Arts & Leisure section. Not so last Sunday when two very different but very intriguing articles made the front page of the section.

In 'Rescued by Design'  architecture critic Michael Kimmelman describes how architecture, urban planning, and simple but elegant utilitarian solutions to urban problems can alleviate a plethora of social problems. Focusing on places as far apart as Medellin, Colombia, Nairobi, Kenya, and Bangkok, Thailand, among others, the examples used make it clear that good design can provide hope for those living in "some of the world's worst conditions."

Sharing the cover is a much more introspective story entitled 'Blending Hip-Hop and Heraldry' by Melena Ryzik. It describes the life and work of Rashaad Newsome who fuses images from contemporary Hip-Hop culture with the ancient forms of heraldry to create richly detailed symbolic portraits.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Support Arts Education; make something happen

If you missed it in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here is my letter to the editor about supporting the arts and the businesses that are trying to promote the “creative industries” in Milwaukee. (This version is slightly longer than the 200-word limit imposed by the MJS. Original version here.)

Business should support education

In the Oct. 16 Crossroads was an article about Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE), which “is branded a design, technology and innovation cluster.” (Op ed: "Grab the MiKe; make something happen") MiKE is a laudable effort by local businesses to spur start-ups and growth in businesses that involve design and technology, often referred to as the “creative industries.” As a long-time artist and educator, I can only applaud any effort that “puts art at the center of economic development.”

The op ed was more informational than editorial. The information about MiKE is welcome. Let’s put the word out often and loud about the value of the arts to business and economic development. 

However, I saw a missed opportunity to make a broader point. The authors, Messrs. Jeffries and Teske (Exec. V.P. at Kohl’s Corp. and CEO of Brigg’s & Stratton, Corp. respectively), assert, “One of our region's greatest resources is its talented workforce….” They observe that this workforce “is continuously bolstered by the students graduating from our world-class colleges and universities.”

Well and good, but from where are these college students coming? From a pool of elementary and secondary students who already are experiencing an array of impediments to a quality education because of recent policy changes in Madison and consequent budget cuts to schools nearly everywhere in Wisconsin. Ironically, the first disciplines to get the ax are always the arts.

If business wants to grow its creative workforce, it will have to lend moral and monetary support to the foundations of public education and, in particular, arts education. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Madonna & Child Interpreted

Madonna & Child, Pacia Sallomi

The idea is not unusual: choose a classic theme - in this case Madonna and Child - and invite artists to render an interpretation of it. That is the premise of a new show opening on Friday, gallery night, at the H2O Gallery at 221 N. Water St. in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. But if the idea is conventional, the results are anything but.

The interpretations range from traditional to iconoclastic; the styles from realistic to abstract. The mediums range from painting to sculpture to photography – to creative writing. The artists in the show include some for whom this is their first gallery exposure and others who have exhibited widely. Here at Arts Without Borders I love the whole concept!

Magic is the Child, William Zuback
If you go to see this show on Friday – and I recommend it – expect the unexpected. In the words of curator William Zuback, “The beauty of this exhibition is that it represents a wide visual and emotional spectrum of artistic representation and translation of this iconic subject.”

Although many of the works in the show either pay homage to or reinterpret the Christian theme, others reflect on the subject in a way that reveals its archetypal and universal aspects. Reverent treatments reside comfortably alongside works that explore the edges of orthodoxy and faith, or question our assumptions.

Oya and Virgen, Holley Bakich
The exhibition of visual art is accompanied by a catalogue that includes three dramatic literary interpretations of the theme written in response to the invitation. Below are excerpts from each. I hope they will motivate you to want to read them in their entirety.

“Hush, little baby. Don’t cry. Papa’s an iconoclast. But it’ll be alright. He carries a sledge hammer. It’s the tool of his trade. He sees an icon? He leaves behind shards. But don’t cry, little baby. It’ll be alright. Shards tell stories….” – from A Taboo Lullaby by David Press

“When I found out that Mary might not have conceived Jesus in the traditional way, I have to say I was rather disappointed. It put her further away from me than I had initially anticipated. Not getting pregnant out of love? Passion? No seduction? Bizarre forced entry, without a fight. I mean, really, what kind of a way is that to get pregnant? A stranger whispers into your ear? Blowing a Lilly into it? Really? A bit like rape, if you ask me, or maybe like ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’” – from Searching for Mary by Michelle PG Richardson

 “I was named after my mother, she and I sharing the same first and middle names of Mary Elizabeth, though everyone called her Beth. It was explained to me by my grandmother that Beth was her favorite name but, when it came to formally naming my mother, Elizabeth most certainly could not be placed in front of Mary. This was very curious to me and I asked her why she didn’t just name my mother Elizabeth Mary. “The Virgin always takes precedence,” she responded in a matter-of-fact tone. When I pressed her for more information, she gave me The Look. Translation: This discussion is over.” – from Life as Mary by Mary Dally-Muenzmaier

The discussion may have been over, but you know that’s not the end of the story!

Madonna & Child, Ellen Pizer
Proceeds from the sale of the exhibition catalogue go to benefit the Grand Avenue Club, which provides a variety of programs and opportunities for adults with mental illness. A thoughtful, diverse exhibition of art combined with a direct social benefit – it just gets better and better!

Full disclosure: a photograph from my Nicaragua Portfolios is included in this exhibit. It is only tangentially religious, but decidedly reverent.

Gallery H2O is at 221 N. Water St. (which is also Soup’s On!)
The show runs Oct. 21 – Jan. 13, 2012.
It will be open gallery night and day.
Friday 6 – 10 pm and Saturday 11 am – 2 pm.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

New Photo Expression 2011

New Photo Expressionism 2011 will be opening on Thursday, Oct. 13 at the Blutstein Brondino Gallery. Blutstein Brondino Fine Arts is a full-service gallery in the Marshall Building in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.  The gallery invited Milwaukee photographer Lawrence D'Attilio to be a guest curator for their first venture into contemporary photography.
I am one of eight Milwaukee photographers featured in the show. The others are Valerie J. Christell, Robert Israel, Dara Larson, William Mueller, James Seder, William Zuback, and D'Attilio himself.

Christell should be familiar to regular gallery night visitors to the Marshall Building. Her profound and disturbing images on social, political and philosophical themes have been on display in her own Merge Gallery until she closed it in August.

D'Attilio's work involves complex surrealistic photomontages. Israel takes somewhat traditional views of land and water and pushes them into places of mysticism. 

Larson has a long established career in traditional print media. This time out she integrates that expertise with photography, a new direction for her. Mueller’s whimsical "insects" and macabre set pieces are astonishing in their conceptual and technical virtuosity. 

Seder’s dark flower compositions are far removed from the usual clichés that the genre calls to mind. Zuback brings us enigmatic and very personal fabrications. 

Blowing in the Wind
The five pieces of mine in the show represent three bodies of work: The Icon Series, The Reverie Series, and Accidental Art. You can see examples on my website by clicking the links. This one (above) from the Icon Series is the most recent.

Thursday’s opening reception is from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. 

Blutstein Brondino Fine Art is at 207 East Buffalo Street, Suite 212.

I am obviously biased, but even if I were not in it I would want to see this exhibit. I hope you’ll join me there on Thursday evening.

In his curator’s statement, D’Attilio says of this show, “The safe sterility felt in some contemporary photography is here supplanted by work that appeals as much to the heart as to the brain.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Louder than a Bomb rocks Milwaukee Film Fest

“Poet, breathe now…because it’s the last thing you’ll ever do for yourself….” – Adam Gottlieb.

When was the last time a poem brought tears to your eyes? When was the last time you saw a documentary and felt like applauding – frequently – and so did everyone in the audience? When was the last time a bunch of teenagers made you feel good about life?

Louder than a Bomb is a documentary about a high school poetry competition – a slam – that manages to do all three. The Louder than a Bomb slam brings together young poets of every kind of background imaginable from all over the Chicago area for an Olympics style competition.

Yes, scoring poetry is stupid. So they say again and again. “The points are not the point; the point is the poetry,” becomes a mantra for the participants. But their enthusiasm and drive to succeed is contagious.

The young poets are exciting and inspiring. Their poems and their stage presence are breathtaking. And not all surface effect and flash, the depth of the work is stunning. The film takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride as it follows four contestants through practices, performances, and the final slam.  

It was Sunday evening, the last night of the Milwaukee Film Festival. We went to the Ridge, a Marcus cinema in New Berlin. There were two film choices. Both sounded appealing. Not knowing anything more than the brief blurb in the program, we picked Louder than a Bomb because we like poetry.

Not knowing that Louder than a Bomb had won awards at film festivals all over the country. Not knowing that a few days later Louder than a Bomb also would be voted best in the Milwaukee Festival. Not knowing that I would laugh and cry and applaud in equal measures throughout the performance. I say performance, although the movie depicted many performances, because it felt more like a performance, like it was happening in real time, than like a documentary movie.

A quick glance at the Louder than a Bomb website shows how unanimous the critics have been in their acclaim of this tour de force. Don’t take my word for it. Nor even the critics. Visit the site and listen to Nate and Adam and Nova and the Steinmenauts recite and perform their incredible works of art. Then find the nearest screening of the film and go see it all.

One of the best features of the Film Festival is the opportunity it provides to learn more about the movies you see. After Louder than a Bomb, the movie, ended we were introduced to Kevin Coval, the poet who started Louder than a Bomb, the teen poetry slam. During the question and answer period someone asked if there was a poetry slam in Milwaukee. Happily, there is!

The next slam is on Oct. 14 at Centennial Hall in the Milwaukee Central Library; at 6 pm. Check it out at Stillwater Collective.

“Poet, breathe now…because there’s a fire inside you that needs oxygen to burn and if you don’t run out of breath you’re gonna run out of time….” – Adam Gottlieb

Thank you, Milwaukee Film.


photo by Sylke Vonk
Last Saturday my daughter, Chelsea, married Marcelo. It was a lovely, intimate wedding at Unitarian Universalist Church West. The minister, Suzelle Lynch, picked out the following poem by Pablo Neruda to include as a reading. It's beautiful and I thought I'd share it. The original Spanish version follows the English translation.

Love Sonnet by Pablo Neruda
Maybe nothingness is to be without your presence,
Without you moving, slicing the noon
Like a blue flower, without you walking
Later through the fog and the cobbles,

Without the light you carry in your hand,
Golden, which maybe others will not see,
Which maybe no one knew was growing
Like the red beginnings of a rose.

In short, without your presence: without your coming
Suddenly, incitingly, to know my life,
Gust of a rosebush, wheat of wind:

Since then I am because you are,
Since then you are, I am, we are,
And through love I will be, you will be, we'll be.

Love Sonnet by Pablo Neruda (Spanish Version)
Tal vez no ser es ser sin que tú seas,
Sin que vayas cortando el mediodía
Como una flor azul, sin que camines
Más tarde por la niebla y los ladrillos,

Sin esa luz que llevas en la mano
Que tal vez otros no verán dorada,
Que tal vez nadie supo que crecía
Como el origen rojo de la rosa,

Sin que seas, en fin, sin que vinieras
Brusca, incitante, a conocer mi vida,
Ráfaga de rosal, trigo del viento,

Y desde entonces soy porque tú eres,
Y desde entonces eres, soy y somos,
Y por amor seré, serás, seremos

Monday, October 3, 2011

Groundbreaking design breaks ground in Menomonee Valley

UEC director Ken Leinbach
“Milwaukee is an amazing city!” exclaimed Ken Leinbach, the dynamic and indefatigable director of the Urban Ecology Center

(UEC). “When it comes to supporting the work of the center,” he continued, “miracles just seem to come down from the sky!” Then he looked up…leading the crowd also to turn their heads…just in time to see tiny parachutes flutter down bearing seed packets. Children scrambled to scoop them up.

The occasion was the groundbreaking ceremony last week for the new UEC, its third satellite, which will occupy a soon-to-be renovated 1933 tavern on 37th St. and Pierce in the Menomonee Valley.

Mayor Barrett plants seeds with a buddy
 At the completion of the ceremony the seeds were planted along the recently completed Valley Passage, adjacent to the center’s site, which leads to the Menomonee River,
Hank Aaron State Trail, and as-yet-uncompleted 24-acre park. Such notables as Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Parks director Sue Black, and many others bearing trowels, each buddied up with one of the children.

The emotional intensity of the ceremony was electric. Speakers included board members, CEO’s of Valley businesses, major donors, DNR personnel, and representatives of the Silver City neighborhood where the site is located. Everyone was thrilled to be part of an historic moment. Most moving, I thought, was Michele Bria, CEO of nearby Journey House, who had brought the elementary students. She spoke with unmistakable excitement about the prospect of bringing them all to the new center and being able to visit the new park in their own neighborhood instead of having to ride the bus to Riverside Park.

Raising trowels in salute for the groundbreaking
The new branch of the UEC, which is slated to open in fall 2012, would be reason enough to celebrate. However, this is just part of a unique collaborative effort that will do much more than transform the Menomonee Valley, once largely a post-industrial wasteland, into a vital, ecologically significant, culturally rich, and economically powerful part of Milwaukee. It may well spark a revitalization of the entire region.

For the project, called “Menomonee Valley – From the Ground Up,” the UEC has teamed up with
Menomonee Valley Partners, a non-profit whose mission is to redevelop the Valley. The project has four components:
  • Improving pedestrian/bike access to and from the Valley.
  • Doubling the Hank Aaron State Trail with a six-mile western extension.
  • Establishing the third branch of the Urban Ecology Center.
  • Transforming a 24-acre brownfield into a visionary public park and ecologically significant natural area.
At Tuesday’s groundbreaking plans for both the UEC branch and the park were unveiled to the public.
Rendering by Uihlein-Wilson Architects
The old tavern has been reimagined and enlarged in designs by Uihlein-Wilson Architects with an eye toward sustainability. The rooftop sports an array of solar panels. An exterior stair provides access to a deck from which both the panels and the Valley can be viewed. At 6,000 sq. ft. it is smaller than the UEC flagship in Riverside Park, but will provide similar environmental programming, including community gathering space as well as science-based classrooms. The elegant new building steps down from its perch on Pierce St., visually and symbolically directing attention towards the Valley Passage and the park beyond. A lower level classroom opens directly onto the Passage.

Within five years the new branch expects 10,000 annual visitors and to provide students in 22 south side schools with environmental stewardship projects, urban recreational adventures, and science education, among other things.

Site of the new park
I took the time to walk through the Valley Passage for a peek at the new park.

Bikers already use the recently erected bridge across the Menomonee River and head west on the Hank Aaron State Trail. Looking east past the temporary gate, however, all I can see are large, featureless piles of dirt. 
The concept is compelling: to make of this vacant former railroad yard a “touchable ‘wilderness’” with “a mosaic of biodiverse landscapes, including forest, prairie, and ephemeral wetland,” and to evoke topographic formations specific to glaciated Wisconsin. What a refreshing way to conceive of “landscape architecture” – to design a long-abused urban space in such a way that it becomes a healthy, functioning ecosystem, so that it appears un-designed – natural.

Rendering by Wenk & Associates
The quality and ecological integrity of the design has already generated national acclaim. The
American Society of Landscape Architects has granted local designers Landscapes of Place, LLC
an honor award for their plan, called “Making a Wild Place in Milwaukee’s Urban Menomonee Valley.”

Before long, guided by Urban Ecology Center staff and volunteers, school children from all over the south side will be roaming the hills, exploring the woods, and discovering the river. Milwaukee is an amazing place! 

Some additional photos of the event:

Ken Leinbach juggling trowels!
Menomonee Valley Partners director Laura Bray with renderings
Students from Journey House
Hank Aaron State Trail manager Melissa Cook
Parks director Sue Black planting with a buddy