Monday, May 30, 2011

Art educators shouldn’t have to prove their worth

But if you go to the Marceil Pultorak Atrium Gallery atCarroll University in Waukesha before June 17 you can see that the MilwaukeeArea Teachers of Art (MATA) really do have what it takes.

Wisconsin has been shaken badly in recent months by seemingly endless draconian decrees emanating from the governor’s mansion and rubberstamped by the state legislature. Among the many disturbing decisions being made have been cuts to the Wisconsin Arts Board and to public education. For an excellent defense of Arts Board funding, check out Mary Louise Schumacher’s excellent essay in Art City.

Cuts to education are, if anything, worse. As an art educator myself, and as a member of MATA, I know firsthand what these cuts mean to the arts. Hundreds of teachers are leaving the profession. And the arts are always the first to go. I wish I could offer a view of some silver lining, but I can’t think of any. What I do suggest, as at least a consolation, is to go see the annual MATA membership show.

I didn’t get any pictures this time, but I can direct you to the blog of Jeanne Bjork, the current MATA president, where you can see lots of them.

This year’s exhibit is one of the best I’ve seen in my over 30 years of membership in MATA. It’s ironic, too, because it is an exhibit that almost didn’t happen. For many years this annual exhibit has been held in the lobby of the 100 East Wisconsin Building. This year, at the last minute, the corporate sponsors imposed new conditions that the MATA board found impossible to consent to. Financial considerations effectively sealed the fate, but, in a move sadly reminiscent of many culture war battles about art, they also wanted to control the content of the show.

Fortunately, Carroll University came to the rescue. I urge you to take the time to go out to Waukesha and see it. (It’s really not so far away!) The show ends June 17.

By the way, I’m sorry I didn’t have the time to write this up a week ago, as I wanted. It’s been a very hectic week, as the end of the school year always is. But this year especially: I went to graduation yesterday for the last time. My retirement from Marquette University High School has nothing to do with the politics I commented on above. And, fortunately, it doesn’t mean the loss of an art teacher. In fact, I am happy to be leaving an opening for a younger art teacher who can carry on in my place.

Glass Facade
OK, one more thing by way of full disclosure: I’m not only proud to be a long-time member of this fine organization, but honored that one of my pieces (right) was awarded Best of Show by the two jurors, Teri Wagner and Katie Musolff. But that’s not why you should see the show; it really is outstanding overall and twelve other artists also received significant awards.

Directions and gallery hours are on the Carroll Universitywebsite.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Experimental architecture at Jazz Gallery

Plexus, an exhibition of experimental architecture by UWM students, opened at the Jazz Gallery on May 5 and runs through May 20. It is the work of thirteen designers who "transform salvaged materials and post-manufacturing scrap into provocative architectural installations."

This design, called Lotus, is for a ceiling system and is one of three full-scale prototypes on display. The trio of designers who created it found inspiration in the ancient Chinese and Hindu reverence for the lotus blossom.

The work that I enjoyed the most in this small but delightful exhibit were models of proposals to add a much needed north entrance to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

 Petar Bochukov

Panels illustrated creative solutions for enlivening walls using a wide variety of salvaged materials can be seen in the background above. 

 Jacob Himmelman and Sara Larson Mercer (detail)

Hollie Engdall, Ted Petermann, Paul Rohde

The Jazz Gallery, operated by the Riverwest Artists Association, is at 926 E. Center Street. More pictures of the installation may be seen at the Microcosm Studio website.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day from Julia Ward Howe

This post is only tangentially related to my Arts Without Borders theme - Julia Ward Howe is often best remembered as the writer of the Battle Hymn to the Republic - but I cross borders in many ways.

Howe is also remembered for conceiving of Mother's Day long before it became a national holiday and ploy to sell flowers, cards, and long-distance calls. In response to the carnage of the Civil War, Howe published the following proclamation in 1870.

Sadly, we still have a long way to go to achieve her vision:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Friday, May 6, 2011

MK-Eat, Art, and Urban Wilderness

MK-Eat is Milwaukee’s version of a community-building and arts-supporting fundraising effort that has been done successfully in other cities. The public is invited to a dinner/presentation event and in return for a $15 donation gets a meal and the chance to vote on an arts proposal.

The event is tomorrow evening, May 7, at The Riverwest Public House,
815 E Locust St. It runs from 6-9 pm.

The main event is a series of presentations by the artists who have submitted proposals for projects that will benefit the community.

There will be eight presenters, including myself. You can get a preview of the proposals on the MK-Eat website.  You can also sign up for the dinner and/or make a donation.

We who are presenting our proposals have been encouraged to self promote as well as to encourage any and all to come, if you have an inclination to do so. This is my invitation. I’d love to see all the supporters of my two blogs, Arts WithoutBorders and Urban Wilderness, join me for this event.

Yes, I’m grateful for the support I’ve gotten over the past year when I’ve been blogging on these two platforms. This MK-Eat event gives me a rare opportunity to cross over and share with both audiences why I do both.

I am a fine art photographer and although my work includes a variety of subjects the one that occupies most of my time and attention is what I’ve long called the Urban Wilderness Project. I have been using my artwork for many years, often in conjunction with environmental groups, to express my belief that urban and suburban dwellers will benefit from greater exposure to natural areas in our parklands. My proposal for MK-Eat combines my love of photography with my love of Milwaukee’s park system. You can read much more about the project on mywebsite – and see many photographs there, too.

Here is one recent example from the Urban Wilderness Project. I call it "Wraith." It is from Milwaukee's lakefront.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ArtChicago: the “Artropolis” has shrunk!

The good news: small is beautiful.

I am among those who remember when ArtChicago was held on Navy Pier and had a well-deserved reputation as one of the premier showcases for fine art galleries anywhere. It took me many years to return to it after it left there. Last year when I finally saw the show again, it was disappointing. Although it sprawled throughout two floors of the mammoth Merchandise Mart, with some exceptions the work was tepid, timid, commercially slick, or conceptual vacuous.

This year the scaled-down show took up a single floor and, although nothing like its former Navy Pier incarnation, I found it much more stimulating than last year. In fact, I enjoyed it very much. As with any large art show, there were galleries to slip past with a quick glance. But I found myself lingering in them more often than not. The mood also was upbeat with gallery owners saying that they were making sales.

I would have loved to bring home a beautiful 20”x16” Wayne Thiebaud painting for my wife, who is fond of his work. The card said, “price upon request,” so I did. “Just under a million,” was the reply. Nuts. Over my budget. Then I came across a slightly off-sized print of Ansel Adams’s iconic “Moonrise over Hernandez,” measuring a curious 19½”x23¼” also labeled “price upon request.” I had to wonder how large the 20”x24” edition was and the price on the last one of it. This one was “almost a quarter million.” For a print! Later I came across a similarly sized Nevelson sculpture for $125,000, which seemed a great deal by comparison.

It was nice to see good work by a few big names like those and others, but the contemporary art was especially engaging. As I chatted with the dealers about one artist or another, I was asked numerous times if I was a collector. Ever hopeful, I’m sure. I would love to be. Of all the work I saw there my first pick would have been a photographer named Soi Park who had a series called “Buscar Trabajo” (looking for work.) Park photographed Latinos in situations that appeared dangerous, as if they were running or hiding from immigration officers.

What follows is a selection of things that caught my eye – and held it for more than a moment or two. There were many more.
The show began on the sidewalk outside the Merchandise Mart. This is a detail of "Vertical Vegetation" by Jason Verbeek, Cor-ten steel and sedum.

 A giant print by Shepard Fairey hung like a banner across the entrance to the elevator lobby. (Detail)

"Unblinking," Shin Young An, oil on newspaper.

"All you need is Love," Joshua Hagler, oil on canvas.

Two photographic works by Michal Macku.

Sadly topical the day of the fair, "Offenes Gelande" (open terrain), Ulf Puder, oil on linen.

"Eternal Eye," Lucy Slivinski, found objects, steel wire, electric light (detail).

I didn't see individual titles on these translations of urban graffiti into precious Huichol-style pieces made by gluing together colored threads with natural wax. Laura Ortiz Vega.

"Meditative Mermaid," Cecelia Paredes, photograph

"Quaver," Rachel Nee, smoke and aquacryl on board

"The mess of emotion, no. 12," Rim Lee, oil on canvas (detail)

"Billboards, NY: Houston and Lafayette Streets," Wouter Deruytter, gelatin silver on dibond

As usual, the "Next" portion of the fair included edgier work and some off-beat installations like these ironing boards set up to resemble fair-goers ambling down the aisles.

Despite its diminished size, I still didn’t make it to all the galleries. But I did make a point to visit the three who came down from Milwaukee.

Debra Brehmer, Portrait Society Gallery

Tory and Christine Anderson, Tory Folliard Gallery

Claudia Mooney, The Green Gallery

And one former Milwaukeean, Russell Bowman at his eponymous Chicago gallery

Being Arts Without Borders, I loved that the Chicago Poetry Center had a booth at the fair. They had a series of broadsides that combine artworks with poems. A collaboration between Lawrence Ferlingetti and Ed Paschke was quite stunning, but my favorite was this piece. The text of the marvelous poem by Ana Castillo follows.

I Ask the Impossible

I ask the impossible: love me forever.
Love me when all desire is gone.
Love me with the single-mindedness of a monk.
When the world in its entirety,
and all that you hold sacred, advise you
against it: love me still more.
When rage fills you and has no name: love me.
When each step from your door to your job tires you—
love me; and from job to home again.

Love me when you’re bored—
when every woman you see is more beautiful than the last,
or more pathetic, love me as you always have:
not as admirer or judge, but with
the compassion you save for yourself
in your solitude.

Love me as you relish your loneliness,
the anticipation of your death,
mysteries of the flesh, as it tears and mends.
Love me as your most treasured childhood memory—
and if there is none to recall—
imagine one, place me there with you.
Love me withered as you loved me new.

Love me as if I were forever—
and I will make the impossible
a simple act,
by loving you, loving you as I do.