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