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.


  1. this exhibit sounds really good

  2. Congratulations to Bill and all of the artists! And I'm fascinated by the Mary Elizabeth/Elizabeth Mary story. Thanks for the writeup!

  3. Thanks for the great write-up, Eddee! It's gonna be an awesome show!!