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.