Friday, September 28, 2012

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry

I saw Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, the award-winning documentary about the eponymous Chinese artist/dissident, at the Oriental Theater this evening. It's being featured as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival now going on. In a word, it's inspiring. Try to make it to one of the festival screenings - you have three more opportunities: schedule at Milwaukee Film.

You won't be sorry.

For more art related Film Festival recommendations, check out Mary Louise Schumacher's post on Art City.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beyond the Canvas in the Menomonee Valley

Blowing in the Wind
It is billed as a "non-traditional plein air event" and called Beyond the Canvas to indicate that participating artists may use a wide variety of media in addition to painting, which is usually associated with plein air--traditionally outdoor, on-the-scene--methods.

What a great idea! Art and the environment. I've been out in the Menomonee Valley, one of my favorite places, for the past several days, shooting and creating photographs for the event. The annual contest and exhibition is sponsored by MARN, the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network.

This year's event schedule is as follows:
o Exhibition opening – October 19, 5-9 pm
o A Silent Auction opens on Gallery Night
o The exhibit runs Monday, October 22 to Thursday October 25, hours are 12:00 to 5:00 pm
o Closing reception, silent auction closing, awards, ceremony, live music, refreshments, Oct. 26, 5-9 pm

 All of the above activities will take place at the
Pedal Milwaukee Building, 3618 W. Pierce Street

I hope you'll join me there!

More information on the MARN website.

This is the first of a suite of 12 images of the Menomonee Valley that I shot for Beyond the Canvas 2011. The handmade book, called "Palimpsest," that I created from them won the first place prize in the Photography category last year. To see the whole suite go to my website and choose the Palimpsest portfolio from the drop down menu.

The triptych, Blowing in the Wind (above), also won an award in Beyond the Canvas 2010.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gary John Gresl: An Assembler

Mnemonic Device..., detail
A small cabinet contains some unlabeled and unidentifiable pickled vegetables and jellied fruitsand dime store Indianhead salt and pepper shakers. But the contents are obscured by the cabinet itself, which is thoroughly encrusted with multi-hued buttons, old Christmas light bulbs, miniature statuary, vintage cameos. It is festooned with hemp, rawhide, feathers, and strings of beadwork. A familiar looking sock puppet monkey hangs ignominiously off to the side. An old enameled tin spoon stands at attention atop it all. It is a commanding gesture, but one left open to interpretation.

Titled "Mnemonic Device, I Remember Grandma," this is one of the more restrained and contained assemblages by Gary John Gresl in his current show at Mount Mary College’s Marian Gallery. Some of the more flamboyant installations feature human and animal skulls, stuffed deer with racks of antlers, rifles, feathered arrows, fishing paraphernalia, full-scale farm implements and other machinery. Gresl calls himself “an assembler,” which is an understatement.

Gresl told me that his work is inspired by the environments and people of his youth: “cabins, fishing holes, farms with their dried corn stalks and haylofts, attics and country auctions, and the good unpolished people that were my aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, all Wisconsinites.” But, although the work at a superficial glance appears to be rough and haphazard, his ideas are anything but unpolished. Art that suggests hunting lodge décor or a fisherman’s wharf are often pigeonholed or, worse, dismissed by the art establishment. (I was happy to see some of this work at UWM’s INOVA gallery recently, an indication perhaps that Milwaukee’s art establishment has a healthy willingness to transcend traditional dichotomies.) This work deserves serious consideration and careful scrutiny is rewarded with layered meanings and potent symbolism. 

Gresl counts Robert Rauschenberg and the abstract expressionists among his many influences and considers Franz Kline, “with his huge bold black and white strokes” a favorite. The connection could easily be overlooked, but the relationship is there in the extravagant gestures of thick rope, steel barrel staves, worn wagon wheels, andyesantlers and bones.

This piece in particular, intriguingly titled “What We Found After I Opened It,” easily recalls Jackson Pollock or even Frank Stella’s more recent high relief sculptures without losing a sense of its own identity.

Art has the power to provoke, to delight, to disturb, and to surprise. It is a rare work of art that can do all of these things. Art can be sensory, intellectual, emotional. The successful combination of all three of these modalities is likewise a rare achievement. This show, subtitled “New and Old Works, Large and Small,” is both a retrospective and a tour de force. It is a truism among serious art patrons that an authentic experience of original work is lost when it is seen in reproduction. That is especially true of sculpture—and, I will confidently assert, most definitely true of this exhibit.

It will come as no surprise that for several decades Gresl made his living as an antique dealer. In fact, I first met him in his shop in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a typically dusty and cluttered establishment full of potential treasures. “I chose that occupation for the most part because the objects fascinated me. Handling antiques and collectibles have provided me with opportunities for learning: . . . their design . . . their history . . . their sometimes peculiar and enlightening place in cultures. They bring [to my sculptures] that sort of multi-layered history with the associations and possibility to create metaphors.”

Gresl’s love of materiality is self-evident in his artwork. The conceptual rigor that lies beneath the encrusted cabinetry takes more effort to appreciate. But it is well worth it. As indicated parenthetically in the exhibition title“possible solo finale” this may be the last opportunity to see his work in this breadth and depth. While reassuring me that he is in good health Gresl conceded that the physical effort and financial investment that are required to produce, transport, and install such elaborate pieces are taking their toll.

Perhaps this is one reason why the labor-intensive installations are supplemented with images of what Gresl calls “Outstallations.” These are interventions in the landscape that become available in the gallery setting through meticulously composed photographs. While I personally find the installations richer in texture, denser with metaphoric possibility, and packing a more powerful emotional punch, I look forward to seeing how this new phase of Gresl’s long career develops.

The exhibit opened last weekend but the “opening reception” is Sunday, September 16, 2–4 pm. The show runs through October 27.

The Marian Gallery is in Caroline Hall on the Mount MaryCollege campus at 2900 N. Menomonee River Parkway, Milwaukee.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Madison and Racine open photography shows this weekend

I am honored to be in two juried exhibitions that both open this coming weekend. When it rains, it pours.
The Steenbock Gallery, in association with the Center for Photography at Madison will be showing 2012 National Juried Exhibition of photography through October 5. The show officially opened yesterday but the artists' reception is Friday, Sept. 7, 5 - 8 p.m.

The Steenbock Gallery is at 1922 University Avenue in Madison, WI.

And on Sunday, the Racine Art Museum presents Wisconsin Photography 2012 at its Wustum campus. The reception is 2 - 4 p.m.

The Wustum Museum is at 2519 Northwestern Avenue, Racine, WI.

Horizon II

This evite for the Steenbock just came in:

Nicaragua book now available on Magcloud

My latest book is a selection of photographs from several of my regular trips to Nicaragua.

Between 1999 and 2010 I made six trips to Nicaragua under the auspices of a non-profit organization called Bridges to Community. The mission of Bridges is to promote cross-cultural interaction through the process of living and working with local communities. Volunteers from the United States work with local people to build houses, dig wells, or create other types of infrastructure sorely needed in these communities, many of which have been devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes. Most of the images in the book are portraits of the beautiful, hard-working, and resilient Nicaraguan people - and I have a special fondness for the children!

The book can be previewed and ordered on Magcloud by clicking here.