Saturday, January 25, 2014

An Intensive Arts Week

The past few days have been particularly arts intensive in Milwaukee, at least for me and a number of other folks who I have seen repeatedly at different venues.

It began Wednesday with a lecture by photographer Brian Ulrich at Marquette University. His talk was in conjunction with the current show at the Haggerty Museum of Art. Ulrich is represented by selections from three bodies of work: Copia, Thrift, and Dark Stores.

Brian Ulrich
What do images of big box retailers like Home Depot and Target, or images of Goodwill and other thrift stores, or depopulated and abandoned “dead malls” have to do with the War in Iraq? Simply by looking at the prints in the gallery you might not even think to ask the question. But they do, according to their creator, Brian Ulrich, who painted a compelling case for it in his lecture.

In a short video we were reminded of that brief but startling moment in the post-9/11 period when Dick Cheney and George W. Bush urged the people of the United States to “go shopping” as a strategy for beating back the terrorists’ efforts to destroy our way of living. Ulrich’s trilogy of portfolios proceeds from the straightforward pursuit of such consumerism through the more shadowy but also more intimate world of the secondary market and then on to bankruptcies that followed the 2008 economic collapse.

Ulrich’s work is part of a larger suite of exhibitions on display at the Haggerty through May 18, 2014.

Thursday evening saw pretty much the same audience in attendance as three Magnum photographers gave a panel discussion at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Alessandra Sanguinetti, Jacob Aue Sobol, and Donovan Wylie were in Milwaukee as the second of three waves of photographers participating in Postcards from America.

Wylie, who was just completing a ten-day stint here, was able to show us three new selections from Milwaukee. The other two, unfortunately caught onstage at the beginning of their visit, had to rely on presentations of past work. Sanguinetti spoke of her long dormant desire to experience for herself a Wisconsin that she’d been carrying around in her head since childhood. Her first exposure to our fair state, at an impressionable age, was through Michael Lesy’s famous “Wisconsin Death Trip.”

Donovan Wylie
Sobol spoke passionately about the importance of falling in love as a motivation for his photography. His black and white imagery, mostly shot in close range with a hand held primitive camera, was stark, gritty, grainy and intensely intimate. Wylie takes a more formal approach. His subjects are generally architectural. “I think I’ve been in every car park [he’s from Ireland] in Milwaukee,” he told us.

Each of the three has a very distinct style and it will be interesting to find out how they interpret their visit to Wisconsin when their final work is exhibited at MAM next summer.

Friday evening I was torn. With intriguing exhibitions opening in such far flung locations as Racine, Milwaukee’s east side and Brookfield, I knew I wouldn’t get to them all. I did make it to two, UWM’s Union Gallery and the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center for the Arts.

Reginald Baylor & Adam Carr
The Union has a show entitled “Collaborative Design: Great Minds Think Together.” As the title suggests, it showcases collaborative efforts with the collaborators often coming together from a variety of disciplines, including functional design as well as visual, performing and auditory arts. There was a diversity of goals on top of the diversity of disciplines. Many of the entrants had collaborated in order to solve specific problems experienced in social situations, including medical interventions.

This is a kind of socially engaged design and art making in which the medium is clearly not the message, where art is not for art’s sake but for the purpose of making people’s lives a bit easier, more dignified, or for developing a sense of community.

Unfortunately, I arrived early and had to leave before the main event, a panel discussion with Reginald Baylor, Adam Carr, and Sonja Thomsen, who were among the teams of collaborators. The show will be up through Feb. 21, 2014.

The Ploch Gallery at Brookfield’s Wilson Center was filled with boldly abstract paintings by Patricia Frederick. The non-objective paintings, made by pouring liquid paints directly onto the canvas, were described by some as Rorschach tests waiting to be interpreted by the viewer. The dramatic contrast between the Union and Ploch exhibits struck me as symbolic of the way life itself is a Rorschach test and art the way some of us interpret how we live.

Consistent with the famous therapeutic method, when properly administered and evaluated, there is no wrong answer, no wrong way to make art.

Though her work has roots in the Modernist tradition of Abstract Expressionism, Frederick considers the term misleading when applied to her paintings. She joked that the show’s title, “Beyond Belief,” doesn’t refer to the fact that she was able to complete the work. It refers, she said quite seriously, to a spiritual moment in the process of creation when you no longer have to believe in what you’re doing; you know you’ve succeeded.

Frederick’s eloquence at the lectern was no surprise to those of us familiar with her 30+-year tenure as a highly acclaimed art educator at Pius XI High School. The fact that she is able to create a compelling body of work with such a unified vision in spare moments between full time teaching duties speaks volumes about her professionalism and devotion to art.

"Beyond Belief" remains on view through March 1, 2014.

Three days in a row were not enough this week. Today I will be attending the annual Woodland Pattern Poetry Marathon. I recommend it to all bibliophiles and anyone else who has ever been curious about the vitality of the poetry and literary scene in Milwaukee: every bit as vibrant as the visual arts.

If you want to hear my five minutes come to Woodland Pattern between 5 and 6 p.m. I’ll be reading a few haiku from my newest book, Deep West. The full schedule is posted online at Poetry Marathon.

1 comment:

  1. Eddee, I just wanted to thank you for supporting my Kickstarter book project.