What happens to artists who are singled out, identified as exceptional or promising in a very public way?
In a practical sense it may mean added pressure and more deadlines, but, ironically, high-profile affirmations of artistic instinct can inspire some to question their art making practices more than ever. They are effectively given license to risk and recalibrate.
Such has been the case with many of the artists included in three exceptional surveys of regional, contemporary art, the “Current Tendencies II” exhibit at the Haggerty Museum of Art, the “Mary L. Nohl Fellowship Exhibition” at Inova and the “Dressing the Monument” show at the Lynden Sculpture Garden.
In many cases, I found the work of artists I thought I knew to be unfamiliar, and I discovered artists I didn’t yet know. It was, in short, a revelation.
The openings for these shows were among the more electric art events I’ve attended in recent years, jammed with people puzzling over, experiencing and talking about art. It speaks well of the quality of work being made here.
For this reason, this trio of shows, which have nothing to do with each other, incidentally, are my top recommendations for this Gallery Night & Day, the citywide art crawl that takes place Friday evening and Saturday.
It was fascinating to see what artist Reginald Baylor did when he ran out of time to create paintings – which can take several months – for the show at the Haggerty, 530 N. 13th St. The complex ideas that connect his iconography, ideas that are usually locked in his mind and rarely implicit in his work, spilled out in some works. He also continued to mine his mainstay imagery in entirely new materials, creating animation and quilts.
We have seen the collaborative works of Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger before, but not quite on this scale and ambition, at least locally. The artists mount prints and drawings onto video screens, creating moving images on paper and a dialogue between old and new art forms. The juxtapositions of imagery and methodology, between the recognizable and the less known – all of it moving in real time – creates a fascinating, textured in between space.
“You step back,” wrote Melissa Shew, a visiting professor of philosophy at Marquette, who wrote about the installation for the exhibition catalogue. “You consider the whole once again, and you view the journey. You understand that this installation speaks to the multilayered, prismatically dimensioned interplay between space and time.”
“Current Tendencies” also marks Mark Brautigam’s debut into the contemporary art scene here. His first major project is a knowing and meditative photographic portrait of our state. From a desolate street in Superior to a 90-year-old woman raking in Hurley, Brautigam explores the quiet dignity of seemingly unremarkable people and places.
Other artists included in the Haggerty show are Julian Correa, Lisa Hecht, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Luc Leplae, Will Pergl and Jordan Waraksa.
Over at Inova, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the winners of the 2010 Mary L. Nohl Fellowships have work on view.
The Mary L. Nohl Fellowship exhibition is the culmination of the fellowship year, the most prestigious prize for individual artists locally. In this the eighth such round we find artist Paul Druecke, who left Milwaukee and returned, continues to make a significant contribution here. There is a wonderful, conceptual through line in Druecke’s work. More than a decade ago he bestowed the status of “park” on forlorn and leftover patches of urban landscape with art happenings; today he explores the language of historical markers, those seemingly unassailable landmarks that tell it like it is.
Waldek Dynerman has been breaking apart and fusing together old things, from dolls’ heads to mechanical objects, for his assemblages for some time. But his work takes on a new life in the immersive, theatrical installation he created for the Nohl show. At a time when the not-so-distant past feels farther away than it used to, Dynerman taps into the sheer otherly nature of bygone days in an expressive and exacting fashion.
Ashley Morgan’s work is as subtle and sophisticated as I’ve ever seen it in the Nohl installation. Though her work consistently explores love and loss through the processes of collection, repetition and decay, her artworks also stand beautifully alone.
We are drawn into the Inova gallery by a kind of temporary stained glass that Morgan has created with a thin – and ephemeral – layer of honey. On a handrail, she has carved a pattern of Xs and Os that could so easily be dismissed as non-art, just part of the room, just pattern. In perhaps the most formally eloquent piece in the show, she collected eyelashes in tiny vials of rainwater, placing them in a case above water, which catches their reflection. Nearby, a dish hangs on a wall where visitors are invited to leave eyelashes, or wishes, for the artist who is painstakingly hoarding her own.
Other artists included in the Nohl exhibit at Inova are Brent Coughenour, Sarah Buccheri, Neil Gravander and Chris James Thompson.
Over at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Rd., River Hills, “Dressing the Monument” serves as the culmination of a series of exhibitions in which artists responded to the permanent collection, a series that marked Lynden’s new place in the art community.
This final exhibition features temporary sculpture by an exceptional array of artists from the Midwest, and a few from New York and Switzerland, too. Some of the artists include Nicholas Frank, Michelle Grabner, Lucas Knipscher, Tobias Madison, John Miller, David Robbins, Hannah Weinberger, Anicka Yi and Matt Sheridan Smith.
Lyndenis not open on Gallery Night, but is open Saturday during Gallery Day.
All three of these shows are well outside the epicenter of Gallery Night & Day, the Third Ward, but each will rival any art-seeing experience in town. With that said, let me quickly offer a few more recommendations.
“Generation Next” opens Friday at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, 273 East Erie St., and is billed as a collection of artists “whose talents identify them as the next generation to make a significant contribution to the cultural life of the region.” The show includes Minneapolis artist Evan Baden, Milwaukee artist Sarah Gail Luther and Madison artists Sofia Arnold, Emily Belknap and Melissa Cooke.
Former Milwaukeean and now Brooklyn-based artist Jason Rohlf returns home for a solo show of his abstract paintings at the Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St. When I visited Rohlf’s studio last fall, venturing up to his roof and seeing the layers of architecture and sounds in his neighborhood, the densely textured surfaces of his work began to make more sense.
His rhythmic and geometric works are exercises in what to treasure and what to let go, and how to make all of these things part of a whole.
Finally, I’d be remiss if – since we’re looking at contemporary art this time around – I didn’t mention the first survey of works by Taryn Simon on view in the contemporary galleries at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr. Not for the faint hearted and appealing to both our prurient and noble sides, it exposes unseen aspects of the American landscape.