Third Coast Digest

‘Strange Vegetation’ blooms at Villa Terrace
by Judith Ann Moriarty

It took 50 men to create the 24 panels of wallpaper using a Napoleonic-era technique, more than 1,500 wooden plates and 192 colors. It had to be done “by hand,” it was thought at the time. Any mechanical assistance would have made this faux scene somehow inauthentic.

So, fantasies of fictional landscapes and bygone periods co-mingle in this space, the Renaissance-era architectural style, the early 19th century interior design traditions and the early 20th century recreations, now themselves open to nostalgic fixation. And this ricochet of centuries is happening, let’s not forget, in a

Times, they are a changin’ at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Curator Martha Monroe, who arrived in 2009 and has since orchestrated seven exhibitions, has again met and conquered a challenge.

In this case, that challenge is transforming the staid Zuber Gallery on floor two into a room filled with latex forms given life via computers. Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that anything could actually work with the lush wallpaper jungle in the Zuber?

The installation lives. It breathes and responds to changes in temperature and light. Within the walls of the 1923 mansion at 2220 N. Terrace Avenue, the evolution begins June 8 and ends on July 24.

Okay, now think about a weird-o plant from a cheesy 50’s sci-fi flick, perhaps The Thing. Then consider Strange Vegetation, which indeed recalls those far-out funky flicks from fifty plus years ago. Blame it on two from the wild side: Yevgeniya Kaganovich, Associate Professor of Art and Design at UW-Milwaukee, and her sidekick in brilliant madness, Nathaniel Stern. It sure beats studying the designs on the wallpaper, but the wallpaper is the catalyst and symbiosis is the point. A few years back, Milwaukee Magazine touted Kaganovich as a local who would make a difference in this town. Stern’s CV reads like a fine novel of global proportions. What a match.

East and below floor two, The Renaissance Garden writhes with vegetation, a perfect fit with what’s lurking above…. On Thursday, June 16, from 7-8:30 p.m., Jennifer Johung, Assistant Professor of Art History at UW-Milwaukee, will talk about the installation and architectural symbiosis. Echoing through time are the footsteps of architect David Adler, who brought the building to fruition…. Thanks to Ms. Monroe, the visionary board and talented artists, the Allis and the Villa are in step with this world.

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Related artworks: Strange Vegetation, performance 2 (passage), Falling Still, 13 Views of a Journey, Sentimental Construction #1
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