I scooted over to Milwaukee yesterday, to meet up at the Milwaukee Art Museum with Ethan Lasser, a curator from Chipstone, and, in yet another capacity of working together, good ol' Rebecca Zorach. Ethan walked us through the galleries that house the combined Chipstone + Milwaukee Art Museum displays of American decorative arts. Ethan and his team are doing some really innovative curatorial work, truly bringing rare, masterfully crafted objects into contemporary relevance, and doing it without sacrificing the preciousness. Hard to describe their exhibition strategies fully. Some of the strategies are really simple, but very effective. For example, simply elevating chairs, such that eye-level apprehension of the chairs brings fresh shapes, detail, and negative space to the viewer's eye:
Other displays made use of digital and multimedia elements, bringing in some very smart interactive dimensions. One of the multimedia tweaks on an old object is Theaster Gates's video, installed to accompany the display of an impressively opulent and complexly crafted clerk's bureau.
The video brings in issues of historical memory, antebellum realities and myths, spoken word performance, early American economics, spectres of chattel slavery, dreams of miscegenation, and layers of beauty that expand on the aesthetics of the object itself.
Ethan, Rebecca, and I gathered to talk over Theaster's upcoming project at MAM, which will be much bigger than this installation, and discuss texts to accompany it.
After the meeting I took advantage of the complimentary museum entry to see the Warhol Last Decade show. For anybody with any interest in Warhol (and that really should be just about anybody), the show is recommended.
But the real surprises for me were 1) the War Bonds posters in the halls of the offices (where Ethan took us for a few minutes), and 2) the temporary show of art by veterans.
I am a total sucker for old posters, of course, so the War Bonds propaganda got me and my camera going, quick.
As one would expect, the art work by veterans was intense, bringing home the war experience in ways we just don't see in the news. I was happy to see a contribution by our anti-war comrade and Iraq War vet Aaron Hughes. It was a painting titled "Checkpoint."
Of course, this being the Milwaukee Art Museum, just getting to spend some time in the sparsely visited space on a weekday was a treat. Especially since this time we got to see the insides of the Saarinen War Memorial part of the complex, as well as enjoy the grand entry lobby (which I think is called the Windhover Gallery).