Ready to Art Overdose? Get Off Your Duff and Gas ‘Er Up!

by Gary John Gresl

The Regional Art Junkie
The Regional Art Junkie
This is being written during the two month period when three notable exhibits of Wisconsin art are being shown in our regional museums, each drawn from a broad selection of work by our state artists. This particular confluence of three shows happens only once every six years.

Have you seen these exhibits? Have you gotten to these three venues to learn more about what is present around you, expanding your knowledge and insights, showing your support of regional artists and venues? The organizers have put an enormous amount of planning, effort, and work into creating these shows…in good part for your benefit.

These are the Wisconsin Triennial, (thru July 15) organized and curated by the Madison Museum of Wisconsin Art; the Wisconsin Artists Biennial, (thru July 15) held at the Haggerty Museum, Milwaukee, and organized by Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors and the Haggerty staff; and the exhibit created by the Charles Allis Art Museum in Milwaukee titled “Forward”, a biennial, (thru July 29). In these a total of approximately 195 Wisconsin artists have work exhibited. (Over 1000 artists had attempted to get into these shows.)

The Charles Allis exhibit is smaller than the other two due to the size of the venue, and is drawn from over 225 two dimensional works juried on site. The Biennial in the Haggerty is more diverse and wide ranging, a survey drawn from around 800 pieces. The Triennial at MMoCA, compared to Forward and the Biennial, is art on steroids. For those of us who seek art that extends sensibilities and which can be exciting and revealing, this is a great show. It gives us progressive work made in Wisconsin that may surprise some viewers with selections that do not often get seen by our local public.

One factor determining the look of exhibits is the physical nature of the venue that requires restraints in the selection process. The Charles Allis is a small museum with limited exhibition floor space and therefore necessarily excluded sculpture. The Haggerty with larger expanses of galleries is a step up in size and content. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the newest facility, provided some much larger spaces for very big work.

Philosophies, methods of selection and tastes of jurors certainly steered the direction of these shows.

While the Allis is small, the staff arranged to have jurying selection for Forward directly from the actual work and even managed to accommodate the storage of over 220 flat works of art for that purpose.

The Haggerty and WP&S had about 800 works entered into the jurying process and the museum simply could not accommodate the storage of that many objects. This meant that hundreds of slides and JPEGS had to be viewed by the juror who drew together a survey of WI art.

MMoCA involved its own staff in the selection process, deputizing at least three individuals to drive over 2,000 miles around the state looking into approximately 90 artist studios chosen from nearly 500 artists. The philosophy of MMoCA includes identifying contemporary tendencies from progressive and cutting edge work which often does not get into commercial galleries, fairs and exhibits.

Elsewhere in the state, I recently I took a couple May days and drove to Door County, that beautiful peninsula on Wisconsin’s East Coast. Most of you already know that for decades this place has been home and inspiration to many hundreds of artists. Art abounds there on view in commercial galleries and many private studios. In addition, the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek has enriched local traditions by offering high quality classes and exhibits. The Clearing Folk School, a learning retreat in the Ellison Bay area since 1935, offers classes in the visual and other arts. A bit further south the Kewaunee Academy of Art has been formed into an enterprise created in the mold of a traditional disciplined academy, instructing artists in realistic modes of expression. In Sturgeon Bay, the largest city on the peninsula north of Two Rivers, one finds two art museums, the Fairfield and the Miller, each having changing exhibits.

Door County is a geological and cultural state treasure and in that combination it stands a bit apart from the rest of Wisconsin. Finding a concentration of artists and art related activities like this usually occurs in some limited parts of urban settings like downtown Milwaukee, Madison and Racine, but it has grown in Door County due to the lovely geoscape that attracts the visually oriented, and a tourist crowd to buoy the arts economy. To a lesser extent, we can find some other art-active spots like this near Bayfield and Lake Superior, Cedarburg, and Mineral Point. Otherwise scattered about the state there are many college galleries, regional museums and art fairs, plus the famous artist environments like Fred Smith’s Concrete Park, Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, and Father Wernerus’ Dickeyville Grotto.

Another art destination in the South East part of the state is the Museum of Wisconsin Art, formerly known as the West Bend Art Museum. The MWA is within 40 minutes of Milwaukee’s art venues, and not too far from Madison and the Fox Cities. While currently an important venue for Wisconsin’s art (historical and contemporary) this 46 year old institution is poised on the brink of an important venture that can enormously benefit our visual art culture.

While its mission has been to display our region’s historical and contemporary fine art, it has announced a new modern architectural design for expansion. If all goes to plan, the MWA can more prominently serve as an exciting hub of interest in our region’s art. By this it will spur on our contemporary artists to produce even greater things and broaden the interest of the public. Creating the architecture and atmosphere of an important regional art museum like this will speak volumes about the good judgment of supportive Wisconsin citizens, the wisdom of forward thinking individuals, and how important visual art is to our culture.

It is time for you to get busy! Are you ready to support the artists and art venues of your state? Are you prepared to enrich your thoughts, to be challenged and entertained by art, to help build the visual art future for our children? The three temporary exhibits mentioned earlier in this article will soon be over but the venues that created them will remain, as long as you support them. We have plenty to do.

It’s up to you to gas up your vehicle, real and metaphorical, and aim that radiator ornament in an artful direction.