Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Gains an Art Critic

by Gary John Gresl

After operating for a few years without an officially titled art critic, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January appointed Mary Louise Schumacher to the joint role of Art and Architectural critic. This is well after James Auer, former long standing art critic, had died in 2004.

Mary Louise has served as arts writer for the Journal Sentinel starting before Jim Auer’s demise, and it has been speculated that she would eventually take on his role. Since losing Jim, and despite the lack of title, Mary Louise has essentially played the role of critic anyway.

With the Journal Sentinel also giving Mary Louise the title of architectural critic, the newspaper has saved itself the trouble of finding another individual to take over the role of veteran reporter, Whitney Gould, who recently retired from that post. This probably saves the Journal Sentinel some money during a period of constriction, when the value of an architectural critic may be questioned by management. It also suggests that Ms. Schumacher will be spreading herself more thinly than was necessary in the past.

Will she be given adequate column space? Will her attentions turn away from the fine art of painting, sculpture, prints, etc., and be diverted to architecture? What is her architectural background?

A concern that some artists and galleries in the Milwaukee area have is due to the nature of Schumacher’s coverage of the area’s art scene during the past several years. There are some in the community who believe that she has an agenda to primarily write about art that only pushes her buttons, which she considers progressive, while ignoring the many artists, galleries and organizations in the community that have been the main support in the art making culture for decades. She has also glommed on to controversies in the art community, from messy hot dog vendors to museum miscalculations. At least controversies insure some degree of attention to the arts scene – not all bad.

As a clear example of what appears to be her attitude, Mary Louise basically ignored two state wide 2007 juried exhibitions. While she showed great enthusiasm for the Wisconsin Triennial held at Madison’s Contemporary Art Museum she failed to review either the “Forward” exhibit at the Charles Allis Museum or the “Wisconsin Artists Biennial”, held at the Haggerty – both museums are within an easily traveled distance of her office. These exhibits were drawn from artists across the state. Any other Wisconsin community and its media would have enthusiastically embraced them and reported about them.

Plainly, she did not care to mention these recurrent exhibits.

To her credit there have not been any questions concerning Mary Louise’s ability to turn a phrase and express herself well. She also has opened up use of the Internet thru her blog, Art City, and recently by announcing the use of artist videos to reveal and speak about individual’s artmaking. To gain more information about the blog and videos visit Art City, at blogs.jsonline.com/artcity/default.aspx. If that does not get you there check out accessing it thru the Journal Sentinel’s main webpage.

Being an art critic places oneself in the cross hairs of those sensitive to issues of publicity which can help make a successful exhibit or career. When egos and monetary rewards are involved, one is even more vulnerable as a target for criticism. Hopefully Mary Louise has a thick skin and endurance to last thru criticism aimed at her just like artists must endure criticism of their work. It seems she must have sensitivity and understanding of the arts community in which she serves willingly as spokesperson and promoter, and as she responsibly evaluates or analyzes our regional culture, with all that implies.