Uttech is good for you and me...or not?

Editors Note: The following text is a discussion that occurred on the Milwaukee Artist’s Resource Network (MARN) email group. The first post came from Gary Gresl, then a response was posted by Michael Davidson. Kent Mueller joined the discussion with his thoughts and finally Michael Davidson reacts to Kent Mueller’s post.
You can sign up to join the Milwaukee Artist’s Resource Network (MARN) email group by visiting there website at: www.marnonline.com Then follow the link to Yahoo. Please note that more typically the The MARN email group is a place to announce shows and request specific information or offer specific resources.

One man’s opinion here...

by Gary John Gresl
Tom Uttech’s remarkable exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum clearly places him several marks above most of us in this region. BUT...what he has accomplished by his good judgment, hard work, ambition and exemplary abilities, is good for all of us other Wisconsin area artists.

May I submit that Tom Uttech’s exhibit is of unplanned assistance to all of us artists working in this region? While few of us have the record and/or success that Tom has had, his emergence brings some recognition to our sometimes overlooked Midwest culture. He is an example of what can be accomplished, and of what other fine art may exist here that is also “worthy” of exhibiting at MAM. Each of us can point out other artists from our Wisconsin who have mighty talents. They have not all been seen by David Gordon or by those others at MAM who hold powers in decision making.

We have become painfully aware that MAM took directions away from exhibiting Wisconsin artists starting in 1995 and continuing under David’s direction. In fact, David has been vocally adamant concerning a refusal to show WI artists...unless they have made a national reputation. He has said, “Don’t hold your breath”.

We can only surmise that he is voicing the opinion of his Board of Supervisors as well.

Tom Uttech’s exhibit was confirmed before David came to town, and happily the new Director found it worthwhile to let it proceed. The fruits of the efforts of Tom and staff members of MAM are abundantly apparent as the MAM exhibit hall is filled with truly great paintings of a mystical Northwoods...Nay, Universal variety, skilled and insightful.

Perhaps it is still a pipe dream...but would that the Milwaukee Art Museum could see itself clear to offer at least a curator selected exhibit every five years which would present their opinion of the best of WI art...more artists from our region could be nurtured and recognized by a broader American public. Sadly, David has already turned this idea down more than once.

There is no doubt that the Milwaukee Art Museum is the premiere venue in this state that can truly put our best artists on to a world class stage. Some artists here deserve that opportunity, and the artists of our region should be aided wherever possible by those that can.

Is it not provincial in itself to believe that truly good art has to emerge elsewhere before it is shown in MAM? Must MAM decision makers be followers and parody what others raise to their attention, or can these same decision makers break some trail on their own?

This exhibit will not draw the same numbers of people that came to see a Leonardo painting...but hopefully it can do nearly as well as a Brooks Steven’s show. That exhibit last year brought in large crowds to see the design work of that Wisconsin artist...and the show had some extra bells and whistles to attract viewer.

Hopefully all of you will attend this show, not only to support Tom, but to provide support for WI art in general. David and his Board will be looking at head counts to help prove that this exhibit was worthwhile putting on.

Heartfelt congratulations to Tom Uttech and MAM for the especially high quality exhibit of Tom’s work. This show deserves to be seen by highbrows and lowbrows...by children and their parents.

And for regional art supporters, of course assist the smaller venues that show obvious interest in our regional artists. The West Bend Art Museum, The Charles Allis Art Museum, the Rahr-West in Manitowoc, The Anderson Art Center in Kenosha, The Plymouth Art Association, the Wisconsin Academy Gallery, the numerous college galleries...and so on. To prove their value and accomplish their missions, they need our attendance and contributions.

Another man’s opinion here... an op ed of sorts.

by Michael Davidson
I couldn’t be more pleased that the Milwaukee Art Museum has taken the approach not to show contemporary art on the basis of it’s place of origin. I’m joyfully aware that MAM has a place in the community showing the best art from anywhere on the world stage. “Best” in my book would hopefully be defined using criteria such as; relevant, challenging, provocative, insightful, and even- gasp!- (breaking out those ol’ modernist adages) authentic and original. For a major institution like MAM, local should not be on the list of exhibit worthy standards. If something is local it shouldn’t be left out if it fits the bigger bill, however it isn’t a vigorous replacement for quality. As an artist I want to see what is best out there in the world, not because the artists live in my neighborhood, but because they are creating amazing things no matter where they are from.

It does me no good to see things taking up space at MAM that are a better fit for other venues. The museum serves me best as a local artist by bringing in truly amazing exhibits to my home town, rather than offering a token opportunity that can be sought elsewhere. Saying the art museum ought to exhibit Wisconsin artists for the sake of their Wisconsiness every 5 years or so, is like saying Mitchell Field ought to only operate flights within the cheese curtain during that same period. Is there a place for regionally themed exhibits? Of course there is, but there are other venues which better serve the artists of this community by providing that opportunity. Trying to be all things to all people the museum waters down it’s integrity, not to mention it’s budget. By freeing the museum of unnecessary and unbefitting tasks, those opportunities are opened up for other institutions. Is it too far fetched to imagine that the closing off of the opportunity to hang in MAM might in some way have contributed to more innovative galleries opening in this town?

You want to show in the museum? Earn it through quality, not place of residence. David Gordon, thankfully, has closed the back door. And by doing so serves the artists of this community in a way fitting a truly world class institution. Thank You Mr. Gordon.

Artistically I wouldn’t place Uttech’s work on a pedestal “several marks above most of us in this region”. Viewing these paintings feels much like downing a bowl of Captain Crunch; tastes childishly good for a moment, then altogether way too sweet, indulgent, and ultimately not very satisfying. Finally all I’m left with is a scratchy feeling at the roof of my mouth and a sugary sick tummy. My artistic and intellectual appetite craves more substance.

I’ll submit an alternative example of a Wisconsin success; Santiago Cucullu. Mr. Cucullu was part of a group exhibit at innova, and was shown in the recent Whitney Biennial. Oops, did I say he was a Wisconsin success? I meant to say he is a success period, without the qualifier. He just happens to live here, and makes truly engaging, provocative, insightful and challenging art.

Editors note: The work of Santiago Cucullu can be found at: www.juliafriedman.com/work_cucullu.html

Another take on this issue

by Kent Mueller
Well, here’s another take on this issue. Someone who travels a lot voiced the following complaint to me about art museums in general; he is always disappointed when he doesn’t find a local component in the museum. Every museum has its checklist of artists they must have, and since they usually buy at the height of an artist’s trendiness, they often pay a high price for whatever they can get. Not every David Salle in every generalist art museum is a masterpiece, but they MUST have a David Salle, or whomever. If you go from city to city, it all starts to have that dependable sameness of fast food restaurants.

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but you know for a fact there is talent in Cinncinnatti, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, St. Louis, etc. There are things happening there, but you would never know it from the art museums. There is no reason on earth why MAM shouldn’t have a local or regional gallery, and I don’t see how in any way, shape or form, to do so would diminish its mission to show the best in as many fields of art as possible.

Museums should not only be a resource for the residents of an area, a gateway to the wonderful world of art for us backwoods types, but it should also be a gateway to the best work of the area for visitors from outside. Sometimes fear of provincialism is the most provincial thing of all.

If anyone is deserving of a MAM show, Uttech certainly is. Opinions regarding his art are simply subjective since he’s been given the imprimatur of outside validation (itself fraught with problems). I don’t think anyone is not going to MAM ever again because they showed an orange moose by a “local” artist (who happens to have a national profile).

And talent alone doesn’t count. In my subjective opinion, Roy Staab is the greatest artist Wisconsin has ever produced, better than Georgia O’Keefe, better that Frank Lloyd Wright, but he’ll never have a show at MAM because no trustee would ever knowingly invite him to a polite cocktail party. He’s good enough for the MAM collection, but a little too wild for that lawn party in Mequon.

Response to Kent Mueller

by Michael Davidson
interesting take, thanks. I’d agree with the menu approach being problematic. Every restaurant needs it’s roast chicken- or David Salle- or whatever the current flavor is, and often good money is thrown after mediocre works.

I think the reason on earth MAM ought not to have a regional gallery is the same reason it need not buy an expensive second rate late 80’s artstar tear-off. There’s no reason to. Hit the galleries. Don’t galleries provide the best opportunity to see whatever is, or isn’t happening locally? Of course, depends on the quality of the galleries, but I usually find more diversity and more representation of a given artists work than a token example in a regional gallerry in a museum. Really- when’s the last time you found a regional gallery in a museum that really honked your horn? Let me know- I’ll be there in a flash. Otherwise “local” for the sake of “local” ofetn and unfortunately supplants “quality”. If something is quality and my neighbor made it, let’s see it in MAM- of course! If there’s a vivid vibrant Milwaukee zeitgeist, point me the way, please!

Sincerely, I’m curious- where is this “local” museum quality talent hiding around here? I’ve been to gallery nights, group shows in and around Milwaukee, the various University Galleries and regional institutions and have only seen a glimpse of really great stuff at innova (under Doroshenko and Knode).

I’ve not seen the caliber talent around here I’d rate up there with the likes of say; Luc Tuymans, Tom Friedman, Sally Mann, Gabriel Orozco, Maurizo Cattelan, Julie Mehretu, Toba Khedoori, Moira Dryer, Albert Oehlen, Stan Douglas, Gillian Wearing, Roxy Paine, Jason Rhodes, Tim Hawkinson, Shira Sikander, etc., etc.

In fact I was even to the museum and didn’t see museum quality talent, all I (subjectively) saw was a dumb painting of a (subjectively) dumb (subjectively) orange moose. National status confirmed, sure, but that fella that claims to be the Master of Light has national status too and is just as good at making eye candy.