Judith Ann Moriarty

Shoot-out at the corner of Superior & Russell

By - Sep 25th, 2007 02:52 pm
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Artist Jimmy von Milwaukee (JVM) has had his share of ups and downs as a gallerist known for hot times in colorful venues around town, for example his hit-and-run stint as the proprietor of the moveable feasts like Leo Feldman, River Rat Gallery (formerly staged in narrow alleys) and, lest you forget, his annual irreverent Xmas Craft Show. 2007 wasn’t so hot for JVM, who battled AIDS and coped with the death of his dog Spot, who could jump through hoops and often entertained during his master’s wild soirees. Call him a “survivor” – JVM is back at it, this time to curate a River Rat Gallery Night & Day exhibit (Cowboys & Indians), opening October 19 (through January 3/08) at the Palomino, 2491 S. Superior St., in Bay View. Gallery Day can be dull, but if you arrive at 10 a.m. and stick it out, you can rustle some brunch grub.

Jimmy Von Milwaukee at the Palomino

I’ve known JVM for several decades and early-on wondered about his sanity, and the sanity of the artists he exhibited. Were they eccentrics hankering for publicity, or were they bona-fide artists seeking a place to call their own? In retrospect, I believe they were a bit of each. Despite, or more likely because of his audacious approach to art, JVM managed to charm the late great art critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, James Auer, and the media has been feasting on him ever since. He’s 51 now and his edges have softened a bit – but only a bit. Some see him as Milwaukee’s “Andy Warhol.” That may be a stretch, but Warhol was no slouch when it came to cowboys and Indians.

Andy Warhol, Double Elvis, 1963

So what can you expect when the exhibit kicks up dust at the Palomino during that most revered of events – Gallery Night & Day? Will it be just another “outsider artist” show, or will it rise above that useless label, a label more or less put to rest when Miracles of the Spirit: Folk, Art, and Stories from Wisconsin, a major book, was published in 2006. One of the artists who received full coverage in Miracles, Bob Watt, will make his Palomino debut with paintings of Indians. There will be an interpretation of Brokeback Mountain and a Warholian salute to Roy Rogers by printmaker Randy James, a hand-crafted “Smallpox Blanket” by Chris Ward, photographs of cattle castration and branding by James Brozek, plus more stuff for your saddlebags: Heather and Jerome Voelske’s cowboy-themed glass items installed on the interior of the north facing bank of windows, Rebecca Tanner’s soft-sculpture Winchester rifles, paintings by Lemonie Fresh, and a sculpture by Matt Fink, known in these parts for his stinging social commentary. JVM has legions of fans and a tendency to exhibit too much work, and the Palomino is already awash with cowboy kitsch, but maybe in this case, more will be more. I’m betting on it.

“Cowboy” from a working ranch, Mimbres, New Mexico. Jim Brozek.

Another artist keen on horses and riders was Martin Ramirez, a self-taught visionary who spent much of his life institutionalized. When I received the brochure detailing an exhibition of his work at the Milwaukee Art Museum (October 6 – January 13, 2008), I noticed a drawing, “Untitled (Horse and Rider), 1954,” in which the rider totes a gun and sports cowboy regalia. Ramirez fashioned many images of people astride horses. Imagining oneself astride a steed is a good form of escapism, is it not?

Martin Ramirez, Untitled (Horse and Rider) 1954, (detail). Crayon and pencil on pieced paper.

While we’re on the subject of cowboys, be advised you should travel north to Sheboygan and ogle “The Rhinestone Cowboy” installation at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. If ever there was a cowboy with class, it was Loy Bowlin.

Loy Bowlin, untitled (embellished suit) c. 1975-1985; polyester, paint, rhinestones, glitter, mixed media; John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, Gift of William E. Bowlin.

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