Brian Jacobson

SITE unveils Fall 2007 installations

By - Oct 22nd, 2007 02:52 pm

Much of Milwaukee’s art revival is concentrated in the condo-ready Third Ward, so it seems a brave feat that a two-block stretch – beginning at the struggling, yet bustling 3500 block of West North Avenue – is seeing a revival of its own. It’s strange and wonderful to see art and vitality on an arterial street that doesn’t share the business or attention of its East Side and Wauwatosa bookends and this installation, organized by IN:SITE, purveyors of public art, features artists Laura Gorzek, Chris Murphy and Kasia Drake.

The untitled exhibit opened on October 27, and each of the three installation promises to provoke and inspire.

“The thing about public art that I don’t always like is when it advocates a certain point of view,” says Laura Gorzek, a photography-based artist currently attending UWM. “I’d like to keep it more open-ended … letting [viewers] draw from their own experiences, their own level of dealing with something.”

Gorzek’s piece, Surface v. Secret, incorporates elements of her photographic works on four vinyl-constructed banners across a large 8-by-24 foot billboard at 3615 W. North Ave. With her artwork she hopes to address women’s identities and self-perception – what is apparent and what lies hidden. Each piece demands multiple viewings to grasp the complex, layered narrative thread.

“I thought it would be interesting to try this – most of what I do is more intimate and private. So juxtaposing this to a public space, it’s like making private life more universal,” says Gorzek.

Chris Murphy’s piece, Choros, has been gestating for awhile. Murphy watched day after day since last summer as stories of Milwaukee’s homicides racked up on the news.

“Someone else is shot again. I mean, I lived in Oakland, California and it didn’t seem this bad,” says Murphy – a master electrician, artist and father. “I’m a very 3-D person, and I thought about ways to put a face on it.”

Choros – Greek for the chorus of masked players in tragic plays who offer background or commentary – is composed of scores of semi-translucent masks molded from the faces of real volunteer subjects. The gauzy masks, made of quick-drying water-based resins, are mounted on a maroon backdrop at 3611 W. North Avenue, each lit from behind by LEDs. They represent each person killed by gunshots in the city this year. At night the sculpture takes on an ethereal quality.

“I just want to have [the viewer] acknowledge it as a first step,” says Murphy. “I want to humanize the whole thing instead of victims being a whole number. These people are not going to show up to the dinner table – they’re gone.”

The final project, by fabric artist Kasia Drake and 11 collaborators, continues the international You Are Beautiful campaign started by anonymous artists in Chicago. It is installed in the long-standing Milwaukee Paint Store windows at 3532 W. North Avenue. YAB’s mission is to “reach beyond ourselves as individuals to make a difference by creating moments of positive self realization,” according to the group’s website.

“I think sometimes people forget simple things,” says Drake. “They are unique, and to make a statement like that, to get other people to think about it … is really interesting.”

Milwaukee’s latest banner is a fiber-based rendition of the phrase. Each letter is crafted by traditional means (sewn, quilted, felted, knit and woven), but the artists were allowed to creatively interpret the message.

“I really encouraged people to do whatever style they wanted to do, with the idea that it’s being put into a [public] space and that it should look vibrant,” Drake says. “I wanted to incorporate a nice diversity there.”

IN:SITE is led by Pegi Taylor, Lauren Bandari, and Amy Mangrich, along with a slew of volunteers and staff who work on logistics, funding, promotion and site management. Bandari says the future of the group looks promising as their web presence evolves, international artists apply and more neighborhood groups understand the mission – allowing for more temporary art pieces and grants to emerge.

“This city certainly could use more foot traffic for art than just the Third Ward,” Bandari states. “We’re open to installing anywhere. We love more of the spontaneity and not as much of the bureaucracy that comes from permanent public art.” VS

IN:SITE’s fourth cycle premieres on October 27 in cooperation and with support from the Gateway Business Improvement District and the North Avenue Community Development Corporation. Murphy’s site will get special support from Holzmann and Associates Property Management for his illuminated sculpture. The pieces will be on display for six months. There will be a walking tour of the new exhibitions on October 27 at 1:00 pm departing from the Subway at 3434 W. North Avenue. For more information, visit

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