Stella Cretek

A refreshing change

By - Jan 11th, 2008 02:52 pm
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Images courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum

Chicago. Metzker, Ray K. American, b. 1931. 1958. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert A. Fine
Chicago. Metzker, Ray K. American, b. 1931. 1958. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert A. Fine

When I finally visited the Ramirez exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Baker-Rowland Galleries were jammed with students, oldsters and in-betweeners. I managed to snag MAM’s Executive Director David Gordon and ask him why the glorious Windhover Hall was plastered with cheesy banners touting upcoming shows. After all, can’t people get information from the “information” desks? Apparently not. Gordon thinks folks want information fast and quick, so I guess cheesy banners are currently arty junk food. Anyway, Mr.Gordon said the banners were his idea, and that was that. One can only hope we don’t go into “banner overload,” though in my mind, we already have.

The best part of my visit was a trip up to the Mezzanine area to view the Museum’s collection of photographs, which were formerly (and disgracefully) installed on an alley-like wall on the main floor. I always thought it was an insult to have them exhibited in such an out-of-the-way space, as if they didn’t deserve better. Now that they are on the north wall of the Mezzanine, I can more fully appreciate the collection that has been gathering strength for fifty years. Lisa Hostetler, associate curator of photographs, shepherds the rotating displays, and her snug office is appropriately beyond the wooden doors leading to the Print Room.

Ms. Hostetler took time to chat with me about how works are acquired for the collection; basically, she considers many and selects a few she feels are best suited for acquisition. Her selections are then presented to a core group of devoted individuals who support the art of photography at the museum, among them the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation, which has contributed to the purchase of hundreds of photographs dating from the nineteenth century to the present. We took a stroll, albeit too brief, with Hostetler pointing out a lovely work by Wisconsin artist, Ray Metzker, one of many beauties (but not too many, as photographs, like all forms of fine art, demand room to breathe) which will be up until February 20. It’s a plus to view them in a serene space away from the fray of sensory stimulation directly below, and if you are a student of photography, or perhaps someone curious about the art of the daguerreotype, the area has several glass cases with artifacts and explanations about the 19th century process. Another nearby case held an exquisite 1850’s photograph, “Young Girl.” By way of contrast, be sure and take a look at “Nancy,” an amazing Chuck Close painting, very like a huge photograph, crooked teeth and all, on the first floor.

There’s more. On February 9, Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945, opens in the Baker-Rowland Gallery. Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and coordinated at MAM by Ms. Hostetler, these 160 photographs should knock your socks off. The show runs through May 4.

Distortion No. 168, Paris. Kertész, André.  American, b. Hungary, 1894-1985.  1933. Gelatin silver print.  Floyd and Josephine Segel Collection,  Gift of Wis-Pak Foods, Inc.
Distortion No. 168, Paris. Kertész, André. American, b. Hungary, 1894-1985. 1933. Gelatin silver print. Floyd and Josephine Segel Collection, Gift of Wis-Pak Foods, Inc.

Perhaps someday, hopefully soon, MAM’s photography collection will have a room of its own. The former alley space was a bomb, the Mezzanine is far better and smartly curated and arrayed, but one has to ask: why NOT give photos a room of their own? The glittering Glass and Studio Craft space (#31 on the map, Main Level) would be perfect, would it not?

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