Stella Cretek

The Herd

By - May 5th, 2008 02:52 pm
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For many years there’s been a bull (okay, it’s a herd) loose in Milwaukee. The herd snorts mightily, charges at those it deems “powerful,” — i.e. those with money, position, and/or those it views as snubbing art produced in Wisconsin. The allegations frequently target the prestigious Milwaukee Art Museum. It’s a wearisome tale that began when the museum closed the small gallery (Cudahy Gallery of Wisconsin Art) housing the works of state artists. The herd continues to tote a chip despite the fact that the gallery closed over a decade ago.

One could even say the herd charges at any and every red flag that gets in the way: curators, art critics, editors, executive directors of museums, gallerists, and all others who dare offer opinions or make decisions on what is or isn’t worth writing about, adding to a museum collection, or curating a show around. The snorters would have us believe that all art (made in Wisconsin) is worth writing about, adding to a museum collection, or curating a show around. The herd enjoys licking wounds.

The herd prefers grazing fields of green, the greener the better. When not grazing elysian fields, they raise their collective heads and try to fool us into believing that artists who make art in Wisconsin are given the short end of the art stick.

But MAM is only one local venue purported to stonewall art made in Wisconsin. Dem Bones investigated other local venues: The Haggerty Museum of Art, the Charles Allis/Villa Terrace Museums and UW- Milwaukee’s Inova, and they all included generous portions of art produced by Wisconsinites. Dem Bones then searched hither and yon for local galleries that have a hidden mission to exclude Wisconsin-made art, but found none, which isn’t to say that the venues include the work of all Wisconsin artists seeking affirmation. Given what’s out there, that would be a disaster. In effect, the persons in charge of decisions, make decisions. It’s their job for better or for worse.

Ideally, persons defined as “art critics” make their living by setting the art bar as high as possible, for what good is it to set it so low that anyone and everyone gets a gold star on their resume? Self-esteem is an earned process fueled by a solid education in the arts, hard work, discipline, and the ability to integrate various experiences into the moment of art making. Great art (who cares where it’s “made?”) happens when artists think, not when they sulk and blow smoke because they feel marginalized.

Bring on the artists from the east and west coasts; bring on the best from north and south and all points in-between. Scour the globe for artists who bring us diverse ways of “seeing.” Of course someone will have to decide what’s worth considering in a world where much isn’t worth considering. Check out The Milwaukee International Art Fair, coming soon to the Polish Falcon in Riverwest.

Former UW-Milwaukee art professor Laurence Rathsack died recently. James Auer, the Journal Sentinel’s late art critic, said that many regarded Rathsack as “the state’s Mark Rothko or Robert Motherwell.” That said, the professor, a master watercolorist, was wise enough to extend his experiences beyond compartmentalization, and though I don’t speak for the late professor, it’s highly unlikely that he appreciated being pigeon-holed.

Categories: Dem Bones

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