Staycation, dismay-cation! If you’ve been stuck in the city too long and need to hit the road for some fresh air, new scenery and visual stimulation, here are some worthwhile art offerings in other locales. Far enough to feel like you’ve gone somewhere, but close enough to be kind to the pocketbook.
José Bedia, Ojalá se Hundan los Cielos (I Wish the Skies Would Fall), 2005, on view at the John Michael Kohler Art Center.
Take a drive up to the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan for an absolute stunner of a show. American Story sprawls over the entire space of the JKMAC, inside and out. The central premise of the exhibition is the American experience as expressed by 15 artists working in nearly as many different types of media and style. They speak with the voice of a Navajo medicine man, a self-described hobo, a Hmong immigrant artist working in textiles, a Cuban refugee with epic canvases, a Midwestern painter taking on the realism of farm folk and many others.
This lively variety is a metaphor for the diversity in American society, and in these days of divisiveness and discourteousness in political debate, it feels good to move through a space that celebrates coexistence in individuality and unity. As Leslie Umberger writes in her catalog essay, “American Story asks us to rethink the eighteenth century metaphor of America as a ‘melting pot,’ or a place where a new culture would become and even blend all of its ingredients. Americans’ reverently held tenets of freedom and democracy worked, to a large degree, against the merging of cultures, and, instead gave rise to a country where individuals could retain communal beliefs and folkways and, at the same time, craft distinctive American identities.”
This exhibition is more than worth the hour-long drive up I-43. It’s memorable, moving, and one that no one should miss. If you plan on heading up on Friday, August 14, you’ll be just in time for The Big Sheboygan Shebang. Pre-show festivities kick-off at 5 p.m., with the Shebang itself starting up at 7:30 p.m., featuring vaudeville acts, musicians, and an all-around comedy extravaganza. This is a ticketed performance, so be sure to check their website for more details.
Sangre Para Sangre, Gregory Martens, Four-color photo lithograph, 2008. Courtesy of the Museum of Wisconsin Art
Also a short hour away, The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend hosts an elegant display of art from the 1830s to the present day in its permanent collection, and changing exhibitions featuring established and emerging figures in the Wisconsin art world. Current shows include Sonji Hunt in the “One from Wisconsin” series, and a rich exhibition of artists associated with panorama painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Milwaukee.
The current main exhibition is also a study in diversity; in this case, approaches to printmaking as showcased in From One, Many: Contemporary Wisconsin Prints. Most artists typically have only one or two works on view, making this a rapid-fire survey of what print makers in the area are up to. Few words can collectively describe this show, but flat space, strong color and a penchant for pattern come through as predominant features. Subject matter ranges from the benignly decorative to images imbued with poignancy and symbolism.
A prime example of a sophisticated, suggestive, and loaded approach to imagery is found in Dorota Biczel Nelson’s 7 Years of Bodily Maintenance and Consumption (2007). Biczel Nelson takes the cake for most pieces in the show, as her work is a collective of 35 small prints organized in an orderly grid. Her stark, repeated images take on the aura of specimens, like rare fossils preserved for important research. Lean closer, look closer and the subject becomes clearer. It is a study of repetition, action, inaction, the complex intersection of control and physicality of human nature, needs, and desires.
In addition to all this art, the MWA will host their Sweet Summer Eve Celebration on Thursday, August 27 from 5 to 8pm. Artists Sonji Hunt and Larry Basky will be on hand for creative demonstrations, and music will be provided by the Big Cedar Bluegrass Band. For details, see the Museum of Wisconsin Art website.
GO WEST, MY FRIEND
Works by Peter Kursel and Richard Knight at the James Watrous Gallery, Madison, on view through August 16.
Madison is filling up with students again, enlivening the area around the capitol even more. Particularly along State Street and surrounding thoroughfares, you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars and purveyors of all sorts of interesting goods. And yes indeed, there is art, too. Visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and their recently opened exhibition, From Nature: Realist works in the MMoCA’s Permanent Collection, and stop in at the James Watrous Gallery, located on the third floor of the Overture Center for the Arts. The current show is quickly ending (Transpastoral / OBJECTS and drawing, closing August 16), but it’s a worthy part of a Madison adventure.
The exhibition is a dual solo show, featuring Peter Kursel of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Richard Knight of Milwaukee. Kursel’s portion is titled Transpastoral, and if that name somehow carries shades of sci-fi fantasy, you’re not terribly far off from the visuals. Weird suggestive landscapes with lumpy hills and soupy swamps create backdrops for floating figures and pasta-like entanglements. These twisty linear treatments bring to mind the work of T. L. Solien, recently seen at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Current Tendencies. Could this be a new form of Wisconsin art, ex-pasta-ism, perhaps? Yes, I jest. But lines give way to amorphous forms, things that look like raw ginger, disembodied teeth, DNA spirals and hexagonal structures. Miscellaneous flames add to the otherworldly oddity.
Whereas Kursel veers toward a Twilight Zone tinged with illustrative fancy, Richard Knight holds comfortably to the intellectual realm in his portion of the show, “OBJECTS and drawing.” His large abstract paintings seem to speak in a covert language. It’s like listening to someone talk to themselves in secret code, but poetically and carefully. This is not art created as a spectator sport, but as a hermetic, internal exploration.
The smaller canvases tell a different story, individual things against bright colors. There’s a process that seems to describe essential qualities, but without the intensive depth of the larger compositions. Augmenting all this is a floor installation, a strange array of things, like someone cleaned out a boathouse or garage. There is a relationship here, between the shapes of these objects and the works on the walls, but it’s a coy relationship. It could be the vantage point, as I feel like I’m looming over a bunch of oversized toys when looking at the items on the floor. It’s a feeling of dominance, which is actually an unusual place to be in the artwork/viewer relationship. Art usually has the upper hand.
John Michael Kohler Art Center
608 New York Avenue, Sheboygan
Sat. – Sun. 10am – 4pm
Free admission, but donations welcome.
Museum of Wisconsin Art
300 S. 6th Avenue, West Bend
Wed. – Sat. 10am – 4:30pm
Sunday 1pm – 4:30pm
Admission $5 adults / $3 seniors, full-time students, and youth ages 12-18
Free for kids under 12 years and museum members
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State Street, Madison
Tues. – Thurs. 12 pm – 5 pm
Fri. 12 pm – 8 pm
Sat. 10 am – 8 pm
Sun. 12 pm – 5 pm
James Watrous Gallery
Overture Center for the Performing Arts, 3rd Floor
201 State Street, Madison
Tues. – Thurs. 11am-5pm
Fri. – Sat. 11am-8pm