Kat Murrell

“Framing a Decade” shines new light on MAM’s collection

By - Dec 11th, 2010 04:00 am
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Sam Francis “First Stone” (1960). Photo credit: John R. Glembin

What were you doing ten years ago? If you posed that question to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the answer would have to be ‘transforming.’ It’s been ten years since the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion put MAM on the architectural map. A lot has happened in the ensuing decade, and an era of quiet growth is now highlighted in the new print exhibition, Framing a Decade: Acquisitions of Prints and Drawings, 2001-2011.

Max Pechstein’s “Dancer in the Mirror” (1923).Photo credit Efraim Lev-er.

As associate curator of prints and drawings, Mary Chapin is an enthusiastic promoter of works on paper. When the museum decided to put together an exhibition to highlight acquisitions in her department since 2000, Chapin was understandably excited — and subsequently amazed by the magnitude of gifts and acquisitions to pour over.

Chapin notes, “there were almost 3000 prints, drawings, posters, and artist’s books that came in during these last ten years. My job as a curator was to go from 3000 to about 58 or 59 in this show, which was really torture because there were so many things I couldn’t include.”

A daunting task, indeed. The result is a compact exhibition that makes good use of the relatively small Koss Gallery space on the museum’s mezzanine level. The works range from the 16th century to the present, organized chronologically.

Some highlights include a tour-de-force print by 17th-century French artist Claude Melan. The work, known as the Sudarium, is a reference to the veil of Veronica, upon which was said to be imprinted the image of Christ after she wiped his face.

Melan’s engraving is a detailed rendition with subtle light and shadow. The amazing nature of the work becomes apparent when you realize that it is all done with one single, continuous line. A spiral begins on the tip of the nose, and by varying the width and intensity of the line, a three dimensional face appears.

Also in the Old Master’s section is Jacques Callot’s 1628 etching The Siege of Breda, a pivotal moment in the Eighty Years’ War as it played out in the Netherlands. Mounted together, the set of six sheets takes on a monumental scale, and is uniquely installed.

In the foreground, at the bottom of the collective piece, Callot shows us figures — horses, camps, regal people and ready fighters. But as your eye travels further back, the perspective shifts to an overhead view, as though you’re flying over the intricately detailed landscape and the activities within it. To aid in viewing, the work juts out from the wall on an angle, an admirable aid to viewing the odd perspectives.

Fernand Léger’s “The City” (1920). Photo credit John R. Glembin.

While each piece may have some sort of historical tale, one of the real stories of the exhibition is the legacy of donations. The quality and variety of the works speaks to the generosity Milwaukee art patrons have shown over the past ten years. Names such Sanford Towart, the Hockerman Charitable Trust, and Maurice and Esther Leah Ritz Collection appear multiple times, and this highlights an often overlooked part of museums, as most collections are largely dependent on private donations.

There are also acquisitions made through the contributions of the Print Forum, a member group of the museum. One such example is a work by Judy Pfaff. It was a commissioned work for the Print Forum, with the first edition of the work going to the MAM collection.

One of the newest works in the exhibition has yet to be hung. This past October, MAM purchased, with funds designated in memory of two donors, a work by German Expressionist Ludwig Meidner. The new addition, as of this writing, had arrived from Munich and was acclimating in the museum’s vault, in preparation for a planned installation the following Tuesday.

It’s been an active decade for the museum, and with the coming Meidner, looks like the trend will continue.

Framing a Decade: Acquisitions of Prints and Drawings, 2001-2011 continues through April 3, 2011. The Prints and Drawings Study Room is also available to interested visitors. Appointments to see works in the study room are welcome and can be made by calling the museum, 414-224-3200.

Categories: A/C Feature 1, Art

0 thoughts on ““Framing a Decade” shines new light on MAM’s collection”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Kat. Nicely done. — Tom

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