A closer look
The winners of the 2011 Nohl Fellowship are: American Fantasy Classics (Brittany Ellenz, Liza Pflughoft, Alec Regan and Oliver Sweet), Richard Galling, Hans Gindlesberger and Sarah Luther, in the Emerging Artist category. Each will receive fellowships of $5,000. Nicolas Lampert, Brad Lichtenstein and Sonja Thomsen, the 2011 Established Artist winners, will receive $15,000 fellowships. (Santiago Cucullu, Greg Klassen, Keith Nelson and Will Pergl were finalists in the Established Artist category.)
The Nohl Fellowship is Milwaukee’s only established individual artist grant. The funds come from the estate of Mary Nohl, a Fox Point artist who died in 2001. Nohl’s $10 million fortune was given to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and according to Polly Morris, Nohl Fellowship program administrator, it was clear that the monies would be allocated to the arts.
In 2001, Morris was the director of Danceworks in Milwaukee, which she co-founded with Mary Newton. She also worked as a consultant and was studying models and capacities for funding for choreographers. When Morris learned of the Nohl money from friend and committee member Karen Spahn, she suggested to Spahn that the money go towards grants for individual artists in Milwaukee. The proposal soon became a reality, with the help of Mark Lawson, Director of Galleries at MIAD, Marilu Knode, the curator at Inova at the time, Lee Ann Garrison of UWM, Bruce Knackert and Britt Salvesen of MAM.
Morris developed the awards process. Each year, area artists answer a call for submissions. Outside jurors convene in Milwaukee to select Fellows for the next year. The selection process includes visits to artists’ studios. The awards stimulate creation of new works to be shown in a group exhibition at the end of the fellowship year. The catalog from the show is disseminated nationally and internationally.
The goals of the Nohl Fellowship include generating new bodies of work by outstanding local artists, helping those artists to continue to live and work in Milwaukee, bringing their work to a larger audience, and fostering connections between Milwaukee artists and curators in other cities.
This year, the eighth round of Nohl Fellowships attracted submissions from 143 artists, a fairly typical number. Submissions come in the form of an artist statement and digital images and range from Lego sculptures to fine woodworking to cutting-edge painting, filmmaking and installations.
The 2011 winners reflect national and international trends in art-making.
Emerging Artist winner Sarah Gail Luther, whose work is interdisciplinary, commented about her approach to installation. In one of her submissions, she captures a photograph of an installation of wildflowers, gathered from various neighborhoods around Milwaukee, displayed in humble convenience-store cans.
“You can be a painter with just about anything,” Luther said. She reflected on her studies at Kansas Art Institute, where she and her peers engaged in multi-form art education.
“Nobody was really just painting,” she said. “Art can be a hybrid of all these different kinds of studies.”
Luther’s wildflower piece comes across as part landscape, part living, painterly still-life, playfully exploding its compositional elements into the third dimension.
Another of Luther’s submission pieces, Sunset Theatre, was an event represented only by a photograph of people gathered on a hill in downtown Milwaukee, seated on folding chairs, watching a sunset.
Luther knows about the challenges of representing her work effectively. She submitted to two previous Nohl juries. She was a finalist in 2009 and 2010. Her work has a contagious reverence for the mundane. She creates sentimental playgrounds that are gentle, buoyant and persistent.
Luther’s self-declared “unfailing, intuitive optimism” is a powerful force. According to Polly Morris, not all artists who submit fare as well. Some apply once, never to apply again. Even some winners find themselves struggling to come to terms with the high expectations that surround the Nohl prize.
Nelson’s work consists of paintings made from objects arranged together in collages that engender a kind of “push/pull” of object and surface. The pieces are soothing to the eye. They evoke materiality less strictly than Donald Judd, but still seek to remove “the hand” from the images.
Nelson, a full-time preparator at the Milwaukee Art Museum and a MIAD graduate, has moved away from his more formal background. The works he submitted to the Nohl this year depart from past works, which were tight and precisely planned.
“Painting isn’t competing with itself,” he said. “Painting can be anything.”
Nohl Fellowship winners and finalists may be rewarded because of their capacity to propel post-modern art modes with confidence and clarity. They also, in turn, contribute to the Fellowship itself by stretching and re-defining its limits.
American Fantasy Classics, a quartet of young artists, won an Emerging Artist prize this year. The group began as a gallery but evolved into a studio “out of necessity,” said AFC artist Alec Regan, as opportunities arose to focus on works for other artists. AFC works in print, painting, woodworking, sculpture and gallery curation.
“I want to master everything.” said Oliver Sweet, only half joking, overlooking a tower sculpture of pint glasses and a Pabst can.
Right now, the group offers clients and collaborators time, resources and the unique capacities of four talented artists who are “fickle by nature,” according to Sweet.
The project of American Fantasy Classics is emergent, somewhat nebulous and a definitively magnetic one.
What’s their next move?
“A moon gym for Scott Reeder’s film, Moondust.” Says Sweet. Reeder’s work is currently on display at Chicago’s MCA. An excerpt of Moondust will show at the MCA on Jan. 24.
“I’m not sure about a lot (for the future),” adds Regan. “But there’ll be a lot of jungle excursions.”
He’s serious. In the coming weeks, half of the AFC studio population will travel to Indonesia and then to Texas for an extended stay.
Richard Galling, another winning Emerging Artist and a teacher at MIAD, sees grants for artists as a professional’s “necessity.” He points out that cities like Chicago and Milwaukee are getting drained of artists who are on the move to places like New York and L.A.
Galling considers it a luxury to live and work in Milwaukee, where one doesn’t have to “be stressed about the competition, as they are in New York and Los Angeles.”
Most of Galling’s Nohl submissions were abstract paintings, rendered in colors that scream nostalgic of the 80s and 90s. He’s interested in decorative abstraction, but seen through a critical framework. Galling’s paintings are enlivened with games and applied logic. The images involve signs or gestures of negation. Galling describes the forms as “beautiful successions of variables, unraveling in a situation.”
Galling, like many of the Nohl Fellowship winners, is an artist whose ideas are informed by his other pursuits and contributions to the broad landscape of Milwaukee’s culture. Galling also composes electronic and house music and DJs under the name Richard Richard.
The aim of artists who apply to the Nohl Fellowship must be to prove their application, says Polly Morris. Morris works year-round on the Fellowship because she is a “believer in outside audiences.”
Updated: Nov. 8, 2:40 p.m.
The 2011 Suitcase Export Fund will open on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. Applications will be available for download here. Additional photos of the artists and their work, visit the Lynden Sculpture Garden flickr page here. TCD also looked at the exhibitions from the 2010 Nohl Fellowship winners. For that story, click here.