Baubles, bangles and art
It’s December 22, and a steady stream of shoppers is filling the splendiferous gift shop at the Milwaukee Art Museum. A chap from Chicago, intent on buying quite a bit, rushes outside the shop to take advantage of the free gift wrapping.
One of Milwaukee’s finest artists, Chrisanne Robertson, a survivor of years of employment at George Watts, is busy signing charming ornaments. Made in China by artists who paint her designs on the inside of the glass baubles (a trick I’m still scratching my head over), they depict whimsical scenes of Milwaukee, including one of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Over the years, I purchased several of her glass plates embellished with similar scenes, but this year I’m here to buy an $18 ornament, complete with gift box.
Robertson wears a coral-colored wool suit in the Jackie-O style, genuine vintage from the Camelot years. Her wrists, neck and fingers glitter with crystal jewelry and outrageous bling. Jean Roberts Guiquierre (her exhibition of superb paintings is at the Portrait Society Gallery through January 4), strolls in, and Robertson hands her a bag of vintage items for Guiquierre’s daughter, Clara, a 12-year-old interested in making her own clothing. We three chat about art. The lady who rings up my sale says she is no longer in the “art consulting” business, but her Denver daughter is, and she recently sold a Richard Taylor sculpture. He’s a local success, an artist who consistently sells his sculptures.
I eye a box of Robertson-designed notepaper, and one of her original paintings, and think of how she and the museum have forged a relationship. I think about the many local artists whose work lives in MAM’s collections. Reginald Baylor comes to mind. Stonehouse. Uttech. Mary Louis Schumacher, in a recent article in the Journal Sentinel, said that MAM has turned its back on Milwaukee’s avant-garde. I am mighty confused about what exactly the avant-garde label means.
Before my escort (Jimmy von Milwaukee, wearing a dynamite red plaid Pendleton vintage jacket from Goodwill) and I leave, we take a last long look at the Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper exhibition in the Baker/Rowland Galleries. It runs through Jan. 8. Von Milwaukee has visited the show five times, and we both head for Monet’s Apres la pluie, an 1868 pastel. Small and sparsely elegant, in the lower right hand corner of the landscape where the rainstorm swept through, is a brushy clump of trees forecasting Monet’s later Impressionism.
As we study the exhibition, I remember that the Impressionists were avant-garde in their day, which is to say they were ahead of the pack, leading the way while exploring art possibilities. “Art is either plagiarism or revolution,” is the message I see emblazoned on a grey t-shirt a lady is wearing, so I ask myself, are the anointed avant-garde in our town really cutting-edge? If so, it’s fair to say that they stand on the shoulders of those no longer among the living. I believe the “revolution” of today’s avant-garde has much to do with understanding and using the tools at hand. Mary Louise Schumacher, in the Art City column, seems to suggest that it also involves a populist approach to art, i.e., a way of addressing social problems, not by hanging art in museums, but by bringing it to the people and underpinning it with historical and current references.
That’s hardly a new idea.
By the way: Roberston will be signing her ornaments at Christmas Eve mass at Three Holy Women Catholic Church, at Brady & Humboldt. Bless her beautiful soul.