Kat Murrell

Current Tendencies with a Twist

The recently opened Current Tendencies III exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art showcases work by nine Milwaukee artists with a twist.

By - Sep 11th, 2013 12:07 am
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Current Tendencies III recently opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art. In the background installation work by Tyanna J. Buie is visible. Image courtesy Haggerty Museum of Art / Facebook.

Current Tendencies III recently opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art. In the background installation work by Tyanna J. Buie is visible. Image courtesy Haggerty Museum of Art / Facebook.

The recently opened Current Tendencies III exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art showcases work by nine Milwaukee artists with a twist. This year’s show brings together contemporary art which is inspired by and responds to selections from the Haggerty’s permanent collection. Past and present offer their distinct voices in some interesting dialogues.

The artists in the show meld together exceptionally well, each comfortably situated in distinct areas of the gallery. Haggerty curators have installed some of the inspirational artworks from their holdings among the new works, developing a consistent thread throughout the museum. Museum director and chief curator Wally Mason says, “I think it’s impossible to find an artist who doesn’t look at other peoples work, and for us one of the things that was most important was that the artists would have to look at our collection. They don’t have that opportunity day in and day out because we don’t have permanent collection galleries. If we forced them into that by entrée into this project, then they find out the rigors of what we have, and have to address it firsthand. One of the things that I found interesting, in many cases, is that when you walk around, the most conservative part of the exhibition is our collection, not what’s living and breathing today. I found that fascinating.”

Depending on which way visitors proceed through the gallery space, Tyanna J. Buie and Evan Gruzis are the artists who are the first and last seen. For both, art offers a place of inquiry between illusion and truth.

Buie often works with printmaking on a large scale, and here she shows selected pieces with autobiographical underpinnings. To develop an installation bringing in historical art she looked at a number of objects from the Haggerty collection, and it was a selection of sliver serving pieces that sparked her memory and ideas.

Personal narrative is important to Buie’s art, and seeing the silver brought to mind anecdotes from her family history. She explained, “My mother mentioned that her upbringing had a lot to do with wealth. They were upper middle class, they owned a home in Chicago, but then after the grandparents died, that’s when the family went to pieces. I have history but no knowledge of anything in my family. People don’t pass down stories, you have to ask. I thought about how I wanted to embrace my family history and there’s a lot to do with incarceration, drug use and abuse, and the house that they [the grandparents]used to own no longer exists. It was burned down. I wanted to embrace the tension between these ideas, coming from upper middle class to having not such a good history.”

Her elegant and jewel-toned print work forms a patterned wall against which the silver serving pieces hover and glisten. Her work also delves into portraiture which she frames as distinctly personal, yet exhibiting a sense of distance. Silhouettes of relatives and images of her grandparents form a family history with an archaeological tone, as though the record of the past and details of present are yet to be uncovered, lying below the surface in untold stories.

Evan Gruzis, Assorted Cosmetics, 2013. Image courtesy Haggerty Museum of Art.

Evan Gruzis, Assorted Cosmetics, 2013. Image courtesy Haggerty Museum of Art.

Illusions of surface and notions of truth also inform the work of Evan Gruzis. He explains: “My process really stems from this idea that the gallery is a really perfect form of theatre, in that the artist can be there and it’s a static form of theatre; the audience can come and go as they please.”

A focal point in his installation features the museum’s death mask of James Joyce cast in bronze. The mask references to presence of the man, but only the surface. For all its detailed likeness, it is but a shadow of the real figure. Artifice is most notably carried into his images of cosmetics. In reality they are diminutive containers of nail polish, lipstick and the like. As large-scale still-lifes these tools of beauty become large sculptural forms, cooly lit as though ready for a Calvin Klein ad. It requires a closer look to realize these are not black and white photographs, but instead are composed of deftly painted ink on paper. Their appearance masquerades as photographs, while their reality is a keenly deft and meticulous process of hand-done application.

Tyanna J. Buie and Evan Gruzis will speak about their work and Current Tendencies III this Wednesday, September 11, at 6 p.m. in the Eckstein Hall Appellate Courtroom of Marquette Law School, located adjacent to the Haggerty. TCD will continue coverage of Current Tendencies with artist profiles and exhibition commentary on each of the artists during the run of the exhibition.

Current Tendencies III is on view at the Haggerty Museum of Art (13th and Clybourn Streets on the Marquette University campus) through December 22.

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