Yes, There is a Cow Painting
New survey of contemporary Wisconsin art blends tradition with a modernist spirit.
The 1911 Tudor-style East Side mansion housing the Charles Allis Art Museum is the venue for the latest survey of contemporary Wisconsin art. Selected by juror Laurie Winters, CEO and executive director of the Museum of Wisconsin Art, and with the thudding title, Forward 2014: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now, it is a nonetheless a cohesive exhibition that displays her curatorial acumen, blending tradition and a modernist spirit.
Winters was for years a curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, known for bringing such high-profile exhibitions as Leonardo and the Splendor of Poland to the city. Her juror’s statement for this show gives a glimpse into the selection process, recounting the winnowing down of more than 400 pieces to the 60 works ultimately on view. There is an eye for strong technical handling of materials and sound compositional structures. The quality of the art is high, and the exhibition installation has a sense of order, flowing easily through the varied rooms of the museum.
For artists, getting into the show represents one competitive hurdle, and beyond that are the exhibitions prizes themselves. The $1000 Grand Prize recipient was Terrence Coffman for his monumental painting, Angel 1. At about five feet tall, the piece has substantial physical presence. The varied brushwork, nuances of color, and subtle surface texture coalesce into a curious, dreamlike scene. Coffman insinuates a figure and landscape in the way a hazy dream might be remembered though blurred remnants of detail. Colette Odya Smith received an $600 Award of Excellence for her vibrant pastel, Slipstream, a play of abstract, reflective water and wavy forms framed by fiery leaves and gentle grasses. Another recipient of this award was Joseph Mougel, whose Blanc_029 is a haunting idea of a figure pressing forward though fog of white, not quite breaking free.
It comes as a bit of a surprise that multimedia works are scantily represented. The single video on view is Amy Cannestra’s Loss, Liberation or Objectification. In this 8-minute piece, a young woman with long, red, curly hair faces the camera close up. Bit by bit, she cuts off her hair while voices
sampled from films, monologues and pop culture sources echo like voices in her head. The audio selections form a rant about self-image, sexuality, and relationships. At face value, the sequence of voices and transformation of physical appearance play to stereotypes about women and beauty, ideas we think we have moved on from long again. But then again, the familiarity of these message beg questions about physical appearance and identity suggested by the piece’s title. Cannestra’s is one of the few works to engage in social commentary or dare to provoke.
Give that this is an exhibition of Wisconsin art, the question is bound to come up: how about paintings of cows? Because yes, there are almost always cows in every exhibition of this type. Sure enough, there is a nod to bovine tradition in Badger State art courtesy of Craig Blietz, who is something of a specialist in this area. His painting, The Red Bridle, is one of the most gorgeous cows in recent memory. Blietz places his pale subject on a rich, dark red background, imbuing it with a dignity usually reserved for portraits of thoroughbred horses. While the animal seems to float in space, equilibrium is achieved through yellow horizontal slash at the top of the canvas. Like the exhibition itself, Blietz works with a sense of tradition and convention, handled with skill and just the lightest touch of experiment.
Forward 2014: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now continues at the Charles Allis Art Museum (1801 N. Prospect Ave.) through June 29.
National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference (NCECA)
Over 5000 artists involved with ceramics and sculpture are visiting Milwaukee this weekend, and as part of the festivities, many art venues are hosting special exhibitions. Here are a few highlights to check out, and for a broader overview of the events associated with the conference, see the TCD article by Garth Johnson, Director-at-Large for NCECA.
Flow: The 2014 NCECA Ceramic Arts Invitational
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Exhibition closes March 23
Twenty artists working in clay shape forms and and subjects, taking the concept of “flow” as inspiration.
228 S. 1st Street
4 to 8:30pm
This special exhibition runs for only a few hours in a temporary gallery space in conjunction with the NCECA conference.
333 N. Plankinton Ave.
12 temporary exhibitions are presented, featuring clay, ceramics, assemblage and sculpture in an array of styles and subjects.
2014 NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition
273 E. Erie Street
Work by the next generation of ceramic artists is on view in this show of 59 works by 57 artists from 39 schools.
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