Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Sculpture Milwaukee A Big Success

Wisconsin Ave. program brought people to the city, activated the street and sold art.

By - Oct 26th, 2017 12:42 pm
Big Piney a Deborah Butterfield sculpture. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Big Piney a Deborah Butterfield sculpture. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Milwaukee’s newest art gallery was a success by any measure. The curated collection of 22 sculptures installed along Wisconsin Ave. this summer is being removed now, but planning is already underway for the 2018 installation.

The idea for the massive exhibit came from Marcus Corp. chairman Stephen Marcus. At the unconventional ribbon cutting ceremony for the exhibition, Marcus boldly declared “this is the largest exhibit of museum quality monumental sculpture in the world.”

While I can’t verify Marcus’s claim, the installation sure did transform Milwaukee’s main street. Nearly everyday I would encounter people admiring the sculptures, and when I stopped to ask I learned they were often tourists or visitors from the suburbs. The interest in the project spurred Urban Milwaukee to host two walking tours for the project, both of which sold out. People clearly loved the project.

Three of the sculptures on display have been sold. At the time of the project’s launch, it was announced that a portion of any sales would go towards funding future installations. Marilu Knode, project manager for Sculpture Milwaukee, noted that while that’s true, the sale proceeds represent only “a tiny, tiny portion of the budget.” Knode stated that the bulk of the project’s funding has come from a fundraising effort led by Marcus.

Reached via phone, Knode stated “what’s really so amazing about Sculpture Milwaukee is individuals and businesses putting resources together for residents and visitors of our region.”


"Big Piney" Being Removed from E. Wisconsin Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

“Big Piney” Being Removed from E. Wisconsin Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Sources close to the project confirm that Stephen Marcus purchased Deborah Butterfield‘s iconic Big Piney, a horse made from cast bronze that has been installed at E. Wisconsin Ave. and N. Jackson St. The piece was on loan from the Zolla Liberman Gallery in Chicago.

Butterfield, a 68-year-old Montana-based sculptor, is known for her horse sculptures that according to Christie’s Auction House have fetched prices between $37,500 to $425,000. Urban Milwaukee architecture critic Tom Bamberger praised Butterfield’s sculpture and its siting in his piece “Horse Sense” earlier this summer.

In addition to Marcus’s purchase, two more sculptures have been sold. Milwaukee artist Michelle Grabner‘s untitled piece, which hung outside Powers Jewelry at N. Broadway and E. Wisconsin Ave., was sold. It was on loan from The Green Gallery. Will Ryman‘s Rose #2, which has been on display outside the US Bank Center, was purchased. Rose #2 was on loan from the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.

Terms and purchasers in all deals were not disclosed by Sculpture Milwaukee.

Asking prices for the sculptures ranged from $25,000 to $1 million. The project was curated by former Milwaukee Art Museum director Russell Bowman. Milwaukee Downtown provided staffing support for the project.

What’s Next?

Knode is hoping that two sculptures are able to stay through the end of 2018. The long-time art professional is working with the artists and dealers to keep Sol LeWitt‘s “Tower” in place on N. Old World Third St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. and John Henry‘s “Zach’s Tower” at at N. 5th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave.

Knode notes that’s she’s already working with dealers and artists to secure sculptures for the 2018 exhibition.


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3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Sculpture Milwaukee A Big Success”

  1. Viewing all the sculptures (numerous times) was wonderful and they also made me more aware of all the streetscapes, buildings and people on Wisconsin Avenue.

    Hats off and thanks to Stephen Marcus and all who made this happen!

  2. Jerry says:

    This was a really great idea! Can’t wait for 2018!

  3. Paul says:

    A big thank you to Mr. Marcus and all other sponsors and volunteers who made this possible. I was on one of the tours of Sculpture Milwaukee sponsored by Urban Milwaukee. The tour was informative and well done (thanks!) and it was wonderful to see Wisconsin Avenue alive with people and activity, including many people looking at the sculptures.

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