Museum of Wisconsin Art
Press Release

David Lenz, Preeminent American Portraitist, On View at the Museum of Wisconsin Art

October 1, 2016 – January 8, 2017

By - Sep 15th, 2016 01:57 pm

(WEST BEND, WI) David Lenz, one of America’s preeminent portrait painters, employs remarkable Photorealist techniques to passionately and intimately depict inner-city children, people with disabilities, and rural farmers. People on the Periphery, on view October 1, 2016 – January 8, 2017, is the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s (MOWA) major retrospective of Lenz’s work, spanning three decades of his remarkable career and including many paintings that have rarely or never been exhibited in public. The artist’s incredible artistic skill enhances the authenticity of his subjects—not portraiture’s traditional powerful and famous sitters but the poor, disabled, and marginalized—those on the periphery of society.

People on the Periphery is organized around the three themes that have dominated Lenz’s practice. When the artist lived on the east side of Milwaukee, he was touched and inspired by inner-city life in the poverty-stricken areas so close to wealthy neighborhoods. In 1992, when he purchased land in rural Sauk County, he became close friends with Mercedes and Ervin Wagner, whose farm was next door. He was struck by their love for the land and how hard they strived for meager rewards. The third theme emerged in 1997 when Lenz’s son was born with Down syndrome and Lenz became profoundly aware of how people with disabilities are treated. It was his painting Sam and the Perfect World that won the Outwin Boochever award in 2006 that led to the National Portrait Gallery’s first and only nonpresidential commission: Lenz’s portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“If the image seems real, if the person portrayed seems whole and natural and believable, then maybe you will know what they know, feel as they feel,” says Lenz. “What is it like to live in the central city, or farm 120 acres of marginal fields and hills? What is it like to navigate the world with an intellectual disability? Maybe in some small way, my work will lead to a greater understanding of the people on the margins of society.”

Resolutely independent, populist, democratic, and equally comfortable in urban or rural situations, Lenz grew up with art in his blood. His grandfather Nicholas Lenz (1890–1974) was an artist; his father, Tom, is an art dealer. Lenz received a BFA degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with the intention of becoming a graphic designer, although he longed to be a painter. In 1989, he took the plunge, giving himself one year to make it professionally as a fine artist. People on the Periphery attests to his success. Today, Lenz is one of the top portrait painters in the country.

“Modern neuroscience confirms what many have suspected for a long time:  our attention to what is around us is highly selective.  The result is something called ‘inattentional blindness,’ a failure to see important aspects of reality that are right in front of our eyes,” says MOWA CEO | Executive Director Laurie Winters. “Art can help cure our ‘inattentional blindness’ by selecting ‘in’ features of reality that we would ordinarily select ‘out.’  This is precisely what David Lenz does.  His work selects ‘in’ people on the periphery, people who our inattentional blindness ordinarily leaves out.”

People on the Periphery will be accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalogue which will include many paintings previously unseen or in private collections. It will be available for purchase in the MOWA Shop and as a free download on the MOWA website.


Opening Party + Artist Talk

Saturday, October 1 | 1:00 – 4:00

Spend the afternoon celebrating this major retrospective of Lenz’s photorealist portraits, many of which have never been seen before in public. At 2:00, Lenz will deliver a lively talk, revealing his artistic motivations and sharing stories about his creative process.

Contemporary Realism Panel

Saturday, November 26 | 1:30

Join Mathew Cerletty, David Lenz, and Tom Uttech as they discuss contemporary Realist painting from their unique perspectives. Whether depicting people, places, or things, these artists create with unprecedented talent and skill. Don’t miss this singular opportunity to get up close and personal with three of Wisconsin’s leading artists as they talk about motivation and theory.

About the Museum of Wisconsin Art

The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) explores the art and culture of Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, MOWA is one of the top museums of regional art in the United States, with almost 5,000 works of contemporary and historic art by more than 350 artists. Through rotating exhibitions and educational programs, MOWA provides an innovative forum for the culturally engaged.

In 2013, MOWA opened its new 32,000-square-foot facility in downtown West Bend. The building, the first museum commission by acclaimed architect Jim Shields of HGA Architects, is situated along the west bend of the Milwaukee River on a triangular plot of land that inspired the facility’s modern wedge shape. An expansive wall of windows follows the curve of the river bank and minimizes the boundaries between interior and exterior. The museum houses five permanent collection galleries, three temporary exhibition spaces, and two classrooms as well as visible art storage, a shop, and a large atrium for public events.  The Museum is located at 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend. For general information, call 262.334.9638 or

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