The Launching Point: Current Tendencies II – Artist in Milwaukee Review
September 13, 2011
Greeted by a wonderfully intricate and precise explosion of ideas at the entrance to the new exhibition Current Tendencies II- Artist from Milwaukee at the Haggerty Museum of Art, I knew what I was about to witness was something special and to keep a keen watchful eye on what I was about to experience.
The organic and graffiti inspired sculpture and paintings by Julian Correa at the entrance to the Museum shook me to the core and set a perfect theme and tone for the show. As an ex-graffiti writer his piece got my mind racing immediately. The potential for a new conversation about the combination of high and low art was infectious. I couldn’t help but get excited at the thought and prospect of 10 local Milwaukee artists invading this prestigious educational environment and taking it over, challenging the rigid structure of the space while illuminating a fresh new incoming class of students. Deep down I wondered if this was another opportunity for Milwaukee to shine, thankfully my suspicions were correct.
Entering the main gallery still teething with energy the mixed media textiles by Sharon Kerry-Harlan made me grin ear to ear. Engaging the audience with clever language puns and sharp figurative imagery, each artwork playfully teases the viewer. Posing unsolvable questions and statements such as, “what was I thinking, I was not thinking,” each artwork allows for a variety of interpretations. Walking around the room there was a strong contradictory feeling and sensation emitting from the almost blanket like fabric pieces. Woven not for warmth but perception I was drawn into their narratives while simultaneously being pushed back by their themes. Smart and witty these artworks remind us even in doubt, that all we know is that we don’t know nothing, encouraging us to seek answers within.
Following the stairs down to the lower gallery a delicate and cunning work by Will Pergl floats high on the wall beckoning us into the space. Written in sweeping calligraphy the date April 11th 1951 is exquisitely carved out of a large piece of wood with the relief insides being painted a day glow neon green. Hung close to the ceiling the viewer is forced to look up, as if childlike, admiringly at the artwork titled amusingly, “The most boring day in the twentieth century.” Bringing into focus the ever shifting and fleeting nature of time, the artists helps us as the audience recognize the importance we can place on each day. This artwork seems poignant and relative as the current date approaches September 11th, a date that holds a highly charged personal, universal, and cultural meaning in today’s age.
Finding beauty and meaning in the daily lives of everyday people, places, and events, the next room in the museum consists of a series of photographs taken around Wisconsin by Mark Brautigam. Landscapes, houses at night, and farm scene with grazing cattle remind us of the overall calmness and pace of life in our area, but these images can also be reflective of a larger commentary on America in the 21st century. A quiet reserve takes hold of these images as they reflect a feeling of steadiness and solitude.
Around the corner the full room instillation by Lisa Hecht is perfect and tugs at every sense of our perception as it draws us into the space with its inviting blue and white handmade wallpaper. Organic in nature the wallpaper on closer inspection is comprised of a duplicated icon of men in suits approaching a stand of microphones. Alluding to power and influence this image is then balanced and surrounded by a star pattern which blinds and makes us feel awestruck through its repetition, lulling us into a false sense of security.
Standing in the center of the room the viewer is transported into the intimacy of a reproduced bedroom. Consisting of a single bed propped low on the floor and covered with white bedding, placed on the middle of the bed and piled meticulously are a grouping of stones that could easily signify the weight and personal challenges of life. Flanked on both sides of the bed are two large ornate mirrors that are facing each other. Reflected endlessly in the mirrors are the bed and pyramid of stones, bringing the viewer face to face with themselves and their inherent inclusion in the instillation. Hanging on the wall opposite the bed are 3 shovels alluding to the ability to “dig oneself” out of the burden one faces.
Intelligent, thought provoking and cohesive, Hecht’s instillation provides a seamless transition into the final room in the museum where Reginald Baylor’s meticulous and beautifully detailed paintings provide the final accent to an excellently curated exhibition. Baylor’s large scale paintings are calculated and timeless in fashion and design. Utilizing and combining Pop icons in an almost mathematical way one is immediately drawn into the work as Baylor asks us in “Multiple Choices” if we know ourselves (I think therefore I ____). Intuitive and circular in reference, we are never given a direct answer in the artwork but instead redirected and encouraged to find our own way through new modes of seeing and being.
Coming full circle I exit the museum feeling invigorated and excited, eager to see how this show will impact and influence the young minds on the Marquette campus. For a place whose art community is ever evolving and growing, Current Tendencies II: Artist from Milwaukee represents the city at a truly peak time and presents the perfect launching point into the Fall.