What The Folk? American Objects From The UWM Art Collections!

This is a very exciting and challenging show and I apologize for taking so long to post about it. What The Folk? is a show of American Art Objects selected from the UWM Art Collections by curators Professor Kay Wells and Gallery Director Leigh Mahlik as well as students from Prof. Wells art history class on American Folk Art. The show is in the Emile H Mathis Gallery in Mitchell Hall and runs through May 9, 2024. The gallery is open from 10 AM to 4 PM next Monday through Thursday and admission is free and it is open to the public. If you want some additional background on the Mathis, check out my earlier post here.

The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee is fortunate to have an extensive collection of objects that fall into the various categories that make up the broad arena of Folk Art. This particular show focuses on American art objects, but of course not all Folk Art is American.

What The Folk? presents us with objects in all media, from paintings to sculpture, from assemblages to collage, from paper silhouettes to tin cutout street scenes and table top dioramas. All in a panoply of color and style…and just a joy to behold. But it’s not just the visuals that inform here. There is a clear explanation of the sub-genres considered part of Folk Art written on the walls of the exhibit: Outsider Art; Americana; Visionary Art; Self Taught Art. So at this point I am going to stop writing and just show you a few of my favorites from the show!!

Unknown Artist: no date: Husband and Wife Silhouette
Unknown Artist: Untitled (Dia de los Muertos 1993
Josephus Farmer, Dixieland (Picking Cotton) 1980
Kacey Carneal, 100 Million Children Live In The Streets, 2016
Leroy Archuleta, Untitled, 1984
From Door County Wisconsin, Edward Zahn, untitled (Red Angel) 1997 and Randy Zahn untitled (Rooster and Bird Tree) and other two untitled pieces, all undated.

A Place For A Muse: The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery @ UW – Milwaukee

Entry to the Mathis Gallery, Mitchell Hall Rm 170 © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

I can’t believe that it has been nearly two years since I posted my first and only A Place For A Muse post. That one was about the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh. I intended to write posts about the museums that I visited and describe their attributes and amenities. If you want to read my original rationale and announcement for the series, check it out here. But I got distracted, mostly by theater. So with the second feature about The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, let’s hope I can back on track.

View of Gallery A in the Mathis Gallery from the front entrance. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

My original intent was to discuss museums and The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery isn’t called a museum. But it isn’t a gallery either. It doesn’t have a stable of artists, it doesn’t sell art, it doesn’t hold solo shows for contemporary artists, it isn’t commercial in anyway. It is far more than a gallery…it is the portal into the extensive collection of donated art at UWM. And it serves the university community in a number of ways but to me it seems to be nearly invisible to the wider community in Milwaukee, and that is a shame.

another view of Gallery A in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery is a 2,400 square foot exhibition space in Room 170 of UWM’s venerable Mitchell Hall. Mitchell Hall is located on the Southeast corner of Downer Ave and Kenwood Ave and Room 170 is on the first floor near the Southwest corner of the building (facing towards Mellencamp Hall and the Student Union). The official address of Mitchell Hall is 3203 North Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI.

View of Gallery B in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

The Mathis gallery is free and open to the public as well as the university community. But it is only open during the academic year (September through May but not during semester break or spring break) because it is staffed by students. During the current semester, it is open from 11 AM to 4 PM Monday through Thursday. The Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery is part of the university’s Art History Department. And the gallery is named for Emile Mathis who donated his extensive collection of prints on paper to the university.

The university has an extensive holding of art works and objects and they are used in a number of ways. Of course the collection is available to art history students for their study and research. And each year there are a number of thesis shows assembled by graduating art history majors to support their research and field of interest. These shows are primarily sourced from the collection. What a great experience, to be able to search through a collection and pull works that provide insight into your field of interest and then curate a show to share your knowledge with the rest of the community.

Another view of Gallery B in the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

And professors and staff also put together any number of shows over the course of a semester or academic year. I have seen some amazing shows. Some of my favorites featured Byzantine Icons, or S.W. Hayter prints, or African Art, and the current show, What the Folk!, which explains and displays the various sub-genre’s of folk art.

Oh, I almost forgot. The UWM collection is also being digitized and shared online. If you want to take a peek or have your own research project underway or just have a favorite artist to look for, here’s the link to the collection!!

Extra Credit Reading: The Mathis Gallery Home Page Is Here! or Plan Your Visit here, if you have a particular question or want to insure the gallery is open when you want to visit, contact them here mathisartgallery@uwm.edu. AND some collection highlights!

The current shows run through May 9, 2024.

another view of the entrance the the Mathis Gallery. © 2024 by Ed Heinzelman

With ’50 Paintings’, Has The Milwaukee Art Museum Finally Confirmed That Painting Is Dead?

or as the handout suggests: “Explore recent works by 50 painters defining their field”.

full foldout view of catalog for 50 Paintings

50 Paintings…by 50 Artists…created in the past 5 years. So a bold and daring survey of contemporary painting by the Milwaukee Art Museum…something not necessarily expected from a regional art museum. But let’s face it, the average museum goer probably doesn’t visit local art galleries so isn’t exposed to contemporary work. And not only should we give kudos for MAM for putting on this show, but for also giving it the full PR and advertising support that they give to their blockbuster shows.

And at the time of this writing, MAM has a brief introduction to the show and I believe all of the images from the show on their web page. Here’s the link!!!! But let me share the museum’s statement around the show (just in case the link is removed at some point):

The landmark survey 50 Paintings features works created within the last five years by 50 international artists, highlighting the artistic trends in practice today. With paintings by artists including Amy Sherald, Cinga Samson, GaHee Park, Nicole Eisenman, Cecily Brown, and Peter Barrickman, the exhibition celebrates the medium’s continued relevance and aesthetic range, and invites visitors to engage in close looking and formulate their own assessments of trends in contemporary painting.

The 50 works presented in the exhibition demonstrate myriad approaches to the medium. Painting—as a form, a language, a practice—is the focus, and the survey format underscores the many concepts and strategies present-day artists employ. 50 Paintings offers visitors 50 distinct opportunities to experience this traditional art form shaped by the imaginations of artists influencing the direction of painting today.

50 Paintings was co-curated by Margaret Andera, senior curator of contemporary art, and Michelle Grabner, artist, curator, and Crown Family Professor of Art and Chair of Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

So thank you Margaret Andera and Michelle Grabner for taking on this daunting task.

“…and invites visitors to engage in close looking and formulate their own assessments of trends in contemporary painting.” Perfect…so I was excited to see this show. And with 50 artists each having only one piece on display, I expected a very engaging show. But I don’t think that it is. Given one piece per artist, every piece would be the artist’s best piece from the period. No, I didn’t expect an ‘Armory Show’, but usually any and every show that I see, whether old master or contemporary gallery or even art fair, presents something that inspires me in some way. That just didn’t happen here. And I spent some time looking at it…at least an hour on my first visit. And I photographed some of the work that I thought worked and some of the work that didn’t. And I was disappointed and thinking that maybe I had an off day, I revisited the show and spent some more time with the work and took a few more photos. But my reaction was the same. On this second visit I spent about 20 minutes with the art before a museum employee said to me, you’ve spent some time looking at this show, what do you think…and I replied with a variation of my statement in the headline, that after decades of the art press and art critics claiming that painting was dead, the museum had finally proven it with this show.

Now, just because this is a show of contemporary painting, don’t be fooled into thinking that the artists are minty fresh MFA graduates. No, the painters here have had decades of experience, have certainly considered western art history, have dabbled in or played with the ‘isms’ of the 20th Century, and have certainly been influenced by other contemporary art. Just a quick scan of the brochure would indicate the youngest artist was born in 1990. So certainly this cohort has selected the media, methods, and styles that give voice to their vision.

[UPDATE: March 21, 2024: I originally viewed the show on Thursday March 14, 2024. Over the weekend I talked with a painter who had seen it on Friday. Then I revisited the show on Sunday March 17th. The painter read this article after I posted it last night and wondered why I wasn’t more direct in writing about the show compared to what I had said in conversation. So: I think that there is a lot of bad painting in this show. Not in the sense of the Bad Painting movement of the 1970s, although one or two of these paintings might fit into that genre. I am not sure that was intentional. But bad painting. I don’t see the craftsmanship that I would expect from work in a museum show. I don’t see the design or mastery of the media that I expected. Technique seems to be lacking. Color, although abundant, doesn’t work for me. Some of the paintings seem to be overworked to the point the life has been taken out of them. To me it seems that The Emperor Has No Clothes.]

One interesting side note. The brochure also includes responses from the artists to a number of questions posed to them. They make interesting reading but they were allowed to reply anonymously. I am not sure why anonymous was the way to go, but after reading the responses, I would have been very interested in tying them back to the actual paintings to see how the artist was actually articulating their thought(s). Here is the full spread of the answers. Hopefully you will be able to enlarge it enough to read. If not, I will also include the half page versions at the end.

anonymous replies from the artists to questions posed about painting (from the show brochure)

I encourage the Milwaukee Art Museum to continue curating similar surveys in the future. Maybe every three to five years? It is a worthwhile endeavor…

As I said earlier, the paintings from this show can be seen here for as long at the page is available on the Milwaukee Art Museum web page. But I am going to include a few of the photos that I took here as well. My best photos but a combination of paintings that I liked and didn’t like. I am not going to say which is which.

Cinga Samson (South African, b. 1986), Okwe Nkunzana 6, 2021
April Gornik (American, b. 1953), Study for Storm Suspended by Light, 2022
Angela Dufresne (American, b. 1969), Acid Queen, 2022
Cecily Brown (British, b. 1969), Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures, 2022
Lisa Yuskavage (American, b. 1962), Night Classes, 2020
Brad Kahlhamer (American b. 1956), 11:59 to Mesa (SRP), 2023
Carmen Neely (American, b. 1987), another way to imagine your details, 2023
Caitlin Lonegan (American, b. 1982), Untitled (CL 2022.03), 2022
Josephine Halvorson (American, b. 1981), Last Words, 2022
Sarah Morris (American, b. England 1967), Springpoint [Spiderweb], 2022
Paul P. (Canadian, b. 1977), Untitled, 2020

and as promised, the two other views of the anonymous responses to questions about painting.

article © 2024 The New World Digs