Archive for November, 2015

PostHeaderIcon Milwaukee Unveils New “Bones”

Editor’s Note: This news event and happy occasion marks the 100th post I have written for I started this project almost six years ago and have derived great enjoyment sharing my thoughts on Chicago’s cultural scene and beyond. I plan to continue and hope you come along for the ride.

The Milwaukee Art Museum held a press preview on November 13 that rolled out the results of a 6-year, $34 million renovation project that added new exhibition spaces, rehung the

MAM view

New space with Lake Michigan view

the collection and will, according to its news release, “transform the visitor experience”. For the first time in my memory, the museum now has three buildings that are seamlessly connected and allow visitors to navigate its North to South floor-through galleries uninterruped.

The space has been reconfigured and updated. And the impact is startling. No longer is the iconic Santiago Calatrava structure hogging the spotlight over Eero Saarinen’s 1957 War Memorial Center and the 1975 addition by David Kahler. The space and its collection now feel like a unified, organic whole. The three are now one 21st Century museum.

Gallery 10

Gallery 10
Rehung salon style

Museum director, Daniel Keegan, put it very well when he said, “What began as a desire to preserve the space and Collection grew into a significant expansion that rejuvenates and sets the future course for the entire institution.” The museum opened to the public on November 24 with 30,000 square feet of new gallery space that will enable the museum to display an additional 1,000 works from its collection of 30,000 objects.

As we took a tour with Keegan, there were signs of ongoing construction all around as workers and staff prepared for opening day. Wires could be seen on some floors, ladders and the sound of hammers spoke of installations-in-progress. One critically important feature was missing: wall labels. I found that detail of this once-in-a-lifetime backstage glimpse quite off-putting, seeing many artworks lacking identifying data and commentary, though it made for a highly tantalizing Art trivia contest.

The Newsboy

The Newsboy
Unkown artist 1888

Keegan and the curators were saving the art for the public opening. This preview’s goal was really to unveil the museum’s new “bones.” Museum staff have labored for years with inadequate viewing spaces for the art, galleries appropriated for office expansion, aging infrastructure and three buildings that didn’t properly connect. You could almost hear the proud sighs of relief at a new day’s arrival.

The museum now flows as one unit. Spaces that ended in a wall are gone and no longer does the museum end at the Calatrava wing with once-limited access to the museum’s original footprint in the War Memorial. Credit for this happy ending must go to the architects and space planners,             HGA Architects of Milwaukee.

Sadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill Spinner, 1908 by Lewis W. Hine

Sadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill Spinner, 1908 by Lewis W. Hine

I will be writing about all the new art on display at a later date. For now, there is the museum’s new 10,000 square feet Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, the first-ever dedicated space for light-based media. In addition, the additional 20,000 square feet of gallery space allows for new galleries (like the new Bradley Gallery) to highlight the museum’s renowned collection of folk and self-taught/outsider art as well as the Richard and Emma Flagg collection of Haitian Art.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has given the city an early Christmas present: A bigger, better art showcase. Milwaukee’s residents can be proud of their civic jewel that has been strikingly enhanced.  For more information and a chance to view the results, go to





PostHeaderIcon “Wozzeck” Shows War’s Brutality

We know that “War is Hell”  but we don’t usually go to Lyric Opera to see it so vividly portrayed. As a production, “Wozzeck” is theatrically arresting, a tribute to Sir David McVicar, an opera director usually associated with Mozart, Verdi and Strauss than this atonal score by Alban Berg.

While I am an opera-goer  who enjoys seeing dramatic and difficult works (Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Elektra, Jenufa and Satyagraha) over another performance of “Tosca” or “Marriage of Figaro”, I found Berg’s score a shade too challenging. The atonal sounds, harsh and sometimes blaring, kept me at a distance and made it hard to engage.

Following the performance, I shared my half-hearted reaction with a friend, a trained musician, who corrected my opinion, “No, that is great music.” Perhaps my ears need an atonal tune-up.

That may be so but I read that even Berg’s teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, the creator of 12-tone music, thought that “a drama of such extraordinary tragedy seemed forbidding to music” given the public’s penchant for conventional characters and less naturalistic settings.

Wozzeck and Marie (Angela Denoke)

Wozzeck ( )and Marie (Angela Denoke)

The wheels of taste possibly have turned. The front-rows audiences’ gave the performers at the second performance a rousing ovation. I ascribed that reaction to the committed vocal and dramatic performances not only of Tomasz Konieczny as the hapless and humiliated Wozzeck and for Angela Denoke as Marie but also Gerhard Siegel as the Captain and Stefan Vinke as the drum major. Lyric is fortunate to be hearing Denoke, a renowned soprano, performing this signature role.

Upon entering Lyric’s Auditorium, one sees a dark gray, hulking war memorial upstage on which rests a clenched fist. Before the downbeat, you encounter Berg and the opera’s stark question. Is war worth the lives of so many thousands of any nation’s young? That clenched fist reflects resistance and cold anger at such a horrible sacrifice.

Below the forbidding memorial, McVicar situates the action. He keeps the opera’s 15 dour scenes moving by means of sliding white curtains, hung from steel rods, that open and end each scene, akin to a slide projector.

Wozzeck shaving

Wozzeck shaving

Wozzeck relates a story of people caught in the iron grip of poverty, of pawns trapped on the low rungs of hierarchy and inequality. The opening scene features Wozzeck shaving his captain who accuses his lowly, silent underling of having no morals. Wozzeck counters that he is too poor to be virtuous.

Yet, he is a man with morals which revolve around his feelings for his mistress, Marie, and her child. He endures mockery to earn extra money for their support. Yet, after Wozzeck witnesses the unfaithful Marie dancing with the drum major and sustains a beating by him, he descends into insanity,  kills Marie and takes his own life.

The haunting last scene shows a playground full of children, including Marie’s son. When another child rushes in and announces Marie’s death, they all scoot off, save for the son. The last image shows him pushing a huge cart’s wheels (the wheels of history?), suggesting that he, too, will follow in his father’s footsteps. Berg’s opera contains lessons about war and entrenched class outcomes that ring true nearly a century later.

While I have musical reservations with “Wozzeck”, if you want to see a production with strong stagecraft (credit set designer, Vicki  Mortimer) and stirring dramatic singing, you should visit Lyric. You may find the music to your liking. Hurry, only three performances remain. The opera ends November 21. For tickets, visit Lyric Opera online at