Archive for the ‘Art – Exhibitions’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Shop Art Fairs for Holiday Gifts

It’s so discouraging to see the holiday season starting earlier year after year. It was only Halloween last week and already store windows featured Christmas trees and decorations to put us in the mood to spend early and freely.

I prefer to get the holiday spirit in a more personal way. This year, I intend to make the rounds of several holiday art fairs to find my presents. These smaller events sport a more festive air and nearly always provide better opportunities than department stores to find distinctive, handmade creations.

Sgt. Pepper Flipflops

Sgt. Pepper Flipflops

While nearly all such fairs start the first week of December, I’m going to begin my holiday search early at Artisan Market Streeterville next Saturday, November 9th (It also runs November 10th). It’s held in the atrium at Northwestern’s Lurie Research Center, 303 East Superior. It’s a hidden jewel! This community fair features a select pool of 50 juried artisans offering wares in categories such as clothing, jewelry, ceramics and home decor. Last year, I got a free stylish booklet featuring recipes from select chefs just for showing up and I hear this year that all attendees will receive a free booklet of a dozen specialty drinks from Streeterville mixologists.

Newman Necklace/bracelet

Newman Necklace/bracelet

Many Chicagoans make the One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart their default destination. I went a few years back but have avoided it lately because it has become so big (500 artists) that my head starts spinning with so many choices and I tend to walk out empty-handed. But if you must try it, it will be held Dec. 5-8. I’d suggest going the first two days or else many good items will be gone by the weekend.

You can find me December 7th or 8th at the Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market just because it sounds like fun. More than 150 artists will be on hand with craft  demonstrations and entertainment. It’s at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 West Blackhawk.

Architectural Artifacts at 43 25 North Ravenswood is a massive warehouse featuring fabulous antique and novelty artifacts the rest of the year but on Dec. 9th, 75 artists will be on hand showing their creations. I love the venue and will definitely check it out for the holidays. Their antique wares are fairly pricey but I hope the holiday fair won’t empty my wallet.

Finally, on December 14th and 15th, the 15th annual Bucktown Art Fair gets underway. This seems like a good spot if you are getting near Christmas and still haven’t found that right gift. 100 Exhibitors will be on hand at the Holstein Park Fieldhouse, 2200 North Oakley Avenue.

Of course, countless churches and boutique shops will be hosting their own holiday events. Don’t get frazzled in fighting hurried department store crowds. Keep it simple, stay in the holiday spirit by following the saying, Small is Beautiful!

For more information and hours of operation, check the websites: 
Artisan Market:
One-of-a-Kind Show:
Renegade Craft Fair:

Architectural Artifacts:;
Bucktown Art Fair:

PostHeaderIcon Photography’s 150 Years on View

Bouquet of Flowers by Edward Steichen

"Bouquet of Flowers" by Edward Steichen

A rare synchronicity of scheduling makes it possible for photography fans and collectors to survey 150 years of photography in three current museum exhibitions. The only hitch: you need to travel to Milwaukee, Washington D. C. and New York to do so. You can take in the most expansive show–75 years from 1906 to 1981–at the nearby Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Color Rush: American Color Photography from Stieglitz to Sherman,” a sharp-eyed, captivating survey on view through May 19.

Next, fly to Washington’s National Gallery of Art for “Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop” that runs through May 5. Then head up to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for “Photography and the American Civil War” which is up through September 2.

One theme running through all three shows, overtly stated or not, is the meta question of what is “real.” Such a question would have been inconceivable for Civil War photographers Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan who captured the fierce reality of battle. The National Gallery show deals with the less-explored issue of photo manipulation before Photoshop came along in 1987.  Milwaukee tackles the struggle color photography endured during the first six decades of the 20th century to be accepted as “real’.

Red Interior

Color Rush - "Red Interior"

“Color Rush” begins in 1907 with the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, introducing the autochrome, the first widely used color process that didn’t require the manual application of color. Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen learned the process that first year and autochromes debuted in American magazines, such as National Geographic, in the 1910s.

The co-curators, Milwaukee’s Lisa Hostetler and the Art Institute of Chicago’s Katherine Bussard, have fashioned a decade-by-decade, scholarly yet highly accessible tour of color’s life story. The exhibit features leading photographers of each period with the focus on color’s evolution and photographic practice. Bussard spoke of their intentions. “Lisa and I set out to rectify the problematic–if prevailing–notion that color photography prior to the 1970s was either amateur or commercial and only recognized as such. The historical reality was never that simple, never so definitive.”

The show has a bipolar personality. During its youthful years, color film was used primarily by advertisers and commercial printers to lure consumers with eye-catching images before exploding into total saturation with Brownie and Polaroid cameras. By the late ’60s, color film has its artistic breakthrough.

For nearly a century after photography’s origin, black-and-white monochromes were the artistic language of reality. While Kodak introduced 35mm Kodachrome film in 1936, color remained the province of advertising, photo magazines such as LIFE and movie spectaculars. As color technology developed, the issue of realism between black and white and color was joined.

Starting in the 1960s, Americans begin snapping color pics by the millions to capture everyday moments and key life events. Alongside its penetration into popular culture, the exhibit registers color’s move into the art world with “The Conceptual Turn.” Artists such as Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Joel Meyerowitz and William Eggleston react against conventional notions of art-making and see the artist as a producer of ideas rather than simply objects. Their photos blur the boundary between art and life.

The exhibit ends with images by Cindy Sherman and a provocative video installation by Nan Goldin. I only wish the curators’ critical gaze had encompassed more conceptual and pop culture references from the 1980s. It felt like the exhibition ended too abruptly with Sherman and Goldin. However, I’d highly recommend making this enjoyable show part of a weekend getaway.

Leap into the Void at NGA

"Leap into the Void" at NGA

Starting with the invention of Photoshop, the question of whether a photo presents a true representation of reality or a crafty manipulation is ambiguous and rich with distinctions that would have baffled earlier generations. The National Gallery show demonstrates that altered photos are part of a tradition dating to the origins of photography in the 1840s. Even a photo purist  as Ansel Adams was not above making tonal changes to enhance his iconic images.

The National Gallery’s press release makes a telling point. The exhibit images show “that photography is–always has been–a medium of fabricated truths and artful lies.” Wish I had said that myself. This is a show I’m sorry to miss.

Pennylvania Light Artillery

"Pennylvania Light Artillery"

The Met exhibit features more than 200 rare and poignant photos of the Civil War, the national tragedy in which an incredible 750,000 lives were lost. the curators examine the evolving role of the camera during America’s bloodiest war.

While the works of Brady, Gardner and O’Sullivan are the most iconic images, the conflict engaged the talents of roughly 1,000 photographers, working individually and in teams. It features studio portraits of Union and Confederate soldiers made on thin sheets of copper (daguerreotypes), glass (ambrotypes) or iron (tintypes), gory battlefield views of the dead at Antietam and rare muti-panel panoramas of Gettysburg’s killing fields.

Fly to all three venues online and access information about each exhibit, go to, and

Addendum: I have just returned from a visit to the Art Institute and discovered another photographic exhibit worth your time. It is When Collecting Was New,a display from the Robert A. Taub collection. Taub purchased his first photo at a bookstore in Denver in 1960 and acquired most of the 200 works he donated to the museum during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Galax, Virginia by Lee Friedlander

"Galax, Virginia" by Lee Friedlander

That was a key period in photography’s acceptance as a true art form. The market boom for fine art photographs took off in the 1970s and was led by two pioneering New York dealers, the Witkin and Light Galleries.

Taub played an important role in paving the way for color photography’s acceptance as an undeniable part of art practice. By collecting vernacular and commercial images, such as NASA photographs and images commissioned by his employer, Ford Motor Company, Taub helped change the definition of photographic art.

The Department of Photography will host a free seminar on the show on Friday, April 26th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Fullerton Hall. Registration is not required. It should prove a worthwhile event.

PostHeaderIcon Looking to Rebottle the Magic

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Cats have their proverbial nine lives.  But art fairs?  Later this week, Expo Chicago becomes the sixth incarnation, by my count, of the successful art fair launched by Michigan print dealer, John Wilson, in 1980. From the mid-80s through the 1990s, the Chicago International Art Exposition (simply known as Art Chicago) on Navy Pier was America’s best venue to view art from around the world. Now, a new promoter–but an old hand of art fairs–hopes to rekindle that flame.

Tom Karmen

Tony Karman

Tony Karman has been hanging around Chicago fairs since 1982. He became a valued adviser to Wilson and his successor, Tom Blackman. When Blackman’s finances threatened Art Chicago’s 2006 fair, Chris Kennedy rescued it and named Karman to lead its Merchandise Mart edition. That auspicious start ended in ashes in 2010 amid much grumbling by dealers about too many lower-grade exhibitors, poor buying crowds  and high expenses. He left after the 2010 show. When the Mart cancelled the 2012 fair earlier this year, Karman set his plans for Expo Chicago in motion.

He appears to have learned from the Mart’s mistakes. Wilson’s first Art Expo had 80 dealers. The number at the Mart approached 200 with leading international dealers on one floor and the newer, edgier NEXT show on another. Karman will have 120 dealers, a strong showing in light of the show’s disappointing last years.

Karman credits the work of his selection committee, Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman, Anthony Meier from San Francisco and New York’s Chris D’Amelio, along with strong word-of-mouth buzz from many leading dealers such as Richard Gray and Karsten Greve. They have assembled a stellar list with many long-time supporters and top galleries not seen in Chicago for several years, like London’s Annely Juda, Germany’s Hans Mayer, Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, Paris’ Daniel Templon and New York’s Haunch of Venison and Matthew Marks Gallery. In all, fifty New York galleries are fielding booths.

Such support expresses dealers’ confidence in Karman’s vision and managerial ability. His first decision was to move the fair from its usual Spring date to September.  “September is when galleries have their opening A-game up,” he says. Next was to keep participation low and top-drawer. “Accenting quality, not quantity and presenting the art in a respectful way as the art world demands ” Karman says was key in convincing dealers to give Chicago another chance.  Another major draw is going back to Navy Pier, a site beloved by dealers for its waterfront location and natural light. A final touch was hiring award-winning architect, Jeanne Gang to provide a visually-arresting design for the art.

Jeanne Gang and Aqua Building

Jeanne Gang and her 82-story Aqua building design

Surrounding the buying and selling, Karman and his team have planned four days of art-related “Dialogues”, assembled a cadre of Chicago art collectors to give out-of-town guests tours of noted home collections and revived the opening night Vernissage benefit for the Museum of Contemporary Art.

This fair looks like a winner. All the right ingredients are in place. Only two questions remain: Will the people come? and Will they buy?  Whether dealers return in 2013–and Chicago regains its place on the art tour circuit–is riding on the results. I’ll return next week with my assessment.

Postscript: My three visits to Expo were a revelation combined with a large dose of deja vu. Tony Karmen and his team  created an art fair that revived memories of the fair in its heyday. The space looked spectacular, thanks to Studio Gang Architects, the art was wide-ranging and world-class, the reduced number of exhibitors felt right, giving fairgoers a chance to take in all the art in a single day. And the dealers were an impressive group of top domestic and European galleries with few duds in the mix. The sight of so much creative beauty stirred a strong emotional impact in me.

Initial atmosphere among dealers was optimistic. On Friday, Jim Dempsey of the local gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, echoed that sentiment. “There’s still some good ghosts up in the rafters.”

By closing day on Sunday, however, dealers were expressing mixed emotions. Traffic had been lighter than expected and buyers were not plentiful. Was the economy to blame? As much as Karmen sought to revive the dream, perhaps it was confirmation that you can’t go home again?

Not only can’t one return to the 1990s but the art world has changed beyond recognition in the past 20 years. When Chicago was the top American fair, there were only three major contemporary art competitors (Basel, Paris, Cologne). Now, one dealer cited 167 art fairs worldwide. Art critic Jerry Saltz, speaking at Expo, called the new phenomenon “moving tent casino cities”. Basel Miami, Frieze, Expo New York didn’t exist in 2000 but now head the pack.

I sampled about a dozen dealers on Sunday. The consensus was that business was not as much as expected. The William Shearburn Gallery in St. Louis had few sales. However, the gallery rep was waiting to hear from a possible buyer for a large, beautiful blue and orange Robert Motherwell canvas. If it sold, the fair would have been a success. Many galleries probably left Chicago not having sold enough to recoup the cost.

The big question remaining is: Will they return?  The cost to come is significant. Robert Mann of the self-named New York gallery, had shown at 8 prior fairs and done very well but admitted his experience this year is making him wonder if he can afford to return, even though he found Expo a “beautiful show”.

I did hear several reasons why they will. Even some dealers who had light sales expressed the view that coming to Chicago is a long-term investment that may take up to three years to achieve success. Anthony Meier, a member of Expo’s selection committee, expressed this positive view. “It’s totally cumulative,” he said. He also noted that museums plan collector trips up to 18 months in advance and that Expo Chicago didn’t exist 18 months earlier. He thinks that lost audience will come next year.

Another reason dealers cited in Chicago’s favor is that our city is a “serious” fair. Chicago is known for its serious collectors and major collections. Dealers say they are growing tired of the party atmosphere that prevails at Basel Miami and New York. The reason to do an art fair is to recruit new clients and the NY-Miami-London art loop draws the same small circle. Dealers see Chicago as a way to renew ties with the rest of America and meet a new generation of collectors. “Chicago is a unique platform for people who don’t do other shows,” Meier says.

Another dealer who has been away several years thought Chicago was a good experience. “It’s not the numbers, it’s the quality,” says Robert Landau of Landau Fine Art in Montreal. He liked the collection of other quality dealers in attendance. While refusing to cite sales, he says he saw collectors from Texas, New York and Florida and will definitely be back in 2013.

Two weeks after the fair’s closing, Karmen has yet to release sales figures or the number of returning galleries next year, a sure sign of disappointing financial results. However, if Landau and Meier are representative, Karmen’s efforts have generated enough good will to insure a second shot at returning Chicago to its former high perch.

PostHeaderIcon The Steins Collect.Did They Ever!

Moviegoers were captivated last year with Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris”. Millions of viewers fantasized going back in time to Paris in the 1920s to drop in on Gertrude Stein‘s salon and meet American writers and fellow expatriates, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That is not my fantasy. Mine would be to find myself in the Paris apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus on a Saturday evening in 1906. On such a night, starting at 8 p.m., Leo and Gertrude Stein would convene their regular Saturday salon. Leo would hold me spellbound as he spoke about the groundbreaking, avant-garde art he and his family were collecting. I could gaze at now-priceless masterpieces hanging on every inch of wall space. Had I arrived on a good night, I might even share words and a drink with fellow guests, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. I’d be present close to modern art’s creation.

Leo & Gertrude Stein Family

Leo & Gertrude Stein Family

I came close to having that vision last October when I entered the galleries of Paris’ Grand Palais museum and came face to face with many of the iconic paintings that now reside in museums around the world. As I entered the opening galleries, I gasped in astonishment. I had no idea that the Stein family was responsible for acquiring such works, nurturing the careers  of now-heralded artists. Like great explorers, the Steins were the earliest champions of modern art.

Unlike much wealthier collectors of that period, such as the Potter Palmers of Chicago or the H.O. Havemeyers of New York, the Steins were neither particularly wealthy nor had they come to Paris with the intention of collecting paintings. They were well-educated, had some art training (Leo was an artist who had studied with art historian and connoisseur, Bernard Berenson) and exhibited discerning taste for the new.

The exhibit, “The Steins Collect”, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through June 3, is the culmination of a decade-long commitment by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the French Union of National Museums–Grand Palais and the Met. It is truly the proverbial once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, made possible due to a one-time exception by the heirs of Elise A. Haas, allowing Matisse’s “Woman with a Hat” to travel. Viewers owe a debt of gratitude to the three museums and the lead curators (Janet Bishop at SFMOMA, Cecile Debray at the Grand Palais and Rebecca Rabinow at The Met) for bringing the exhibit to fruition with great flair and newly unearthed scholarship. The first examination of the Stein Collection in more than 40 years, it reunites close to 200 works, now scattered to all corners of the globe.

Matisse: Woman with a Hat

Matisse: Woman with a Hat

Leo was the collection’s driving force in its early years. Deciding to become an artist, he moved to Paris at the end of 1902 from Florence where he had met and been influenced by Berenson. His sister, Gertrude, joined him in the fall of 1903. Their brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sarah Stein, arrived in January, 1904. Leo’s early aesthetic was more classical in outlook. The artists he called “The Big Four”: Manet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne informed his aesthetic though the first three artists were beyond his means. He purchased his first Cezanne from legendary dealer, Ambroise Vollard, in 1903.

In Paris, Leo was delighted to learn he could afford contemporary oil paintings. Leo and Gertrude were transfixed by the art on view at the second Salon d’Automne in 1904. Works by Cezanne, Odilon Redon, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec were featured. Two weeks later, they emptied their bank accounts of close to $7,000 and bought two Cezannes, two Gauguins, two Renoirs and a Maurice Denis.

Madame Cézanne with a Fan

Madame Cézanne with a Fan

Six weeks later, they purchased Cezanne’s “Madame Cezanne with a Fan”. They acquired the centerpieces of their young collection, Matisse’s, “Woman with a Hatin 1905 and Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude in 1906. During their lifetimes, the Steins owned 180 works by each artist.

Throughout the decade from 1904 until 1913, the Steins were modern art’s most influential tastemakers. Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, has written: “For the two brief years between 1905 and 1907 he (Leo) was possibly the most discerning connoisseur and collector of 20th-Century painting in the world.”  Years later, Gertrude tried to inflate her role in assembling the collection but Rebecca Rabinow, curator of the exhibition at The Met, told me in an interview, “If Leo hadn’t been around, I don’t think there would have been a collection.”

Studio at

Apartment - 27 Rue de Fleurus

If one were to have visited the Steins’ small apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus in 1906, one would have seen paintings, hung floor to ceiling, crammed on three walls. There were works by Cezanne (3), Renoir (2), Gauguin, Picasso (3), Matisse, Manguin, Bonnard, Daumier, Delacroix, Denis, Toulouse-Lautrec and several by Leo Stein.  In the mid-1930s, Gertrude reminded her readers that the art they showed was once scorned. “It is very difficult now that everybody is accustomed to everything to give some idea of the uneasiness once felt when one first looked at all these pictures on the walls.”

The exhibit I saw six months ago at the Grand Palais opened with a room devoted to art by “The Big Four” and then devoted subsequent rooms to displaying the art collected by each of the Stein siblings and their companions in turn. Rabinow, however, has taken a different tack toward hanging the collection in New York. Her aim, she said, was to have the collection speak to its specific moment in time. “I arranged the paintings so that the art tells stories.”

Stein Salon

Stein Salon

In the entry room, Rabinow hung paintings Leo saw from 1900-1903 that he didn’t buy. Leo and Gertrude had a rule that they would only buy works by artists they were friends with. A showstopper of Rabinow’s design is an exact replica, down to the exact dimensions, of Leo’s small studio (460 sq. ft.) complete with an in-gallery projection of the original artworks onto the studio walls. If you can’t make it to New York, you can view a video of the projection on the Met’s website, But you should, by all means, hop a plane or train if you want a special thrill.

While the exhibition is a full immersion by itself, I cannot end without praise for the lavish, nearly 500-page catalog, published by Yale University Press. I cannot recommend it too highly. It is a necessary complement to the exhibit that squares the circle, so to speak. The eleven original essays (including those by the three lead curators and a highly incisive profile of Leo Stein by Gary Tinterow, a former senior curator at The Met and now director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts) are an entertaining read and a rich trove of fascinating biographical details about each member of the Stein family, along with new research findings.  The catalog contains 500 plates, many in color, a helpful chronology, pages from Sarah Stein’s Notebook of Matisse’s teachings, photos of the Stein residences illustrating how they displayed their art and, last but not least, an  invaluable inventory of the Stein Collections with dimensions, current ownership and past provenance.

Every aspect of the exhibition and catalog manifests the labor of love this endeavor was for all parties concerned. I offer a bow of deep appreciation for making that moment in time come alive for me. Go treat yourself to the same experience!

PostHeaderIcon Is it Self-Taught, Outsider or Art Brut? Why Not Just Plain Art?

Editor’s Note: The postings this week and next focus on two magnificent art exhibits currently up.  One is 750 miles away at the Metropolitan Museum in New York while the other is only 90 miles from Chicago at the Milwaukee Art Museum. If hopping a plane is out of the question, I’d strongly recommend the journey north before the show closes on May 6th. I’m sure you will be moved  by the arresting and highly-accomplished works.

Anthony Petullo

Anthony Petullo

At the moment, while the Art Institute treads water, preparing for its upcoming Roy Lichtenstein show, genuine art excitement can be found just up the road at the Milwaukee Art Museum where a stunning collection of 200 paintings, sculpture and objects, part of the Anthony Petullo Collection, is on view. Mere words alone cannot do justice to the show’s visceral power. I only know that, soon after entering the exhibit, I was in the grip of the virtuosity on display in a way I seldom experience at an exhibition, where keeping a critical distance is the norm.

David Lloyd, Artist

Susanna York by David Lloyd

At the entry to the “Accidental Genius” exhibition is artist David Lloyd’s wall-size, blown-up portrait of English actress, Susanna York. Her gaze is captivating but one senses something askew about the likeness. That “off” quality serves as a metaphor for this bold assortment of works and styles by “self-taught” and “outsider” artists, no-name figures lacking academic training or existing outside mainstream culture due to psychological illness or some developmental disability.

The show highlights the artists’ mesmerizing talents as well as Petullo’s loving obsession for these works. Such previously-maligned and marginalized creations are now avidly pursued by collectors and museums. Go and treat yourself to a visual feast. After viewing the artists’ intuitive handling of color, composition, draftsmanship and detail, you may agree with me in finding current art babble surrounding these works too parochial. The current art canon should embrace such creations and label them Art–plain and simple, free of limiting modifiers. After all, many of the artists we now revere, names such as Cezanne, Rousseau, Van Gogh and Gauguin, didn’t go to art school either.

Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974)

Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974)

I found myself particularly transfixed by the work of Eddie Arning, David Lloyd, Henry Darger, James Dixon, Madge Gill, Carlo Zinelli along with the artists of Art Haus, a mental health facility outside Vienna. The six named artists have wildly contrasting styles that paid no mind to the art world, yet produced creations of stunning originality. When I passed a good number of the works, I instinctively moved within inches of the paper or canvas, drawn by the force of their images, color, hyper-precise line drawing or written text. Margaret Andera, the curator of “Accidental Genius”, deserves praise for her long-standing commitment to the collection that informs her intelligent selection and organization of the exhibition.

Every great collection reflects the eye and personality of its collector. While Petullo assembled his collection over three decades, he noted, in a telephone conversation, that half of the 320 donated works were acquired during an intense three year period, from 1990-93. While the collection contains work by several American masters like Darger and Bill Traylor, its strength lies in the quality and range of European self-taught artists represented, many of whom Petullo collected in depth. His donation to the Milwaukee Art Museum, according to director, Dan Keegan, “is the most extensive grouping of its kind in any American museum or in private hands.”

Mimmie Evans (1892–1987)

Minnie Evans (1892–1987)

Petullo’s first collecting foray came in 1974 when he bought a work that caught his eye at the city’s Lakefront Festival of Arts. Over the next decade, he collected what he liked with no plan. He dubs those first purchases “early Dad art”. They now reside with his children and grandchildren. Gradually, this local businessman moved away from folk/naive art and gravitated toward self-taught and outsider art.

Petullo doesn’t like the artificial distinctions placed on this work. What attracts him so much to these artists? “They share an independent spirit, unrestrained by the rules of art training. Also they are inventive, having a free flow of creativity. Essentially, they create for their own enjoyment and fulfillment, with little or no regard for the rest of the art world.”

As Petullo’s eye developed and grew more discriminating, he concentrated on figurative, colorful, uplifting and optimistic work. Abstract or highly polished art didn’t move him. “I’m an imagist,”, he says. The art of Edward Hopper, Egon Schiele, The School of The Eight, and artists of  the Fauve movement holds special appeal.

Madge Gill (English, 1882–1961)

Madge Gill (English, 1882–1961)

“I never bought art as an investment”, Petullo told me, advice he gives to every aspiring collector. “You have to realize that 98% of art never appreciates. And, as soon as the work leaves the dealer’s shop, it’s immediately worth 50% less than what you paid for it.” I asked if he had gotten some bargains when he began collecting outsider art in the early 1980s. “Well, maybe if you consider $20,000 or 30,000 a low price.”

Though he initially relied on one or two dealers to steer him toward outstanding work, Petullo soon developed firm confidence in his own taste. “You have to believe in yourself to build a great collection. You have to say “No” to them (dealers) if it’s not for you.” He laughingly recalled that Russell Bowman, a former director of the museum (now an art dealer in Chicago) once brought him a list of suggested artists to add to the collection. Petullo says he crossed off all but one or two names. He’d do it his way, thank you.

Friedrich Schröder Sonnenstern (1892–1982)

Friedrich Schröder Sonnenstern (1892–1982)

He made it clear years ago that his museum-quality collection was destined for Milwaukee. What criteria, I asked, did he use in deciding where it should go and had he considered a New York museum or The Art Institute (Petullo was born and grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Illinois, where he has endowed two named professorships).  He named four factors that governed the winning choice: “They needed to have strong interest in the collection, top curatorial talent, enough wall space and, very important, enough storage space.” He didn’t want the art to languish in an off-site warehouse.

Henry Darger (American, 1892–1973)

Henry Darger (American, 1892–1973)

New York’s Museum of American Folk Art didn’t have enough wall space and recently shuttered its doors. And the Art Institute was “too damn big”. The collection would be lost there and he thought the museum “not ready”, possibly meaning such art was deemed not yet worthy of admission. At Milwaukee, the Petullo Collection will join the Richard and Erna Flagg Collection of Haitian Art and the Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. Those three collections, notes gallerist Jane Kallir in the lavish “Accidental Genius” catalog, “make Milwaukee one of America’s preeminent centers for the study of work by untrained creators.”

At a time when auction houses and one’s checkbook rule as the new arbiters of artistic value and social celebrity, it is heartening to see an older model of a generous collector motivated purely by his passion for art and his community. For more information on the artists and exhibition visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.