Archive for the ‘Art – Museums’ Category

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

PostHeaderIcon Shuffle Off to Buffalo…No, Make That Milwaukee

You have just another month to catch the most pleasurable art exhibit of this summer, much less the past year. It’s not in Chicago but 90 minutes away at the Milwaukee Art Museum. And it’s actually two shows in one–a stunning collection of more than 70 masterworks, primarily by 20th Century artists, as well as a tribute to the vision of the museum patrons who collected them. It’s unusual to find such a world-class collection in an art outpost like Buffalo, more noted in recent times for its snowstorms.

The museum is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, one of America’s earliest art museums, famed for  its superb collection of modern and contemporary art. While its galleries were undergoing renovation recently, Milwaukee has had the good fortune to capture this traveling exhibit before the works return to their home.

" Spirit of the Dead Watching"

“Spirit of the Dead Watching”

The exhibit opens with a bang. The first work viewers encounter is a Van Gogh work, La Maison de la Crau (The Old Mill), painted soon after he moved to Arles in 1888. Its color scheme of gold, green and brown strokes marks the influence of Impressionism on the artist. On an adjoining wall hangs Gauguin‘s iconic Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892). Both are from the collection of A. Conger Goodyear, a visionary patron and member of the museum’s board who later became the first president of the Museum of Modern Art.

I then passed well-known works by artists associated with the the Paris School such as Modigliani, Robert Delaunay, Henri Rousseau, Miro and highly appealing canvases by Matisse and Vuillard. There is also a path-breaking picture by Kandinsky, his 1913 Fragment 2 for Composition VII.

But it is when the exhibit’s second half shifts focus from Paris to New York City that the show’s magic unfolds with several Abstract Expressionist masterworks. The first is Jackson Pollock’s Convergence (1952), an iconic example of the artist’s “action painting” technique.

1957-D No.1

1957-D No.1

For me, the show’s knockout awaited in the next room with Clyfford Still‘s monumental, 1957-D No.1, a brilliantly powerful yellow, black and white canvas that nearly fills the entire wall. (Albright-Knox holds 31 Still works in its collection that the artist gifted in 1964).

The exhibition also holds many more viewing treats: works by Robert Motherwell, Frida Kahlo, Giacometti, Gorky, Mark Rothko, Jim Dine, Dali and Lee Bontecou. Another personal favorite was Helen Frankenthaler’s large, colorfully lush, Tutti Fruitti, an early precursor of the “color field” movement.

 Seymour H. Knox Jr.

Seymour H. Knox Jr.

Buffalo was blessed over the last century with art enthusiasts like Goodyear and the leadership and magnanimous support of Seymour H. Knox Jr. whose lifelong generosity was noted with the Albright Art Gallery being renamed in 1962. He served on the art gallery’s board for 60 years and donated 700 works of art during his lifetime. The influential art dealer of the 1960s, Martha Jackson, was a Buffalo native as well. Her family made a bequest of 44 works of art to the Albright-Knox in 1974.

“Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels” is on view through September 20 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It is a rare opportunity to see an exceptional collection of modern and contemporary art. Plan a day to make the short drive north to take in the beauty and ponder the daring innovation of these artistic rebels who shaped the history of 20th Century Art.

The museum is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Between now and Labor Day, the museum is offering free admission to active duty soldiers, reservists and military veterans plus up to five family members. Make the museum a whole family outing!






PostHeaderIcon 5 Top Art Exhibits (at the Movies)

Matisse's Gallary at Tate

Matisse’s Gallary at Tate

I saw a thrilling art exhibit last week—but not at a museum. Fathom Events, the producer of the successful MetLive HD series of operas as well as rock concerts and sporting events, has now dipped its toes into the visual arts pool. It plans to screen five museum exhibitions of famous artists, beginning with Matisse, and continuing with Vermeer, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and the Impressionists (Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir). The exhibit of “Henri Matisse: The Cutouts had mesmerizing material, strong production values and informative commentary.

Matisse's "Blue Nudes"

Matisse’s “Blue Nudes”

The exhibition was filmed at London’s Tate Gallery and is currently at New York’s Museum of Modern Art through February 10. It has drawn very large crowds at both museums. Tate Director, Nicholas Serota, led the tour. The 90-minute presentation featured not only the supremely lush cutouts but backstage views of the hanging before the official opening. And, best of all, no teeming crowds blocking your up-close view of these marvelous creations. Fathom’s Kymberli Frueh-Owens put the series’ appeal very well, “Art lovers will get to experience some of the very best works ever created, with access and intimacy that is simply not available at blockbuster exhibitions.”

What is more remarkable about the cutouts (known as gouaches decoupes) is that Matisse made these works during the last 14 years of his life, while suffering from cancer and confined to bed and a wheelchair. The cutouts, using only scissors and paper, are among the most admired and influential works of his entire career. You can sense the artist’s freedom and mastery of color and form in studying these creations. Among my favorites were The Snail, Blue Nude, La Gerbe, The Parakeet and the Mermaid and Large Decoration with Masks.

Matisse: Parakeet and the Mermaid

Parakeet and the Mermaid

Matisse has always been one of my favorite artists and, for me, the best among 20th Century innovators. My first introduction to the Cutouts was at an exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum in the late 1970s. Subsequently, I’ve seen them again at Washington’s National Gallery of Art and at MoMA. I had the great pleasure to view his design, as well as worshiping at, the stunning Matisse Chapel in Vence, France in 2011 and again last year.

If you want to enhance your art appreciation about some of history’s greatest artists (plus save the airline fares to see these exhibits in person), here’s a great way to catch the remaining exhibitions in the series at a theater in your community. The next shows in the series will feature Rembrandt on February 24, 2015,  Van Gogh on April 14, Vermeer on June 23 and the Impressionists on July 14. For ticket information and a list of theaters showing the series, go to  (Click on List Events)



PostHeaderIcon Milwaukee Does Kandinsky Proud

Last week, I spent an invigorating, art-filled day in Paris and Germany but never left O’Hare. My partner and I drove to Milwaukee to view the Milwaukee Art Museum’s stunning exhibition on Wassily Kandinsky, one of the 20th Century’s most visionary and influential artists. This is a co-sponsored show between Milwaukee and Paris’ Centre Pompidou, the repository for much of his art and his archives which his widow donated to the Pompidou in 1980.

The Pompidou shipped 119 pieces to Milwaukee for what is probably the most complete show of his work that you will ever see in America. The show covers not one but all three of his artistic periods: 1906-13 with The Blue Rider group of artists in Munich (drawing on Milwaukee’s Bradley collection from this period), 1921-33 and his partnership with a famed group of artists, writers and architects known as The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany and 1933-44 in Paris where his style undergoes a radical transformation. Kandinsky died there in 1944 at age 78.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

I have only seen a few prior Kandinsky works, usually as part of a larger theme show on abstraction or Russian art. This exhibit expanded both my knowledge of this pioneering artist and why he is not as revered by critics and contemporary artists.

It seems ironic and a shameful oversight that the artist, who invented a new language of abstract painting that substituted inner feeling over external form  (for which post-war Abstract Expressionists are in his debt) and the equal of Picasso and Braque’s experiments in Cubism’s deconstruction of the human form,  has “fallen by the wayside for many practicing artists and academics fearful of exploring his romantic yet dense and inspiring theories” according to Milwaukee’s chief curator, Brady Roberts.

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Yellow-Red-Blue - 1925

Overshadowing him currently is his contemporary, Marcel Duchamp, the progenitor of conceptual art, a movement more in fashion since the ’60s. Yet one cannot emerge from the show without acknowledging the power of Kandinsky’s intellect and his artistic achievement, even if the personal symbolism behind the works remains mysterious. He used vibrant colors in his masterworks to be expressive of his inner feelings.


Juryfriere - "Salon de Reception"

Traveling to Milwaukee ranks as a must for any true art lover simply to experience a single work in the exhibition. Kandinsky painted a series of  wildly colorful, shooting star-like murals for the 1922  “Juryfreie” exhibition that filled all four walls of a room in that Berlin gallery. They have been exhibited only once–at the Pompidou’s opening in 1976. Milwaukee has reconstructed that octagonal room and rehung the murals. Being surrounded by Kandinsky’s abstract symbols, I felt a powerful surge of emotion, beyond the power of words. “Knocked Out” comes close to conveying the impact. Truly a unique sight in all my years of exploring art

Milwaukee's Third Ward

Milwaukee's Third Ward

GO! It’s the only time you will ever have this viewing experience in America again. It’s just a three-hour round-trip drive and you can combine the weekend visit with exploring the cafes and boutiques in the trendy Third Ward district. As well as many examples Milwaukee’s superb downtown early 20th Century architecture.

Kudos are also in order for the catalog that accompanies the show. It is a beautifully-produced volume that does justice to the art. Many of the color reproductions are big and bold and the color separations are excellent. Along with a useful chronology of Kandinsky’s life, it serves as a vivid reminder of a blockbuster exhibit worthy of the name.

Kandinsky: A Retrospective is up until September 1. For information on hours, location and parking, contact the Milwaukee Art Museum at 414/224-3200 or at