Archive for the ‘Art – Museums’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Midsummer Dance Madness

I have now seen three “Midsummer Night’s Dream” productions–Shakespeare’s, Peter Brooks’ magical updating and now Alexander Ekman‘s Swedish version in dance. All are supremely inventive tellings of mistaken identity (less with Ekman), merry romps and the thin line betwixt dream and reality.

Joffrey Ballet - Midsummer FeastThe Joffrey Ballet gave the tale, transplanted to Sweden, its Chicago premiere last Wednesday and one of the first since its world premiere in Stockholm in April, 2015. Its superbly-trained ballet corps of more than 40 dancers gave a performance full of eye-catching choreography, thrilling special effects and hearty laughter. It’s a winning way to celebrate director Ashley Wheater‘s 10th anniversary season.

Ekman’s terpsichore was ably complemented by Mikael Karlsson‘s highly-engaging score and the high-pitched, otherworldly sounds of Swedish vocalist, Anna Von Hausswolff. 

Midsummer in Sweden is celebrated each year between June 19th and 25th. The feast includes games, dances around the pole and tug of war. The celebrations also include eating lunch or dinner outdoors at long tables, a recreated element that provided an impressive visual scene in the ballet.

Joffrey Ballet - Midsummer FrenzieThe Joffrey’s “Dream” involves a sleeper, nestled in a bed at the far right side of the stage. His dream in the first act is one of happy times by day. Yet, following intermission, all hell breaks loose and he is caught in a nightmarish frenzy. Throughout the ballet, one’s attention never flags as we experience visual, lighting and dance delights.

As I watched, I was reminded of Swedish filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, and his great 1955 film of Midsummer, Smiles of a Summer Night,  since been adapted for the musical, A Little Night Music. Those Swedes, contrary to their dour popular impression, sure know how to have a good time.

I confess that I didn’t enter expecting such a wild spree. Joffrey is known for its reliance on older story ballets but, with “Dream”, it appears to want to break out of its usual box with this totally modern offering. It may have seemed like a gamble but it wasn’t and it paid off handsomely! I hope it enters Joffrey’s repertoire and we have the pleasure of seeing more dreams when we need a laugh and some smartly executed dance.

You can still catch “Midsummer Night’s Dream” through this Sunday, May 6, at the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at 312/386-8905 or at 




PostHeaderIcon 200 Years of Master Drawings

For more than two centuries, from the early 19th through the 20th century postwar era, anyone calling themselves an “Artist” had to be versed in drawing and printmaking. When the capital of the modern art world moved from Paris to New York following World War II, drawing dropped below painting and the more muscular, grand gestures of Abstract Expressionism.

Jacques-Louis David, Vieillard et Jeune Femme

Jacques-Louis David, Vieillard et Jeune Femme

Drawing and prints were once an essential part of an artist’s toolkit. Artists turned to drawing to fashion preparatory studies before putting paint to canvas or as finished compositions in their own right. Drawing was the artists’ common thread and a practice they regularly employed in their search for new, innovative ideas.

It is uncommon, in current times, to find museums mounting drawing exhibitions (unless the artists are named Leonardo or Michelangelo). Even the Art Institute, which houses a world-class prints and drawings collection, has been reluctant, in recent memory, to showcase this prized archive with a full-scale exhibition.

Which is why it’s refreshing and commendable that the Milwaukee Art Museum has mounted a revelatory exhibit of 150 works (that runs through January 28, 2018) from the holdings of two noted Chicago collectors. The show arrives in Milwaukee after a successful run at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, England.

It traces the evolutionary development of modernism in France. In the early 19th Century, the practice of art and who might be considered an artist were rigidly controlled by the French Academy which emphasized slavish devotion to classical themes drawn mainly from ancient history and mythology.

Artists increasingly chafed at such restrictions and sought the freedom to find their own styles. This movement began in the 1830s and 1840s by such pre-Impressionist artists as Millet, Pissarro and Manet. These precursors gave way in 1874 to the Impressionists led by Monet, Cezanne and Renoir to be followed by Van Gogh, Gauguin and the Post-Impressionists.

Exhibition curator, Britany Salsbury, has mounted a very intelligent exhibition aided by the quality of the drawings at her disposal. She has arranged the works in a chronological survey that guides the viewer through 11 of the museum’s galleries with informative wall texts that begin with “Academy and Avant-Garde” and moving onward to “Challenging Artistic Traditions” followed several galleries beyond with “Moving Into the Modern World” and closing with “Wild Beasts and Cubists”.

Pablo Picasso, Female Nude

Pablo Picasso, Female Nude

The collection is fully capable of supporting such a wide-ranging show. It is comprehensive in scope with no historical or artistic gaps in the coverage extending from such lesser-known figures as Louis-Leopold Boilly and Theodore Chasseriau to more textbook figures as Delacroix, Honore Daumier, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and through modern art giants like Manet, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin and Picasso.

Yet the show’s purpose is not to focus on the art stars but rather the great technique and versatility of so many artists. I found another of the exhibition’s pleasures in discovering, and reveling many times, at stunning work by lesser-known figures such as Raoul Dufy (“Sainte Adresse Seen Through the Trees”), Albert Gleizes (“The City and The River”), Jean Metzinger (“Landscape”) and Jacques Villon (“L’Equilibriste”—The Tightrope Walker).

Only a few days remain to catch this richly satisfying showing of a less familiar genre, once an indispensable part of an artist’s vocabulary. While paint is the fuel that propels the contemporary art world, this exhibition says that we are foolishly overlooking an equally rich heritage of pen and ink. Milwaukee Art Museum.



Tom Mullaney is the New Art Examiner’s Senior Editor.

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!