I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting on my trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum. And perhaps it was because I had no expectations that I was amazed at how stunning the main building is. The museum is actually made up of three buildings, all designed by famous architects: Eero Saarinen, David Kahler and Santiago Calatrava.
Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava, has a vaulted a 90-foot-high glass ceiling, and the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily which can be viewed from the bridge outside.
Dan Kiley is the landscape architect who designed the gardens at the entrance to the museum. Natural light floods the central space and views of Lake Michigan at every turn. Whether one looks to the ceiling or down a hall, the architecture mesmerizes.
Currents 35: Tara Donovan
I have written much about Tara Donovan before and though I love her work, I am not usually surprised by it. However, when I entered her Currents show at the museum (a series of installations and exhibitions by younger contemporary artists), I was blown away. Selecting one manmade utilitarian material, Donovan creates otherworldly landscapes. For the work below, the hole in the gallery wall provides a two-sided space allowing light from the window and lake to shine through and bounce off of the film that comprises the work. Therefore it is constantly changing.
And in the next gallery plastic rods make up what appear to be ice crystals (I felt like I had stepped onto Superman’s planet). But Haze from 2003 was the most incredible work I have ever seen by Donovan. No, I take that back. It wasn’t the most incredible work I have seen her create; it was just the one I was most taken with. It looked as if a cloud had landed on an entire wall of the museum. It undulates with both concave and convex areas. When you get closer and your eyes focus, you begin to see the individual straws that comprise the work–two and a half million straws that took five people two full days to create. An unbelievable work!
Currents 36: Isaac Julien Expeditions
Fantome Afrique from 2008 is the second video work in Julien’s Expeditions trilogy, which is being screened at the museum. This is the first time all three will be exhibited together in any museum. Showing Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, Julien contrasts this cinematic center of West Africa with extreme rural spaces surrounding the city. This imagery is interspersed with archival footage from colonial expeditions. With both a male and female protagonist, the three channel video takes away some of the mystique of filmmaking by showing the cameraman and boom at various points. The contrast between night sequences and the hot dry desert day shots is beautiful. Julien is concerned with the movement and circulation of people in response to globalism.
The permanent collection of modern and contemporary art had some strong pieces including works by Eva Hesse, Rachel Whiteread, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Barbara Hepworth, Riopelle, Mark Rotko, Josef Albers, Gottlieb, David Smith and many more.
There was a Tony Cragg work in wood called Lost in Thought and a Martin Puryear piece entitled Maroon from 1988-89 in one gallery that were stunning–and the dialogue they had with each other was inspired.
I particularly loved this Kees van Dongen painting from 1918-20 in a special exhibit of highlights from Mrs. Harry Lynne Bradley’s collection.
Photo credit: Nicole Berry.