30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XXVIII – XXX

Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry visit the Museum on August 28, 2013. Photo by the author.

Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry. Photo by the author.

30 Encounters with 30 Americans is a ten week blog series showcasing the perspectives of thirty visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s 30 Americans exhibition (June 14 – September 8, 2013).

Read about the experiences of these visitors–from couples to families, from students to scholars–and see how their thoughts compare to your own. What are visitors saying about this dynamic exhibition of paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, video, and more made by African American artists since 1970?

As the 30 Americans exhibition draws to a close, so too does the 30 Encounters with 30 Americans blog series.  Since July, it has been a pleasure to engage with this project and have the opportunity to speak with a variety of visitors on their perceptions of selected artworks from the Rubell Family Collection.  Sunday, September 8th is the final day to visit 30 Americans at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  As the exhibition continues its tour at the Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee on October 11th, may all those who view 30 Americans spark further conversations.


Conversation XXVIII: Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry

Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry visit the Museum on August 28, 2013. Photo by the author.

Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry visit the Museum on August 28, 2013. Photo by the author.

For all their seemingly apparent differences, Karin Ormson and Valerie Curry share an important family trait.  Both women’s kin deeply appreciate art and visual culture.  Originally from Frankfurt, Germany and currently residing in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, Karin boasts several artists in her family including her daughter and aunt.  Similarly, Valerie Curry, a salesperson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recalls how her enjoyment of the arts stems from the influence of her mother and father.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Karin: Well, I liked the exhibition.  Although, I did find it disturbing… It grasped me emotionally that people cannot get past color. [People] talk about how things are getting easier, but I know with our black President there is a lot of opposition… even though he is a great man, an intelligent man… I wish that other people would just open their hearts a bit and their minds.  And, not be so narrow-minded and only go by first impressions and what color they see.

What affected me was the Ku Klux Klan hoods [Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons].  These people are… such cowards to cover their faces.  If you want to confront someone for whatever reason show yourself and be a man, rather then to hide behind those stupid hoods.  I just saw the movie, Lee Daniel’s The Butler and I thought the two [lynched African American men] were very disturbing.  This went down even though this was supposed to be the greatest country in the world, but still so many people have such hatred, for no other reason than just color… They see somebody and right away they say when something is on TV, “Oh they have to be colored. Those are colored people.” You know, when something bad happens.  I hear that often and I say how can you and why do you come up with things like this?

My ancestors were Germans and I was born in an area which is now in the Czech Republic.  [During World War II,] my parents came from Vienna and we were taken out of our home and my parents lost everything.  Then, later, when the Russians began fighting against the Germans, my uncle was taken away and killed just because he happened to be German.  It is history that repeats itself over and over… I have always wanted for people to get along ever since I was a child because, during the war, we were refugees and had nothing when we settled in Frankfurt in 1946.  We were looked down upon too because we were refugees and heard people say, “Why are these refugees taking away our space?” It is a cruel world and I just want everybody to get along.  I always felt that way.

Valerie: I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition.  I am a very tactile person so I just had to be reminded to stay behind the black line, and not to touch anything.  That is how I connect with things and people… Several of exhibits really touched home when it came to how the art dealt with womanhood and the way women have been treated during times of slavery and post-slavery, and still today there is a sense of loss…[For example,] the three portraits with the two black men and one black woman Descending the Throne by Carrie Mae Weems… As a black woman thinking about all the souls that have been lost because of slavery… I just have a sadness in my heart and soul, and I thank God that we are still here today.  

#2 What would you say to people who are considering coming to see the exhibition/artwork?

Karin: I think everyone should come to 30 Americans…  I think if we open our minds to other people, to other cultures, we could just be better people… You know we learn so much from other people.  It is amazing.

Valerie: You need to make time in your day to come down to the Milwaukee Art Museum and enjoy the beautiful display of art here.  Do not necessarily [think] because the exhibition says 30 Americans… [that it] is focusing on one genre.  It is not.

#3 Please choose a particular artist or artwork that stands out in your mind.  Comments or thoughts? 

Karin: Well, the painting is round and had the cityscape [Untitled by Purvis Young] like it was looking down at high rises.  As soon as you walk into the door, it is the first one on the right.  Well, it is, in a way, like you are in a plane looking down.  I went to Europe the day before 9-11.  When I got to Vienna, I wanted to call my husband, but there were no lines open and nobody told me what had happened… Since then, I have become more sensitive.  [The painting] affected me, it did… when I think of that [experience].  I think about the beauty and, also, how can people destroy something so beautiful?

Valerie[Souvenir: Composition in Three Parts by Kerry James Marshall] is compelling too, and on a day like today of all days for us to came down.  Yes, because of the [Birmingham] bombings that happened in 1963 and since we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington [For Jobs and Freedom] And, it is funny.  I was in a funeral probably about five months ago and the casket was very similar to this one [pointing to a page in the 30 Americans: Rubell Family Collection Catalogue].  I feel that African Americans have such a tradition when it comes to funerals and things.  So a lot of things have been passed down for generations: how they are in a casket, how there are lots of flowers and the resounding songs.

Conversation XXIX: Dave Ross and Geraldine Sykes

Dave Ross and Geraldine Sykes visit the Museum on September 5, 2013. Photo by the author.

Dave Ross and Geraldine Sykes visit the Museum on September 5, 2013. Photo by the author.

Dave Ross and Geraldine (Gerri) Sykes met in the car on the way to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Nonetheless, experiencing the 30 Americans exhibition has brought them together as friends.  Dave is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and graduate of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) from Oregon.  Following his retirement from the United States Air Force, Dave has since been employed as a trainer.  Dave not only exercises his body, but also his mind as a public speaker and amateur entomologist (insect researcher).  In “later years,” Dave hopes to return to university to pursue a formal degree in entomology.  Similar to Dave, Geraldine (alternatively known as Gerri) has found employment in a number of different fields in Wisconsin.  While she is currently enjoying traveling throughout the world as a retiree, she previously worked as a school educator, teaching first grade and a course in consumer education at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).  Later, she changed careers and became a licensing specialist.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Dave: I was both intrigued, entertained and, at some points, disappointed by the works of art… I like the images that had the Nike and the basketball [Branded Head and Get off on the Right Foot 1988/2007 by Hank Willis Thomas].  I really love those.  My middle son looks at the world as if it is basketball and then all the other stuff he is going to put up with until you can play basketball.  I think that concept is something that I have been trying to share with him for awhile.  Maybe, one day, he will get it.  And, when I say a little disappointed in some of the perspectives of the works, I am [referring to] the films. I found them to be a little ambiguous.  I also – being somewhat of a historian – would have liked more of a historical perspective in this collection in some ways, but other than that it is fascinating.

You have an interesting perspective. The art featured in the 30 Americans exhibition was produced following 1970. As such, how would you rectify your proposed need for an increased historical perspective with the fact that these are relatively recent works by contemporary artists?

Dave: It is contemporary art we are talking about from the last thirty-four years, or so.  A lot of things have happened and a lot of different perspectives have happened.  I would look for more uplifting presentations of history.  There is a lot that has happened over that time period that would have been a little more uplifting to [represent].

Geraldine: I enjoyed it. This is my second time to 30 Americans. I came once before. There is just so much to see that you can not take it in with one viewing.  I might even come back Sunday. My husband has not had an opportunity to see it yet so I think I will make sure he gets down here over the weekend to see it.  I think it is a show everybody would want to see it. It is fantastic. It has got a wide range of art that will appeal to almost anybody’s taste.  Some art will make you scratch your head and say, “um” and other art you could immediately connect with.  I think it is worth a visit by everyone.  For me, I used to do a lot of sewing.  I made my own clothes and, at one point, I headed my own design company.  So, I really [connected] with the statues [by Nick Cave]: the clothing, the intricate bead work and other things were just fascinating to me.

#2 What would you say to people who are considering coming to see the exhibition/artwork?

Dave: I think the exhibition is definitely worth seeing, but again I think, to me, what makes art very valuable is the conversation that it inspires.  I think 30 Americans inspired dozens of conversations. Cancel what you are doing, come down here and see it.

Geraldine: I would say definitely make an effort to get down to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Even if you have to cancel something else, make sure that you get down here to see 30 Americans. It is important because I do not think there is anything like this in Milwaukee.  I have lived here for forty-five years and I think this is probably the first time anyone has had an exhibit of this magnitude about this subject.

#3 Please choose a particular artist or artwork that stands out in your mind.  Comments or thoughts?

Dave: Of course, I mentioned earlier [Branded Head and Get off on the Right Foot 1988/2007 by Hank Willis Thomas] were works that really impressed me for personal reasons.  But, the other artwork that I found really fascinating – probably from my military background – was the guy who is on the horse [Equestrian Portrait of the Court-Duke Olivares by Kehinde Wiley].  I found that just fascinating because it clearly reflected some of the ancient tapestries of medieval era, but put a contemporary picture on it in many ways.  It spurred a lot of conversation.  I found it very beautiful.  With my military background, of course, I was attracted to the fact that it payed homage to the classic military portrait of the knight on the rearing horse.  I found it entertaining and sparking a lot of conversation. Now, why is he [the portrait sitter] wearing something about the Negro Leagues on the back?  Why is this the portrayal of a knight?

Geraldine: I do not think I have one that really just stands out.

Why does none of the art individually stand out to you?

Geraldine: I guess because I… am still trying to look and take everything in.  Hmm, I like the [Jean-Michel] Basquiat works because I like graffiti.  I like this style of art. I have seen a retrospect of his art.  I always like seeing his work so that is one that appeals to me.  If I find out that he is in a show, or if there is a showing of his work, I always go… He died very, very young when he died so his work is complete.  It is here.

Conversation XXXMariah Vela

Mariah Vela visit the Museum on August 28, 2013. Photo by the author.

Mariah Vela visits the Museum on August 28, 2013. Photo by the author.

Mariah Vela is a freshman, studying business at UW – Whitewater in Whitewater, Wisconsin.  When not studying or involved in school-related extracurricular activities, Mariah enjoys reading and singing.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Mariah: The exhibition was really nice.  I thought it shows interesting perspectives on people’s lives and how society feels now about them.

#2 What would you say to people who are considering coming to see the exhibition/artwork?

Mariah: I would definitely tell everyone to come check the exhibition out! Actually, I was really surprised, 30 Americans is really interesting to look at… I was not sure who all the artists were, but I liked learning about these new people a lot.

#3 Please choose a particular artist or artwork that stands out in your mind.  Comments or thoughts?

Mariah: I liked the artwork with the Klu Klux Klan hoods and the noose [Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons].  I also liked the four photographs of, I am assuming slaves?They had words on them describing who they later became Descending the Throne by Carrie Mae Weems.  It made me think about who I will become.

- – – – – -

Click below to read each of the 30 Encounters with 30 Americans. The exhibition 30 Americans is at the Milwaukee Art Museum from June 14 through September 8, 2013. For more information, please click here.

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XXV – XXVII

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XXII – XXIV

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XIX – XXI

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XVI – XVIII

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XIII – XV

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations X – XII

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations VII – IX

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations IV – VI

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations I – III

Sarah Rabinowe is a summer Curatorial Intern at the Museum.  Sarah is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, and this autumn she will be moving to England to complete her Masters degree in History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford.
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One Response to 30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XXVIII – XXX

  1. Pingback: 30 Americans Exhibit Closes | ArtbyBB

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