Well, that was a whirl! For any of you that follow these blog posts in a timely manner, you’ll know (and one of you even pointed out to me in a gallery talk!) that I ambitiously scheduled two “Making an Exhibition” blog posts for myself on the week of and week after the Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition opened.
Mistake. So, here I am, three weeks tardy to my original plans, finding an afternoon to recap the excitement of putting together the exhibition in its final week, celebrating the opening of the exhibition, and then sharing it with tours and reporters.
I am thrilled with how the beautiful artwork and tremendous story unfold in our exhibition. I am happy to report that we had a great crowd at our opening night. And I have been honored to share this story with more than one reporter, who had very lovely things to say about our exhibition in the press.
Here are a few things that happened.
A Last Minute Change in Installation
On the Friday before the exhibition opened, everything was coming together swimmingly, so we had the luxury of making on-the-fly improvements. Giving credit where credit is due, Jon Prown, Director of the Chipstone Foundation, had a terrific suggestion.
In the area of the exhibition where we show Grete’s artwork in the context of her Bauhaus education, I posit the thesis that her Haël Workshop ceramics are fundamentally tied to the Basic Course (first year) at the art school. Groupings on color theory, form, and expression tie her ceramics to teachings by Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, and Wassily Kandinsky. At right, you can see the installation case with Grete’s aqua and blue striped teapot (analogous colors) viewed with Itten’s Color Star.
In the section exploring the concept of “expression” (which the Bauhaus defined as the freedom to be creative), which you can see mid-installation in this earlier blog post, we intended to show two fantastic T. Lux Feininger photographs of Bauhaus students practicing yoga and playing soccer. We meant for these photos to represent action. Honestly, it wasn’t working. We were missing the critical motion and emotion of the process of creating abstract, Modern art that we really wanted to get across. Sport wasn’t equaling freedom in the way I intended.
Then Jon Prown found this video. We reorganized the wall, moved a Kandinsky print, called in the Museum’s A/V Technician, Ted Brusubardis, and included it with a few days to go before exhibition opening.
The motion of Kandinsky’s hand in this 1926 Berlin gallery video, combined with a stunning Kandinsky woodblock print, concisely displayed our intended point that Bauhaus students like Grete learned formal art theory, and then released their emotions through action to create meaningful abstract artwork.
Below is the result of this wall, showing the Museum’s Kandinsky print compared to Grete’s ceramics, with the action of Kandinsky’s hand above.
And what happened to those gorgeous T. Lux Feininger photographic reproductions we had already produced for the exhibition? They’re in my office:
The Opening of the Exhibition
We were thrilled and honored that Grete Marks’ daughter, Dr. Frances Marks, joined us from London to celebrate the opening of the exhibition. Dr. Marks participated in interviews with press, joined sponsors on a special tour of the exhibition, and then answered questions during our opening public celebration on September 6.
Here is Dr. Marks answering questions and sharing first-hand stories about her mother’s artwork and story:
The opening celebration included a private tour for sponsors of the exhibition:
A public lecture in Lubar Auditorium included the formal presentation of the story by me, and then the Question and Answer session with Dr. Marks. We celebrated afterwards with a reception sponsored by the Museum’s American Arts Society.
On the day the exhibition opened, the Museum’s Public Relations Manager, Kristin Settle, set up a series of interviews for Dr. Frances Marks and me. Ideally, the press coverage will continue through the run of the exhibition.
You can see our story as interpreted through the reporters by reading what Express Milwaukee says about it here, and OnMilwaukee‘s coverage of the exhibition here, and here for a thoughtful article at the Third Coast Digest. Time Out Chicago made the exhibition one of their Critic’s Picks.
Milwaukee’s WMSE 91.7FM station invited me in to the studio to speak about the exhibition live on the radio. You can listen to the segment here at their archives in the September 10, 2012 show. The recording is 3 hours long; the interview about Grete Marks starts at 59:55 and ends at 1:17:50.
Last but not least, through the run of the exhibition, there are many ways to enjoy the exhibition through lectures and programming:
Gallery Talks with me on Tues, Oct 23, Nov 13, Dec 4, 1:30 pm, and at 8:00pm on the September (Sept 21) and November (Nov 16) MAM After Dark events.
Film Series Thursdays, 6:15 pm, Lubar Auditorium
All three films are free for Target Free First Thursdays. Each film is presented with a talkback in collaboration with the Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
Oct 4 | Eyewitness (1999)
This Academy Award–nominated short film documents the hidden art and lives of artists in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Talkback with Ruth Schwertfeger, professor of German, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
Nov 1 | The Rape of Europa (2006)
A documentary that examines Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during World War II, and Allied efforts to minimize the damage. Talkback with Winson Chu, assistant professor of history, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
Dec 6 | The Train (1964)
The Train is set in 1944, when a German colonel loads a train with French art treasures to send to Germany, and the Resistance must stop it without damaging the cargo. Talkback with Carl Bogner, senior film lecturer, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and director of Milwaukee’s LGBT Film & Video Festival.
Book Salon Discussion of The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Sat, Oct 6, 10:30 am
The Finished Installation
Though I hope most of you reading this are able to come enjoy our exhibition in person, I’ve captured a few snapshots of the installation to share here. Soon, we’ll have professional photography, but I wasn’t patient enough to hold this blog post off until then!
To read all
six five parts of this “Making an Exhibition” series, click on the links below.
Part 1: The Artwork’s Story (August 7, 2012)
Part 2: Research (with Travel!) (August 14, 2012)
Part 3: Approvals and Loans and Email and Paperwork (August 21, 2012)
Part 4: Storyboards, Design, and Installation (August 28, 2012)
Part 5: Press, Opening Lectures, and Cheese Cubes (September 4, 2012)* Note, never schedule yourself a blog post due on the week you open an exhibition! *
Part 6: Finally, Enjoying the Gallery (September 28, 2012)
The exhibition was organized with the cooperation of the artist’s daughter, Dr. Frances Marks, and is supported by the Chipstone Foundation, the Mae E. Demmer Charitable Trust, and The Collectors’ Corner.
Mel Buchanan was the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. Mel’s curatorial responsibility includes interpreting, displaying, and building the Museum’s collection of craft, design, and decorative objects.