Art Curatorial Exhibitions

30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XVI – XVIII

Elysia Powers and Tori Transut(?) visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. Photo by the author.
Elysia Powers and Tori Trausht visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. 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?

Read a variety of expressive viewpoints from artists and art enthusiasts this week on 30 Encounters with 30 Americans.

Conversation XVI: Roger Goldman and Stephanie Riven

Roger Goldman and Stephanie Rivers visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. Photo by the author.
Roger Goldman and Stephanie Riven visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. Photo by the author.

For twenty-three years, Stephanie Riven worked as the Executive Director at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), “a multidisciplinary community arts center that provides exceptional arts education through programs, performances and exhibitions” in St. Louis, Missouri.  Afterwards, she became a consultant with The Riven Company, where she is involved in consulting, not-for-profit management capacity building, and resource development.  Her husband, Roger Goldman, is a law professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law.  They are visiting friends in Wisconsin and decided to arrive a day early to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Roger: I liked being reintroduced to many of these artists, like Robert Colescott, who we had seen because they were exhibited at my wife’s contemporary art museum when she was the director there.  Some of the artists, such as Kerry James Marshall, we just saw in St. Louis a few weeks ago. So, it is sort of an old home week. We were also glad to see some newer African-American artists… It was nice to see a whole new generation of people.

Stephanie: Well, I love the exhibition because I was reintroduced to those artists that I am very familiar with, which would include Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall, Robert Colescott, William Pope L., and, especially, Nick Cave. I love the Nick Cave pieces. There are so many and his very intricate sewing and designs are fabulous. I could look at them all day… I enjoyed the exhibition even more because I was introduced to new artists. I was not familiar with Mickalene Thomas and I thought that work was among the most interesting. Her work has vibrancy… I also really liked the video of William Pope L.  I watched the entire video. I think he is really making a statement, and taking a lot of time to do so.  The statement conveyed the oppression of people who are disabled in some way whether that is through societal abuse, or through their own disabilities.  He really hit a great idea there. The long trip that he makes on his knees…

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

Roger: I really liked 30 Americans. I have seen a lot of exhibits, but to see 30 African American artists from different perspectives and backgrounds–I have never seen this sort of arrangement before.

Stephanie: Well, I would like to meet Donald and Mera Rubell…I really want to know more about how they made their decisions and over what time period…  At the time, they were giving these artists a chance, an opportunity… I know that some of these artists have been working for a long time, trying to make their mark.

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

Roger: When I see Kara Walker’s work, it is just one or two pictures. However, Camptown Ladies tells a whole story… That gets to idea of being able to see an artist in a space that does their work justice.  I would say, it is that combination of being able to see the long screen work [Untitled by Kerry James Marshall], or the triptych [Triple Portrait of Charles I by Kehinde Wiley] too. The Milwaukee Art Museum allows for that. I think that was my favorite part.

Stephanie: I have never seen Kara Walker’s work in such an open and large scope. So, that was a real treat. We looked at some of the books of her work in the store and I may look at some of those books again because I had no idea of her range… We thought she just did the cutouts. We have a friend who owns her work – just a few pieces – it is great in a small place, and I think it is great in an expansive space. Also, there was a big controversy over Robert Colescott’s work, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, in St. Louis.  Some people thought the institution that showed that – which happened to be the one that I once ran – was racist for showing the work.  We were able to use the piece to educate about what he really was interested in as a satirist. I was glad to see so many of his pieces.

Conversation XVII: Elysia Powers and Tori Trauscht

Elysia Powers and Tori Trauscht visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. Photo by the author.
Elysia Powers and Tori Trauscht visit the Museum on August 22, 2013. Photo by the author.

Tori Trauscht lives in the Chicago area and devotes her time to projects in land restoration. When not outdoors, she enjoys drawing and painting. Tori has two grown children of her own, but they do not live nearby, so she is “borrowing” her close friend’s daughter, Elysia Powers, for a week.  Elysia is a fifteen-year-old, home-schooled student, visiting from Jacksonville, Florida.  She is an artist, primarily demonstrating her talents through figure drawing, animation and cartooning.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Elysia: I enjoyed the exhibit a lot. It was definitely one of the more interesting exhibits I have seen.  My favorite [artworks] were the Nick Cave sculptures – the different colors and the creativity that went into them.  I also really enjoyed the artwork by Hank Willis Thomas… where it is stereotypical for African Americans to be in sports and [representing] different logos. I never thought about how that might affect people.

Tori: It was historically profound. I liked the exhibition, but parts of it was very sad and tragic… The components of 30 Americans was well put together to try to convey what actually was happening to the blacks through history. The beautiful culture of the people was all throughout that room… It was really cool.

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

Elysia: I really think it was a very good exhibit, lots of amazing artwork and creativity and emotions and thoughts that were poured into this art.  You can really tell what the artists were thinking, what was going on in their minds when they created certain pieces. I think anyone should go if you are thinking about it.  It’s definitely a good exhibit.

Tori: You will walk away and you will want to think on multiple levels about what you just saw.  It will spark a lot of different feelings and emotions, and there is a lot of great artwork in there.

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

ElysiaOne day and Back Then (Seated and Standing) [by Xaviera Simmons]. It stood out to me. Not only the color contrast, but her expression in both pictures.  It is so indescribable… There are a million different things that could be going through her head. When I saw it, I thought of how she looks used. She looks like she is worn out and kind of just doing as she is told to do.

Tori: The cotton bales – Untitled #25 by Leonardo Drew. I wanted to walk up to it and hug it because it looked so soft, but then it also just made me sick.  I realized, “Oh my gosh.  This is all about exploitation and people that have gotten ridden into the ground.” There is a lot there. I also thought… Descending the Throne by Carrie Mae Weems, pretty much goes to the heart of the problem. How the slaves and the people that were brought over [from Africa] were de-personified.

Elysia: When I see Descending the Throne, I think of each and every individual person and… how it is like they are not even people anymore, [instead] a scientific profile.

Tori: Lastly, Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons… was really tragic because this is still going on today, [making] it is even scarier. I liked that we got to write comments… We were an interactive part of the experience. It was like I needed to say something.

Did either of you leave a Post-It note comment? If so, what did it say?

Elysia: I did.  I said, “Speechless.”

Conversation XVIII: Maureen Fitzgibbon and Adele Kafrely

Maureen Fitzgibbon and Adele Kafrely visit the Museum on August 21, 2013. Photo by the author.
Maureen Fitzgibbon and Adele Kafrely visit the Museum on August 21, 2013. Photo by the author.

Maureen Fitzgibbon and Adele Kafrely have been members of the Milwaukee Art Museum since 1976. They visit the Museum often. Maureen currently works as a nurse in Madison, Wisconsin and is originally from Oak Park, Illinois. Meanwhile, Adele is retired and living in Shorewood, Wisconsin.  She spends her time traveling with her husband to museums throughout the globe. Other than the Museum, she is also a fan of The National Gallery in London and the Musée National Picasso Paris.  Although Adele came to the Museum with her “eyes open,” she was unaware how deeply the 30 Americans exhibition would affect her.

#1 What did you think of the exhibition?

Maureen: I thought it was amazing. It made me cry. It was just so powerful. I’m still having a hard time talking about it. That’s all I can say right now [tearing up].

Adele: I thought it was fabulous; just fabulous. I did not have any idea of what it would be. I was just a blank slate. It was wonderful!

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

Maureen: I would say that people have to come and see it. When my friend Adele and I walked out of there… she was saying “I have to tell Loren [her husband] to come down here.”  The exhibition just has to be seen. It was so diverse… the emotion, beauty, and power.

Adele: Or even [to those who are] not considering [coming], I would say reconsider. This is not to be missed. It’s very moving; very emotional. It really does open your eyes to a whole different perspective. It is well worth the time… There was not anything I did not appreciate looking at. It was staged beautifully. I think there was a nice flow to it. The pieces were so large. You know, that’s what we are not used to seeing – these grand, huge pieces.

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

Maureen: Mickalene Thomas – the way that she portrayed women… [as] bright and powerful and in our own element. Not as shrinking violets… And then, the room with the hoods [Duck Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons]. That made me cry. I just remember the way that it was back in the 60s. I mean things have changed, but they have changed in a way that is not necessarily less dangerous – it just looks different.

Adele: That was very full of impact. It was hard to look at. It is hard to think about those things happening; very painful.

– – – – – –

Check back next week for 30 Encounters with 30 Americans: Conversations XIX – XXI30 Americans is at the Milwaukee Art Museum from June 14 through September 8, 2013. For more information, please click here.

Visit previous posts in the series here:

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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