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Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Where in the World is….?

In honor of Spring Break, and spring travelers everywhere, let’s send a shout-out to some of our painted friends who have also hit the road lately.  The last time I checked, our artworks were not boozing it up on the beach…but then again, I’m a firm believer that works of art have distinct personalities, so perhaps they do get a little crazy when they’re away from home.

As you may know, museums frequently lend works of art to each other for special exhibitions.  This is why—if you’re an art dork like me—when I visit a temporary exhibition, I always look at the labels next to each work to see where each one has come from.  Sometimes you automatically know, because you recognize something very famous.  And sometimes it’s a great surprise, as in:  “Who knew that there was a Museum of Bellybutton Lint AND that they just happened to have a major painting by Joe Schmo?”

Those of you who attended the Museum’s fall 2011 exhibition Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper exhibition saw fantastic and rare works of art borrowed from our friends and partners at the Albertina in Vienna (where the exhibition is now on view); as well as the Harvard Art Museums and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.

In case you’re traveling yourselves over the next few months, you might run into some of your Milwaukee hometown artistic pals in the following shows.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Possum Trot

Calvin Black (American, 1903-1972) and Ruby Black (American, 1913-1980). Possum Trot Midget Doll Theatre.  ca. 1950-1972.  Wood, wood paneling, laminated Masonite, nails, bolts, paint, electrical components, and carved and painted wooden dolls.  The Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art M1989.325.
Calvin Black (American, 1903-1972) and Ruby Black (American, 1913-1980). Possum Trot Midget Doll Theatre, ca. 1950-1972. Wood, wood paneling, laminated Masonite, nails, bolts, paint, electrical components, and carved and painted wooden dolls. Milwaukee Art Museum, The Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art M1989.325.

It’s back!

After being off view for nearly ten years, the Museum’s popular Possum Trot is back!  And it’s kicking, spinning, and singing up a storm.  Not to mention riding a bike.

Possum Trot was one of the most famous, extensive environments of self-taught art ever made.

Between about 1950 and 1972, transplanted Southerners Calvin and Ruby Black created what they hoped would be a tourist trap in the California desert.  Visitors could get a cold drink, buy bait or souvenirs—and, most importantly, witness a show featuring a cast of performing wooden dolls.

Now part of this tremendous work of art lives at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Severin Roesen’s Still Life

Severin Roesen (American, born Germany, ca. 1815-1872).  Still Life.  ca. 1852.  Oil on canvas.  Milwaukee Art Museum, gift of Anita Vogel Hinrichs in memory of Ferdinand Hinrichs, M1988.133. Photo credit: Dedra Walls.

White grapes? Check.

Red grapes? Check.

Peeled lemon? Yep.

Champagne? Yep.

More flowers than a bouquet offered by an apologetic husband the day after he forgets an anniversary? Got those, too.

A bird’s nest with three tiny eggs? Wait a minute.  A bird’s nest?!?

The next time you visit the American Collections in the Museum’s Lower Level, take a look closely at Severin Roesen’s monumental still life of around 1852.  It’s full of all of the objects listed above, from the expected to the unexpected.

And it’s all part of a very elaborate tradition of painting—with unexpected twists—that served this nineteenth-century painter very, very well.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Step into my Parlor (Cabinet)

Attributed to Alexandre Roux (American, born France, 1816-1886).  Parlor Cabinet.   1860-70.  Wood with inlays, porcelain, gilding and gilt metal.  Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Jane Rayniak in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Rayniak  M1985.58

One of my favorite decorative art objects in the Museum’s permanent collection is actually a rather bewildering piece.

It’s an enormous Parlor Cabinet, designed and produced sometime between 1860-1870 by Alexandre Roux (1813-1866), a French-born cabinetmaker who moved to New York to open a successful furniture business.

At first glance, this is a monumental and pretty confusing object.

It has columns and pilasters, just like a building.  Its top is a stepped pagoda, which gives it the effect of an Asian temple.  And it’s big:  five feet tall, over six feet wide and nearly two feet deep.  The cabinet part, in the central portion is actually pretty small in comparison to the rest of the piece (look for the key hole in the door to find it).

So is it architecture or furniture?  The answer is:  both.

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Art Curatorial

Who’s That Girl?

For years, she was just a pretty face.

Now, we’re close to identifying the sitter of this elegant portrait by artist Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860).

When this portrait was given to the Museum in 1961 by Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Berger, it was known simply as Portrait of a Lady.  The painting had been passed down through a South Carolina family with New York origins and was sold through a gallery in Boston.  At that time, the last owners knew this mystery woman was a relative, but weren’t exactly sure which long-lost great-great auntie she was.

Anyone who works with portraits knows how these things happen.  Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story.   As time and generations pass, people forget just who is in that canvas.  It happens to us, too.

Go dig your first-grade class photo out of that box in your basement and try to remember the names of all your classmates in each row.  It’s the reason your mother was always after you to write on the back of photographs, back when photographs were on paper instead of your hard drive.  Or why we tag images now on Facebook.