A new exhibition Art in the Streets is on view April 17 to August 8, 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles). The exhibition is the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art and it features an artist in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection: Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Braithwaite.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has in its collection a beautiful portrait by Francis Cotes, one of the highlights of the Museum’s Gallery of 18th century English and Italian Works (gallery #7, main level).
Cotes’ story is an interesting one. Francis Cotes’ (English, 1726–1770) fame as a portrait painter in eighteenth-century England was surpassed only by that of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough—and many feel that if he had not died so early in his career at age 44, his name would not have faded into obscurity.
Cotes was particularly talented in working with pastel, evident even in his oil paintings which use bright yet delicate colors and contrasting textures. Examples of pastels by Cotes are at the Cleveland Museum of Art and in The Frick Collection. Some oil paintings by Cotes are in the Tate, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Museum of Wales.
Cotes was particularly successful with likenesses of children, since they have an unaffected immediacy lacking in the more formal, decoratively detailed society portraits. Portraits of children can be found at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Speed Museum of Art.
The ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu generously gave the Milwaukee Art Museum ten of her fine art vessels in 2006.
Today I was nonchalantly compiling information on her life in preparation for a potential display of those vessels, when I was suddenly saddened to read of her recent death on March 9, 2011. In Toshiko Takaezu’s obituary in the New York Times, she is credited with helping “to elevate ceramics from the production of functional vessels to a fine art.”
As one often does when encountered with the loss of either someone close or someone distant but admired (like an artist), I ran through my bank of fond memories.
In 1988, the Milwaukee Art Museum purchased a painting by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, one of the most important German portraitists of the early 19th century. Up until that point, most of the paintings in the Museum’s German collection were from the second half of the 19th century, so this was a significant acquisition. You can find it on the bright blue wall in Gallery 9.
The portrait is a fantastic example of German neoclassical style blended with Biedermeier attention to detail. The upper-class gentleman, dressed expensively and with his jewelry prominently displayed, sits comfortably in an elaborately carved chair. The chair, with a griffin as the armrest, is gilded and upholstered in dark blue—an interpretation of ancient Roman furniture. Behind him is a gilded desk with marble top, again a quote from the ancient world, and a window with a luxurious dark red velvet curtain pulled up to show a city in the distance. The sitter is well-educated, shown by the books spread out on the table and the roll of paper with writing in his hand. He also wears the Maltese Cross on his jacket.
The question is, who is this man?
The Milwaukee Art Museum may have a small collection of ancient Mediterranean art, but we have some great pieces!
Take, for instance, our two ancient Greek Hydria. Walk into Gallery 1, and you will see them in the free-standing case on the right.
What is so exciting about Greek vases? Well, for one thing, they are some of the only artwork that we have remaining from this important ancient civilization. In particular, their decorations are the only hint that we have of what ancient Greek painting looked like. Practically all ancient painting has been destroyed due to its fragility. Greek vases survived because they were put into tombs and sanctuaries as offerings. In fact, the accident of their survival has made them more important to us than to the Greeks, who for the most part did not seem them as great art and used them as everyday objects.
‘Tis the spirit! There are spirits of Christmas past, jolly good tidings and spirits of the season, and then my favorite type of holiday spirits: The beer, liquors, and wines that keep us jolly through office parties and family reunions.
In what started as a playful nod to seasonal parties, I thought I’d highlight a late 17th-century silver monteith in the Museum’s Collection. But what started as a jolly excuse to talk about wine consumption then and now soon turned dark, as often happens when you dig deeper into the layered meanings of cultural objects.
Earlier this week, as I walked to work, seeing my breath in front of me with my hands stuffed in my pockets, noticing that the trees were mostly bare, I had to admit to myself: winter just might be here. But part of me doesn’t want to dig out the winter coat and put away the flip-flops. I’m channeling my split-season-personality in this post by featuring two works in our Von Schleinitz collection of German art, which live right next to each other in Gallery 9.