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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

A quick trip to the Niedecken archives

George Mann Niedecken archival materials relating to designs for Milwaukee's Frederick Bogk House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

This afternoon I had to run a quick errand to the Museum’s George Mann Niedecken archives (formerly Prairie Archives) and decided to take a camera, and you blog readers, along for the trip.

As we prepare for the upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century exhibition, we are going through our own rich design holdings to see what we have that supplements the Wright drawings coming from the collection of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Ettore Sottsass’ “Carlton” Bookcase

Ettore Sottsass, "Carlton" Bookcase/Room Divider, 1981. Milwaukee Art Museum, Centennial Gift of Gilbert and J. Dorothy Palay. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Postmodern design is a difficult thing to pin down or describe concisely. It refers to all manner of playful, ornamented, subversive, and/or heady things. The aesthetic is often likened to 1980s popular objects like Swatch wristwatches, but the designer’s meaning often runs much deeper.

For instance, Ettore Sottsass’s Carlton bookcase (1981) doesn’t immediately convey its rich meaning. When we first see it standing boldly outside the 20th-century Design gallery at the Museum, we see that it is brightly colored. We think it seems impractical for book storage. We might find the stick figure silly. Why is this a design classic? Why is it so important that the Museum keeps it on view?

Maybe because Carlton breaks a lot of rules? It is shockingly unconventional for a bookcase.

Categories
Art Curatorial Education

Listening to the Decorative Arts

Round Room video gallery, Milwaukee Art Museum's Lower Level Chipstone gallery.

As of late we at Chipstone have found ourselves discussing how the different senses affect our perception of decorative arts objects. For example, have you ever been asked to describe an object while blindfolded?

At our summer session for college undergrads, titled Object Lab, the students are required to do just that. It is amazing how “seeing” an object with our hands instead of our eyes, makes us drop the art historical jargon and really get into the essence of a piece. Although our conversation at Chipstone has centered around touch and how touching a piece of furniture or a ceramic object helps the viewer understand the object better than if he or she were just relying on sight, I’d like to explore how sound can add to an object’s experience and understanding.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection–English Monteith

George Garthorne (English), Monteith, 1688. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund. Photo by John R. Glembin.

‘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.

Categories
Art Curatorial Library/Archives

“How much is that Braque in the window?”

Mrs. Harry L. Bradley

In response to a recent research request, I stumbled upon a Milwaukee Journal article titled “How Much Is That Braque in the Window?” Who could resist a title like that? I had to read on.

The article, dated January 4, 1959, follows the fascinating Bradley family and their passion for collecting art—a passion that began in 1950 with their first purchase. While traveling in New York for business, Mrs. Harry L. Bradley recalled, “I was walking along 57th St. … and suddenly there was a painting in a window that, for the first time, I thought I might buy. … It turned out to be a Braque and the price was a shocker.” The Bradleys talked it over and decided to go ahead with the purchase. And so, a world-class art collection was born.