Does the Museum show work by Wisconsin artists? What’s the deal with frames? What’s the piece that has a hole in the floor? How do curators deal with new technology? Any ancient Chinese paintings? And the all-important question: are we hiring? These are just a sampling of the many juicy questions asked by visitors on Ask a Curator Day, last week.
There’s a lot happening at the Museum this week, including PNC’s Grow Up Great Mobile Learning Adventure and a colorful exhibition by Warrington Colescott.
The work of an art historian or curator can sometimes be like that of a master investigator or CIA agent. For example, a trail of clues led to the probable identification of the woman in this painting by Sofonisba Anguissola. Anguissola is one of the earliest identified female artists, working in Italy in the late 1500s. Rare for the Renaissance, Anguissola was famous in her own time and worked as the court painter for the King of Spain, a job she secured thanks to the portraits of her family that she’d painted as she grew up and honed her skills. The girl in this image is the spitting image of many of Anguissola’s family members, with her round face, large hooded eyes, and long nose. But Anguissola had five sisters and two brothers, so who is this?
This month’s book salon found me revisiting a book I first read in college: How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto. Well, we all know that just as we can never step into the same river, we can never read the same book. Happily, it did read like a new book–partly because I didn’t have to write a paper about it afterwards– but mostly because I read it surrounded by 40 handmade quilts on display in the American Quilts exhibition.
My favorite design objects are those that ring familiar, but also offer a story-telling twist, like Marcel Breuer’s aluminum Chaise Longue No. 313–or Reclining Chair–in our Museum’s permanent collection.
This morning, on my way back from the docent room, I stopped at the crossroads of the main drag of the Museum’s offices. About to turn right to my cubicle, I found myself suddenly stopped by this painting, which hangs at the end of the hallway next to our director’s office. I see this painting at least twice a day, but I’d never stopped to really look at it. And so, I decided to investigate.
In the spirit of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous quote, I would like to introduce you to one of the most notorious women in the Museum – the Marchesa Luisa Casati. According to her biographers, the Marchesa is the most depicted woman in art history after Madonna, Eve, and Helen of Troy. It doesn’t hurt to mention that she commissioned as many artists as she could for a huge gallery of her own portraits in her lavish, international party center of a house.
Last week, the Schroeder (west) Galleria of the Museum was filled with the sounds of clacking keyboards and clicking computer mice, with the blinking LED lights of personal Wifi devices, a live Twitter feed projected on the wall, and groups of excited, collaborating teachers talking at fullspeed. What brought these 128 educators from all over Wisconsin to the Museum for four packed days at the end of July? The Milwaukee Digital Media Conference.
Did you ever wonder what goes into producing Museum audio guides? I imagined that it involved a script, some research and a microphone, but I had no idea what the technical side looked like. I didn’t know if we recorded this at the Museum, or how everyone manages to sound so clear and polished. Now I know the answer to both.
The thing I find particularly thrilling about the American Quilts Exhibition Store is that because quilts are such a living medium, a part of everyday lives, they often inspire very personal dialogues as visitors pass into the exhibition store. Every day we meet visitors who are eager to share their sewing stories—they admire the works in the exhibition in a profound way because of a shared experience with those artists. We learn about still-vibrant family traditions of sewing, memories of people’s mothers hand-stitching their clothing when they were children, the various techniques seamstresses develop over time, and the agony and the ecstasy of piecing those wee slippery scraps of fine fabric together.