Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Curating Mrs. M.––––– ’s World, a New Installation: Part 2

View of Mrs. M.––––– ’s Cabinet.
View of Mrs. M.––––– ’s Cabinet.

Mrs. M.––––– ’s Cabinet is currently featuring an installation that was developed by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students enrolled in the course “Curating Mrs. M.––––– ’s World.” The project resulted in the display of seven acquisitions by the Chipstone Foundation. The exhibition opened to the public on Sunday, December 18th and will run throughout the spring.

Mrs. M.––––– ’s Cabinet is one of five galleries, located in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Constance and Dudley Godfrey American Wing, that are curated by the Chipstone Foundation. In the fall of 2016, Chipstone Curator and Director of Research Dr. Sarah Anne Carter taught a graduate seminar in museum studies in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Art History Department. The seven creative and up-and-coming student curators in this course researched and developed the innovative installations found in this exhibition in order to expand and enhance Mrs. M.––––– ’s mysterious story.

Each student was assigned an object to research and install in the cabinet as part of the museum studies course. Their challenge was to create an installation that fit in with the theme of Mrs. M.––––– ’s Cabinet: her desire to create a nuanced and complete history of America and its material cultures.

Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Nautilus Cup

Flemish or South German Nautilus Cup, 1575/1625 Shell, gilt bronze, copper, silver, and semiprecious gems 12 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. (31.75 x 19.05 x 9.53 cm) Purchase, with funds from Donald and Donna Baumgartner M2002.170 Photo credit John Nienhuis
or South German,
Nautilus Cup, 1575/1625.
Shell, gilt bronze, copper, silver, and semiprecious gems;
12 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. Purchase, with funds from Donald and Donna Baumgartner, M2002.170.
Photo credit John Nienhuis.

At first glance, the Museum’s stunning Nautilus Cup looks like an impractical way to drink.  Tankards and beakers, which are also on display in the Museum’s Gallery #2, make sensible drinking vessels. In comparison the nautilus cup, a chambered nautilus shell mounted with elaborate metal work, perhaps could function as a drinking vessel, but seems more convincing as an aesthetic object.

Because it is gorgeous.

Would anyone use this stunning object to serve beverages? If not, why would anyone have this kind of odd-shaped cup? What did it mean?

In directly combing man’s art with God’s nature, a nautilus cup was the type of treasure that would have been housed in a Renaissance Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer were privately-owned collections that are considered the predecessor of the modern museum. German for “room of wonder” or “cabinet of curiosities,” Wunderkammer developed in mid-16th-century Europe and celebrated man-made arts and also natural arts, with minerals, ivory, ostrich eggs, coconut shells, nautilus shells, and other exotic objects.

The Museum’s own American Galleries on the Lower Level are installed as a type of Wunderkammer.

Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze

Probably Nuremberg, Germany  Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze, 1560/80 with later movement Gilt brass, brass, steel, blued steel, silver and blue enamel 3 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (8.89 x 24.77 cm) Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1991.84  Photo credit John Nienhuis
Probably Nuremberg, Germany, Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze, 1560-80 with later movement. Gilt brass, brass, steel, blued steel, silver and blue enamel, 3 1/2 h x 9 3/4 inch diameter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg, M1991.84. Photo by John Nienhuis.

When you visit the European galleries of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you may have noticed that in the “Renaissance Treasury” gallery (gallery #2) there are a lot of clocks!

These aren’t the wristwatches and battery-powered kitchen clocks that most of us have in our homes and offices.  With their highly decorative cases, these special clocks show highly-skilled and artful metalwork that celebrated a new way of time-keeping during the Renaissance.

Until the 14th century, time-keeping was not systematic at all.  The only way to tell time was to look at the sun, or to use a sun-dial, but that was tricky because the length of the day changed so much over the course of a year.  Another option was to use a water clock, which used flowing water to move gears, but they were large and cumbersome—and not always very accurate.