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Art Art News

Milton Rogovin—“Photography could be an instrument of social change”

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011), from Buffalo's Lower West Side Revisited series, 1972-1992. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and Richard Pieper. M1999.217.1-.3-.243.1-.3

Photographer and social documentarian Milton Rogovin passed away last week at 101. His legacy can be found in his photographs of the underprivileged in the United States, enlightening us and provoking our compassion. His strong drive to explore social inequality led him to political strife and changed his life forever.

The Milwaukee Art Museum held an exhibition of Mr. Rogovin’s photographs in 2001. If you would like to see images of his work and learn more, the exhibition website can be viewed online.

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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.

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Art

To be an artist at Yale in 1964…

View of Chuck Close painting of Nancy Graves from standing in front of Graves' "Object Disguised 4 Times”, Milwaukee Art Museum Gallery #27

One of the highlights for visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museums is Chuck Close’s 1968 portrait of Nancy Graves, with its incredible, photo-realistic virtuosity and its huge scale amplifying every facial imperfection in a disquieting, surreal way.

Visitors may not realize that the subject of the painting, Nancy Graves, was a celebrated artist in her own right.

Best known for her early sculptures of highly realistic camels (in a conceit that turned the museum into the zoo), she later incorporated banal objects like children’s toys into Alexander Calder’s and David Smith’s high modernist language of constructed sculpture. Graves was also a painter, and one of her paintings, Object Disguised 4 Times, 1982, is on view in the new installation of the contemporary art galleries.

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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.

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Art Curatorial

A Time When Modern Was “Degenerate”

This past weekend, I was proud to present a paper at the American Ceramic Circle’s annual symposium on an exhibition topic I’m developing. I spoke about a German designer named Grete Marks who made radical and beautiful ceramics—designs that the Nazi government called “degenerate.”