Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Behind the Scenes: Analysis of a Face Jug

Mark Newell and Claudia Mooney collecting empirical data on the face jugs. Photo courtesy of Mark Newell.
Mark Newell and Claudia Mooney collecting empirical data on the face jugs. Photo courtesy of Mark Newell.

The exhibition Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina, on view this past summer at the Milwaukee Art Museum (and currently on tour through South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia), provided us at Chipstone with a rare hands-on research opportunity.

As you may have read in one of my previous blog posts on Face Jugs, the objects in the exhibition were made by slaves, and later free African Americans, in the Edgefield County of South Carolina from about 1860 to about 1880. Previous scholars posited arguments that connected the face jugs back to Africa, but there was still research to be done in terms of the face jugs’ origin and function.

In addition to conducting our own research, we teamed up with anthropologists, archeologists and historians in order to gain a fuller understanding of the face jugs’ story–and got up close and personal with the objects in the process.

Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Of Ghosts and Speculation

Face Jug, 1860-80. Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Face Jug, 1860-80. Chipstone Foundation Collection. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Those of you that have been through Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina might be wondering what the big silvery face jug is and how it fits into the exhibition.

It’s a contemporary artwork by artist Brian Gillis, titled Of Ghosts and Speculation. Gillis is based out of Eugene, Oregon, and describes himself as a “multidisciplinary artist whose practice examines relevant socio-cultural issues that may have fallen on deaf ears, been buried over time, or simply obscured by something else.” His work often deals with interpretations of history as well as how this information is archived.

I began discussing the early Edgefield face jugs with Brian last summer, and he was instantly fascinated by the fact that the face jug story has been lost over time. It didn’t seem like their origin and purpose had been passed down from generation to generation. We knew certain facts, such as that they were made in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, and that they were made by slaves, and, later, free African Americans in the second half of the 19th century.

For the most part, though, the face jugs had become an enigma.

Art Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Puzzle Jug

Puzzle Jug, 1771. Bristol, England. Buff earthenware/Bluish-white tin glaze. Chipstone Foundation Collection; Photo by Gavin Ashworth
Puzzle Jug, 1771. Bristol, England. Buff earthenware/Bluish-white tin glaze. Chipstone Foundation Collection; Photo by Gavin Ashworth

My form has puzzled many a fertile Brain
The brightest Wits my Liquor could not gain
And still profusely spill it on the Ground
The Reason is no Suction they have found
Now honest Friend advance thy Genius try
Spill ne’or a Drop and strive to drink me dry

Drinking games conjure up images of college students, Ping-Pong balls and red plastic cups. As the verse above suggests, though, this was not always the case. The puzzle jug was at the center of a humorous drinking game popular from the 16th to the 19th century. The jug, examples of which can be seen in the Hidden Dimensions exhibition on the Lower Level of the Milwaukee Art Museum, was meant for use in inns and public houses.

Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Calling All Milwaukee Makers!

Title wall for The Tool at Hand. Photo by the author

Have you had the opportunity to stop by The Tool at Hand yet?

Last month, I wrote about an awesome performance that took place at Sweet Water Organics in preparation of the Chipstone Foundation’s Tool at Hand exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The Tool at Hand’s premise is simple: create a work of art using only one tool. Last spring, Ethan Lasser, the exhibition’s curator, sent out a video invitation to 18 artists located in Europe and the United States. Of these 18, 16 agreed to participate in the exhibition. The video, created by Nicola Probert, was itself made with just one tool. In it, one can see a video camera being taken apart as Nicola describes the challenge.

The artists are not told what material to use, what tool to use, or how to use it. They can interpret the exercise as they see fit, as long as they keep in mind certain questions.

Why did you choose this tool?

Where did this tool come from?

Are you using it for the task for which it was intended?

The aim of the exhibition is to explore artists’ attachment to their tools, as well as set up an experiment to find out what happens when artists are faced with an interesting constraint.

Art Events Exhibitions

What’s Up at the Museum?

Mark Lindquist, Dowel Bowl, 2011
Mark Lindquist, Dowel Bowl, 2011

What’s Happening at the Milwaukee Art Museum – January, 2012

After a very successful run at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper heads to its next destination, the Albertina in Vienna. And, after rave reviews in the press, the Museum has said goodbye to Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts. The show debuts at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art later this month.

But that doesn’t mean the Museum doesn’t have a lot happening! For families, there’s Play Date with Art (January 20). And if you are looking to heat up your winter night, there’s MAM After Dark (January 20).

Plus, come see a new exhibition from the Chipstone Foundation, The Tool at Hand, in which sixteen artists tackled the challenge of creating a work of art with just one tool.

Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Burniture—A performance by Hongtao Zhou

Burniture on fire. Photo courtesy of the artist

On Tuesday, November 22, 2011 a chair was born in the most unlikely of places, Sweet Water Organics.

Sweet Water Organics is an urban acquaponic farm located in the Bayview neighborhood of Milwaukee. If you haven’t already been, you should make it a point to visit. The space is amazing.

It’s a big open warehouse with rows of fish tanks. There are beds of lettuce and other vegetables growing above the water tanks, being fed by the tanks below. In Sweet Water’s sustainable system, the plants act as a water filter for the fish and the fish waste acts as natural fertilizer for the plants.

The Sweet Water Foundation uses a wide-open space in the building as an area for performances, artist collaborations, and educational programming. Their mission is to develop inter-generational and interdisciplinary educational programming for sustainability with a focus on the potential of urban agriculture and aquaculture in the 21st century setting.

Conversations between Jesse Blom of Sweet Water Foundation and Michael Carriere of the Milwaukee School of Engineering led to the idea of having artist Hongtao Zhou create a wax chair at the urban farm.

Art Curatorial

From the Chipstone Collection—Staffordshire Teapots

Teapot, 1760/1780 Staffordshire, England  Earthenware (creamware) Photo by Gavin Ashworth
English (Staffordshire), Teapot, 1760/1780. Earthenware (creamware). Chipstone Foundation, 1963.21. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Chances are that you own a teapot. What does your teapot look like?

It’s probably globular in form and might have some decoration applied to it. The Museum has on view a variety of teapots, including two that I find very curious. Both teapots are found in the Loca Miraculi “Cabinet of Curiosities” installation in the Museum’s lower level. One teapot is in the shape of a pineapple, the other is in the shape of a cauliflower.

Both teapots are made from creamware, a white-ish variety of earthenware clay made famous by Josiah Wedgewood in the 18th century. At a time when the whiteness of porcelain was extremely valued by the public, finding a way to make the cheaper earthenware clay white was a big accomplishment. It thus accounts for creamware’s popularity.

Art Curatorial

Studio Visit with artist Christy Matson

One of the seemingly mysterious practices associated with curating an exhibition is selecting artists and artworks. Once you have an idea for an exhibition, how do you know who and what to include? How do you know what artists are creating?

Even though I’d love to pretend that it’s some innate knowledge that all curators share, this is simply not true.

Studio visits are a great way to learn about artists’ practices. Usually when we at the Chipstone Foundation meet an artist, hear about an interesting artist, and/or we see an engaging artwork, we try to request a studio visit. Most artists are very accommodating and happy to show their work to those excited by it.


Objects in Focus

Teapot Staffordshire, ca. 1760. White stoneware with enamel and salt glaze. Chipstone Foundation. Photo: Gavin Ashworth

This week we lose one of our valued co-workers here at Chipstone. Kate Smith, whom I introduced to you in my blog post last fall, is returning to England where she will be working at the University of Warwick as a research fellow. Her new project is titled The East India Company at Home: 1757-1857. As one of her parting gestures she has agreed to blog about what she has been researching while in Milwaukee. –Claudia Mooney

My name is Kate Smith and this year I have worked as the Charles Hummel Fellow at the Chipstone Foundation. As a historian, I focus on eighteenth-century Britain, and while a Fellow at Chipstone, I have researched such things as the idea of design, female hands and the Chinoiserie style. I have also been working on another project concerned with fossil teapots, asking why these objects were made in eighteenth-century Britain and what they meant to the people who owned and used them.

Art Curatorial

The Rooms of Wonder

Entrance to Loca Miraculi
Entrance to "Loca Miraculi | Rooms of Wonder", lower level in the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jim Wildeman.

Recently, I’ve noticed that several museums have created their own versions of the wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities. The Walker Art Center, for example, has arranged their permanent collection into an exhibition called Midnight Party. This new installation, on view until February 2014, is inspired by Joseph Cornell’s film by the same title, and explores works dealing with dreams and fantasies. It also has a gallery dedicated to odd objects, such as a toothbrush that has teeth in the place of bristles.

The Brooklyn Public Library just closed their own wunderkammer, which was composed of artworks from Takeshi Yamada’s Museum of World Wonders. The objects reminded one of curiosities seen in carnivals, such as carnivorous plants and a hairy trout.

At this point you might be asking yourself, what exactly is a cabinet of curiosities?

And how does this relate to the Milwaukee Art Museum?