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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.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Step into my Parlor (Cabinet)

Attributed to Alexandre Roux (American, born France, 1816-1886).  Parlor Cabinet.   1860-70.  Wood with inlays, porcelain, gilding and gilt metal.  Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Jane Rayniak in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Rayniak  M1985.58

One of my favorite decorative art objects in the Museum’s permanent collection is actually a rather bewildering piece.

It’s an enormous Parlor Cabinet, designed and produced sometime between 1860-1870 by Alexandre Roux (1813-1866), a French-born cabinetmaker who moved to New York to open a successful furniture business.

At first glance, this is a monumental and pretty confusing object.

It has columns and pilasters, just like a building.  Its top is a stepped pagoda, which gives it the effect of an Asian temple.  And it’s big:  five feet tall, over six feet wide and nearly two feet deep.  The cabinet part, in the central portion is actually pretty small in comparison to the rest of the piece (look for the key hole in the door to find it).

So is it architecture or furniture?  The answer is:  both.

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Art Curatorial

From Museum Storage—Beneath a Ray and Charles Eames LCW Chair

Late in 2010 I advocated that the Museum accept a Ray and Charles Eames DCW (“Dining Chair Wood”) into the Permanent Collection.

No big surprise there, as this bent plywood chair is the iconic work of two of the most influential 20th-century furniture designers. It is a must-have for any design collection!

However, this chair wasn’t the Museum’s first Eames object. The Collection already included one DCW chair (pictured at left), a 1946 folding plywood screen, and several examples of the World War II U.S. Navy leg splint that bolstered Ray and Charles’ experiments in complex two-way bent molded plywood.

So why an additional example of the DCW? And, why this one?

Well, to tell the truth, I put in to motion the Museum’s acceptance of the DCW based on a hunch…and I just might be wrong.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection—“Chippendale” Philadelphia High Chest

Philadelphia, High Chest of Drawers, 1760-75. Walnut, yellow poplar, white cedar, brass hardware (replaced),94 1/2 x 46 3/4 x 23 3/4 in.  Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund M1984.120. Photo by John Nienhuis.

If you need an excuse for cake, Thomas Chippendale would have celebrated his 293rd birthday today. Indulge and then come to the Museum’s American Collections Galleries on the Lower Level and appreciate several sumptuous forms of “Chippendale” style furniture.

Chippendale was born in England on June 5, 1718. He became a London cabinetmaker in the 1750s, and though his furniture appears in many grand 18th-century English homes, he is more widely known for publishing books on trendy furniture design.  His publication was so influential that the name “Chippendale” stuck as shorthand for a wildly popular style of ornament.

As an example, you can stand in front of the Museum’s High Chest and refer to it as either “Rococo” or “Chippendale” in style. You’d be looking at an American object that Mr. Chippendale didn’t know about or help make, but your term would still be apt because its American craftsman knew about Chippendale’s ideas of good taste when he put together the exquisite carved ornament on this monumental object.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Kem Weber’s Airline Chair

"Airline" Armchair

This chair is one of my favorite designs of the 20th century. Period.

So sleek, yet soft! So comfortable, yet efficient!

When contemplating a move to Milwaukee to accept my current position, I made a short list of things I loved: “Lake Michigan. Calatrava-designed building. Beer culture. Kem Weber’s Airline chair.”

And now here I am, lucky enough to work every day in a building with “Airline” chair, the perfect type of museum object that looks stunning and can tell stories about its time and place. The Milwaukee Art Museum purchased the chair in 2001, and it is currently on view in the 20th-century Design Gallery (Gallery #30) on the Museum’s main level.