The Milwaukee Art Museum’s painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664), Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, has been popular with museum goers since it entered the collection in 1958. This is probably not surprising, since Zurbarán’s work is infused with a humanity that connects instantly with viewers.
Many of the artists featured in the special exhibition Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels, Masterworks from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery are also represented in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight Milwaukee’s artworks during the run of the exhibition.
Knowledge of classical mythology is one of those subjects that will always help the student of art history, no matter what period you study. Over the last few years, I have explored mythological subjects in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection represented in ancient Greek hydriae; Baroque decorative arts and painting; and nineteenth century German ceramics.
Modern art is no exception. We have to look no further than the sculptures of Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973).
Jacques Lipchitz was a Jewish artist from France who was born in Lithuania. He was classically trained in Paris, although he soon worked in a cubist style, such as Sailor with Guitar in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Now that it’s finally starting to feel like summer, let’s talk about dandelions. Sure, they’re technically weeds, and you probably don’t want them taking over your lawn. But it’s fun to make wishes on the white puffy ones, even if it does scatter seeds and just increases the dandelion population exponentially.
Can I walk on it?
Carl Andre’s 144 Pieces of Zinc is one of the few artworks in the Museum’s Collection that is meant to be experienced physically, and that visitors may touch. The artist felt that the qualities inherent in the material were the most important aspect of his work, and that they were meant to be discovered through touch.
Imagine 144 Pieces of Zinc wasn’t in a museum, but, say, come upon in a hardware store surrounded by a bunch of home improvement tiles. You don’t have to imagine. The Tate Museum did it. They installed their collection’s 144 Magnesium Square on the floor in a hardware store in Liverpool, England, and then asked residents of Liverpool what they thought about seeing the minimalist work in a non-art context.
As you see in the video, people have strong feelings about this sort of thing…
Duane Hanson’s lifelike Janitor (1973) is one of the Museum’s most beloved works of art. It generates curiosity on many levels: How did the artist make the sculpture so realistic? What does this photo-realistic artwork mean? What does he wear under his uniform? How does the Museum take care of this unusual work of art?
To that final question, “carefully and creatively” is the answer that the Museum’s Docents recently learned from senior conservator Jim DeYoung. The Milwaukee Art Museum agreed to loan Janitor to the Walker Art Center for the Lifelike exhibition, Feb 25 – May 27, 2012. In preparation for the artwork’s exhibition in Minneapolis, Jim’s conservation team turned their restoration attention and considerable skills to making Janitor appear in pristine condition and ready for travel.
The details of this restoration are fascinating.
Curious about how a conservator cleans 40-year-old human hair affixed to plastic? Hint: They don’t use Head and Shoulders shampoo. Read on to find out more!
Just as you walk into the Museum’s Gallery #3 (Northern Renaissance artworks), on your right is a display case that holds a marble sculpture.
It’s an unobtrusive work labeled Head of a Noblewoman, French, 14th century. I’m sure many Museum visitors have walked right by it and not even thought twice. The most interesting thing for those that look closer may be the way the artwork is positioned in the case–it is shown lying down, not upright.
This sculpture is more than just a portrait of a French noblewoman. It’s a portrait of the noble French woman from her tomb!
Originally, the Museum’s head sculpture would have been part of a full body sculpture of the woman lying down, and it would have rested above her tomb. You can be certain of this orientation because the back of her head is unfinished.
Although funerary portraits were used as far back as the ancient Egyptians, medieval Europe saw an explosion of them. Examples are known from the 11th century, and by the 13th century they were filling churches and abbeys. Of course, only those who could afford to have an elaborate tomb could have such an elaborate sculpture, so most examples are of kings, queens, and other nobility, including knights, such as Jean d’Alluye, whose tomb effigy is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sometimes with the rush of the holiday season, it is nice to take a deep breath and spend some time on your own.
In that spirit, I’d like to consider a small-scale stone relief Virgin and Child, ca. 1550. You’ll find it at the Museum tucked in a case in Gallery #3, with works of the Northern Renaissance.
The artwork, carved in stone, is done in low relief and is set into a wood and silk case with a two-part hinged cover. The small size allowed the owner to hold it in the palm of his or her hand for private contemplation and prayer. The case is probably a later replacement, but it certainly would have had something similar to protect it when slipped into a drawer or carried for devotion during travel.
And what a beautiful image to inspire!
What is that big, orange thing, anyway?
Many people don’t know that The Calling by Mark di Suvero (the orange sunburst sculpture that sits at the lake end of Wisconsin Avenue) has been part of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection since the sculpture’s creation in 1981.
The Calling has attracted a lot of attention and inspired quite a bit of dialogue by Milwaukeeans over the years, including here in an 2006 article that answers the question “Will they Move the Orange Sculpture”.
I’ve found that people either love it or they hate it, as summarized in this 2007 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article.
Recently the United States government indicated on which side of that line they stand: they awarded artist Mark di Suvero the National Medal for the Arts. You can read more about the awards at the National Endowment for the Arts website.
There is no ignoring it: today is Valentine’s Day.
There is also no ignoring the fact that love and lust have inspired terrific artwork. Perhaps the best artwork, if you are a romantic like me. I’m obviously not the first in the blogosphere to notice this–last week a sweet “10 Best Art Kisses of All Time” article made the email/Facebook/blog rounds. And, raise your hand if you ever had Gustav Klimt’s 1907 The Kiss on a poster? Me too.
In the Museum’s collection, a classic work to single out that focuses on art and love is the plaster cast of Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss (Paolo and Francesca). When I revisited The Kiss, my first question was:
Who are Paolo and Francesca?