Weekend Art Date: Back to School at UWM and MIAD
The back-to-school season is in full swing, and shows at MIAD and UWM serve as interesting primers on art trends.
The Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a Year of the Arts. Continuum 2012: Alumni Exhibition is among the opening events. This sprawling exhibition comprises invited submissions from art and design alumni of the last five decades.
The notion is an intriguing one and certainly inclusive; painting, photography, sculpture, fiber works and more are on view in the UWM Union Art Gallery and the Arts Center Gallery. But Continuum needs more curatorial shaping. Just a couple of works represent most of the artists. The show has a good deal of breadth, but offers no overarching ideas. It would have been fascinating to discern trends or philosophies prominent in the program’s past, but they are undetectable in an exhibition heavy on visual data but short on analytical conclusions.
Continuum, though, demonstrates that some remarkable artists are coming out of UWM. In the Union Gallery, Sean Bodley (BFA, 2010) shows the mysterious oil painting, Flying. In this mystical mirror of black space, a woman in a bright patterned scarf floats horizontally and connects with her own reflection. Ryan Woolgar (BFA, 2012) presents a confident and striking grisaille painting, Look. In this large piece, a woman with long hair is frontal and pristine, while a mask of vertical stripes covers the middle of her face. These subtle bands seem to fluctuate with the merest hints of color.
Milwaukee art watchers will recognize work of many of the more senior alums. Jan Serr (MFA, 1968) contributes a striking watercolor and mixed media piece featuring women in bright bikinis — a vibrant reminder of summer if you’re feeling autumnal blues already. Phil Krejcarek (MFA 1973) photo calls up shades of Magritte through bowler hats, a bemused woman, and a lampshade.
The portion of Continuum in the Arts Center Gallery is even more expansive. (For some reason, the pieces here lack labels showing degree and graduation year.) Among the most striking works in the first room is Deirdre Prosen’s Swimmer (2010). In this gigantic portrait, salmon-hued, lashing strokes form the face of a woman in swim-cap and bathing suit. The intense expression of her open mouth calls to mind the manic dedication of long-distance swimmers. Under close scrutiny, other oddities and images rise to the surface like subconscious flotsam.
The Arts Center Gallery houses Continuum’s sculpture and installations. In Sally Duback’s Hung out to Dry, a rack holds three flat forms made of cast paper pulp, razor blades, wood and gold leaf. Upright and upside down, the images read as bodies, suits or silhouettes.
Across town at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, the MIAD Faculty Exhibition resides in the Frederick Layton Gallery, on the lower level of the school. This show, also fairly expansive and with just a few works per artist, has a stronger sense of cohesion. The pieces are mostly recent. While MIAD has no prescribed aesthetic, this show leans toward representation, with a good deal of emphasis on drawing.
Of course, more abstract and conceptual art is present, too. Wesley Friedrich, in his deadpan Sink Hole, placed a countertop on the floor and painted in oil where a basin would normally go. Everything but the kitchen sink, indeed.
Some of the boldest works are interesting for their compositions as well as material and scale. Tyanna J. Buie’s grand, weighty Sweet Escape, a monumental screen-print painting, incorporates image and text that memorialize an uncle who met an untimely death in the Illinois prison system. It draws up details of life and death and the fleeting nature of time. Buie also addresses how much can be unknown or unsaid even among blood relations. Rina Yoon also works on a large scale in Earthbody, and with particularly engaging light effects. She backlit this large paper installation to produce a tumble of silhouettes, with bodies alternately solid and transparent as they careen through unspecified space. The effect recalls the work of Kara Walker, but is of a more ethereal, abstract nature.
Just outside the Layton gallery is a small exhibition, Minor Casualties: New Work by Mark Fetherston. The pictures, puzzled together like collages, float in box frames. The images of animals — somewhat troubled, tragic specimens — seem colorized and pixilated. Philips-head screws in the surfaces lie flush and camouflaged. The compositions are alluring in their detail and play of color, but even in soft focus seem to speak of unknown perils in the animal kingdom.
All exhibitions are free and open to the public. Check the website of each for information on gallery hours.
Continuum 2012: Alumni Exhibition continues through Sept. 14 in the Union Art Gallery (2200 E. Kenwood Boulevard, Room W199) and through Oct. 26 in the Arts Center Gallery (2400 E. Kenwood Blvd., above the Mainstage Theatre lobby).
MIAD Faculty Exhibition and Minor Casualties: New Work by Mark Fetherston continue through Oct. 6 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, 273 E. Erie Street.