Call to artists for “Neighborhood Art Fair”

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For the next few months, I am going to be using this blog to disseminate information about IN:SITE.  Since 2006, IN:SITE has mounted temporary public art projects every six to twelve months in Milwaukee  neighborhoods.  Last spring, two opportunities came forward that took a year for IN:SITE to organize.  Now I can start spreading the word.

Sunday, June 30th, the first Neighborhood Art Fair (NAF) will take place at the Fondy Farmers Market, 2200 W. Fond du Lac Avenue, as part of the broader IN:SITE 20-block “Art on Fond du Lac” initiative.

Four large neighborhood areas will be involved.  Both artists and organizations from these neighborhoods will be at the fair so people can identify the art made in these neighborhoods and opportunities for artists who live and/or work there.

The four neighborhoods are

North: Sherman Park/ Metcalfe Park/Walnut Way/Lindsay Heights/Johnsons Park represented by Sherman Park Community Association, Metcalfe Park Advisory Board, Johnsons Park Neighborhood Association, the Center for Resilient Cities, Walnut Way, and Common Ground.

South: Lincoln Village/Baran Park through Urban Anthropology Inc.

East: Riverwest/Harambee with Riverwest Artists Association and the Historic King Drive and Riverworks BIDs involved.

West: Washington Park/West End Vliet Street/Washington Heights with Washington Park Partners, Washington Heights Neighborhood Association, West End Vliet Street businesses, the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network, Express Yourself Milwaukee, and Artists Working in Education.

The NAF will be held in a different neighborhood every year.  In 2014, the NAF will be held in Washington Park.

Former organizer for the Sherman Park Art Fair, Jeff “Percy” Percival, is one of the planners. If you live in one of the neighborhoods and are interested in having table or tent space at the fair, contact Percival for information at or call him at 414-322-2001.

“weightless words” at Cardinal Stritch well worth the trip

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I am in a rush.

It is Wednesday, and Friday night is Gallery Night.

There is always so much to see, but I encourage you to get to “weightless words” at the Cardinal Stritch University Northwestern Mutual Art Gallery, 6801 N. Yates Road.  The opening reception is Friday from 5-8.


–It is guest curated by John Loscuito.  John is the registrar at the Haggerty Museum of Art, and this show is a powerful complement to the “Freedom Project” that closed there in December.  If you want to see a show that will lead to conversation, this is it.  As John notes, “These works reflect our increasingly fragmented and hyper consumption of media and information and they caution against the passive regurgitation of these messages.”

–The three artists, Calvin Whitehurst, Annushka Peck, and Ted Brusubardis, started talking about this exhibit two years ago.  The resonance built between the pieces allows for added meaning by examining the relationship between the pieces.

–The mix of mediums is exciting: image, text, and sound.

–Ted Brusubardis keeps pushing his sound art.  This time in two pieces, “The Speech” and “The Call,” he carefully considers sound as a visual art form.  The content is rich.  In “The Speech,” Ted uses parts of the prior eight United States Presidents’ speeches following a tragedy.  “The Call” picks up where “The Speech” leaves off, pulling fragments from emergency calls.  The first is the earliest call made from the Twin Towers on 9/11.  One is from the Sikh Temple shooting last year.  The visual presentation of “The Call” is raw, just as these calls are raw.  The careful mounting of “The Speech” mirrors the way speeches are crafted to try and mold the public response.

–Annushka Peck’s text is so sensitive that there is a note on the gallery door that the show “may not be suitable for young children.”  Annushka pairs words in “swornenemies.”  Words are presented back-to-back in the “impact” font.  The font is important.   The font allows the letters to connect and bleed into one another. One example that doesn’t include profanities or slurs is traitorpatriot.  There are t-shirts available with many of the pairings.  The t-shirts are crucial too.  Those t-shirts make you think about which words you would be willing to have seen on you–and why.  And in considering that choice, the black-and-white words start to become very gray.

If you can’t get over to Cardinal Stritch on Friday, gallery hours are 12-4, Sunday through Friday. (The Gallery is closed on Monday, January 21.)  The show closes February 17.

The Morning After


It is 10:30 in the morning on 12/13/12.

In terms of my personal goal with the 12/12/12 Show, to cut loose and stay true to my persona being in a rage about Renee Bebeau abandoning me because she won’t cut my hair anymore, it was a success.  The most compelling hour was when Raymond Paul, the counselor, came and did conflict resolution with us from 5:00-6:00.  Renee and I really did come to a resolution, helped by the people watching, including John Schneider and Melanie Ariens.  Renee and I had practiced once with Raymond, and although I knew it would not be the same, it was really different.  He came wanting me to recite after him Stuart Smalley-type doggerel and I truly was incensed.  But then he made me realize I could retain my friendship with Renee and let my world expand, even if my hair doesn’t look as good.  Thank you Raymond!  Renee and I will meet every five weeks and do something together, like ice skate, or walk, or make art, or even get our hair cut together.  I will set up a date with her today.

The total surprise of the evening was that as I kept recounting over and over what had happened, four people offered to cut my hair, including a woman I have never met.  She is a doctor in family practice who has never had her own hair cut, or the hair of her two daughters.  I will go to Anna Helgeson first though.  Imagine how fun it will be to get my hair cut out at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center!

Another delight was all the great stories I heard about haircuts from others.  Dara Larson, who volunteered at the door, told me her hairdresser was her parson.

Alongside the hair drama, I was also making cranberry recipes for 12 hours.  The food went over a lot better than I thought.  The chocolate-covered craisins disappeared within an hour.  People were delighted by the caramel-covered fresh cranberries.  I got the recipe from Glacial Lake Cranberries and told people about the tours they give in the fall.

The cranberry salsa was a big hit.  People were skeptical, but then delighted.  Of course, everyone wanted the recipe for my Aunt Marilyn’s famous cranberry relish.  All of the recipes are below.

I did mildly fail.  I never had time to make the cranberry salad with cranberry vinaigrette.

There are a few people I tell I would traipse to the gates of hell with them.  This is now true with Johnny Kowalczyk.  The two of us organized the event, and he was there through thick and thin, including on the 12th.  I had a huge amount to remember to bring for all my cooking, and knew I would forget something.  What I forgot was the City of Milwaukee permit to let two of the artists use the sidewalk outside RedLine.  Johnny figured out an easy way for me to access and print the permit.

Another element I didn’t expect was how many people either came back or stayed for a long time.  Karen Goeschko, from the Wisconsin Arts Board, drove in from Madison with her friend Deb.  She returned at least three times and took in the whole experience.

Unfortunately, I almost never made it out of the kitchen, except to take food around now and then.  I told people I needed 12 bodies so I could see all the other pieces for the 12 hours.  However, people came up to the kitchen and raved about the diversity and quality of the art.  They were fully exposed to what installation and performance art can do to create a sense of place.

In an interview with Kat Murrell before the show, I said I thought RedLine would become an “art home” on 12 12 12.  And it did!  The RedLine building, with its three floors and room-sized spaces, created that sort of intimacy.  Perhaps RedLine will consider starting some sort of annual event and invite artists to use the building in a similar way.

My final thoughts are for Joe Reeves and Theresa Columbus.  Joe came from the West Coast to perform.  His endurance not only included building and rebuilding Cream City Bricks throughout RedLine for 12 hours, but lugging the bricks over ahead of the event from the Third Ward.

Theresa Columbus flew in from the East Coast. During the one meeting with all the artists a few days before the show, she said, “Thank you for this opportunity to perform for 12 hours.”  Then, although she was here for less than a week, she offered to come and help clean RedLine on Tuesday.  I don’t know what Johnny and I would have done without her.  She swept all the floors!  And right before we all had to clear out at midnight, she found me and told me the power of the 12-hour format.  She compared it to a lock-in event.  She wished we could repeat 12 12 12 today.

12/12/12 Show Cranberry Recipes


Crunchy Oat and Cranberry Muffins from The Muffin Baker’s Guide by Bruce Koffler

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup oatmeal (do not use quick or instant oatmeal)

½ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

¼ cup butter

1 cup milk

1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Butter cups of 12-cup muffin pan.

3. Combine dry ingredients in a big bowl.

4. In another bowl, toss cranberries with 1 tablespoon of the dry mixture to coat them.

5. Melt butter and let cool a couple of minutes.

6. Stir milk into butter, and then stir in egg.

7. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

8. Stir in cranberries. Don’t over mix.

9. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins.

10. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

11. Cool for at least five minutes before removing from pan.


Chocolate Covered Craisins from Lynn’s Kitchen Adventure

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

12 ounces craisins

1. Melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

2. Add craisins and stir.

3. Spread out on a cookie sheet that has been lined with waxed paper and refrigerate until firm.


Apple Cranberry Pot Roast

1 cup dry red wine

1 red onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 spring fresh rosemary, stem removed and minced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 medium apples, cored and diced

2 (or more) cups of cranberries (fresh or frozen)

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3-4 pounds pot roast, excess fat removed and patted dry

Combine everything except the meat in a slow cooker and stir.  Add the roast and spoon some of the sauce on top.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Halfway through, turn the meat over and coat with sauce.

If desired, after removing meat from pot to cut, turn slow cooker on high for 5-10 minutes to thicken sauce.


Cranberry Punch from Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

1 quart cranberry juice

6 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate

¼ cup lemon juice

1 quart ginger ale

(If desired, sweeten)


Cranberry Salsa from Debbie

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves split from stems

1 jalapeno pepper chopped

¾ cup green onions roughly chopped

½ cup green bell pepper roughly chopped

1 lime juiced

1 tsp cumin

½ cup white sugar  (You can add more sugar if you want it sweeter.)

salt to taste

Put all ingredients in in food processor and pulse until ingredients are minced and combined.


Cranberry Cake revised from The Cranberry Connection by Beatrice Ross Buszek

Cream together

½ cup soft butter

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

¾ teaspoon almond extract

4 ounces soft cream cheese

Sift or mix together

1 cup flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

Add this to creamed mixture

Mix together

½ cup chopped fresh cranberries

½ cup chopped pecans

1/8 cup flour

Fold into batter

Butter and flour two loaf pans.

Split batter between loaf pans.

Cook in 325 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

After 5 minutes remove from pans and glaze with 1 cup confections sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon butter and 1-2 tablespoons milk.


Spinach Salad from Ocean Spray

8 ounces fresh spinach

½  cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled

¼  small red onion, thinly sliced

½  cup craisins

2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

(You can add other veggies…)

Cranberry Vinaigrette from 11/18/2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

¼ cup cranberry juice

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons green onion sliced

½ cup olive oil (I always use slightly less)

¼ to ½ cups craisins

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine juice, vinegar, and green onion.  Gradually whisk in oil.  Stir in craisins, chives, salt, and pepper.

September (great back-to-school lunch bag item)

Blue Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Celery from Rachel Ray

4 ounces softened cream cheese

½  cup crumbled blue cheese

½  cup chopped toasted pecans

2 tablespoons (or more) chopped craisins

Celery stalks

Cracked black pepper

Combine cheeses, pecans, and craisins. Spread on celery; top with cracked pepper.


Cranberries Dipped in Caramel from Glacial Lake Cranberries

1 pound fresh cranberries

1 package (14 ounces) Kraft Caramels

2 tablespoons water

Unwrap caramels and cook with water in a saucepan on medium-low heat until the caramels are melted, stirring constantly.

Put a greased sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet.

Put a toothpick into each fresh cranberry and dip in melted caramel and place on prepared cookie sheet.  Chill in refrigerator until set.


Cranberry Relish from Aunt Marilyn

4 cups of cranberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup sugar

2 ounces of crystallized ginger (cut fine)

1 medium orange (grate rind to include, peel, take out seeds, and chop)

½ cup golden raisins

8 ounces crushed pineapple (use the juice too)

1/3 cup apricot brandy (I include this as I cook.  You can add it after cooking too.)

Cook all ingredients on top of the stove at medium/low temperature for about 15 minutes, until thickened.  Cool.

(You can add 1/3 cup of chopped pecans at this point.  I don’t.)


Cutting Loose

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Up until now, I have always memorized the monologs for my performance art.  There was a practical point to this.  I figured memorizing might help me prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  But I am 58 now and no early onset.  The problem is that I have become overly dependent on memorized text.

I have been looking for an opportunity to cut loose.  This will happen on December 12th.

I initiated and will be performing in a 12-hour marathon, the 12/12/12 Show.  It runs from noon to midnight at RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. 4th Street.  There will be 12 pieces going simultaneously, including both installation and performance art.  Nothing repeats; everything evolves.  There is a $5 charge.  For $10 people can get their hand stamped and return multiple times.

Here is the event blog:

Here is the Facebook event page:

I am performing “The Last Haircut” with Renee Bebeau.  I will be furious with Renee because she has quit hairdressing and will not cut my hair again.  There is no way to memorize 12 hours of dialog; there is no way to even practice 12 hours of dialog.

We do know what is going to happen each hour:

12:00   Silent (treatment)

1:00     Cranberry hour

2:00     Johnny’s first haircut

3:00     Failed April Fools’ Day

4:00     Renee storms off

5:00     Conflict resolution with Raymond Paul

6:00     Hug and pour the zodiac

7:00     Cranberry salad and dinner

8:00     Happy Birthday Joe

9:00     Pegi’s last haircut

10:00   12 poses (with clothes on)

11:00   Common thread

During these 12 hours, I am also going to be making 12 cranberry items, one for every month of the year:

January-cranberry muffins

February-chocolate covered Craisins

March-cranberry pot roast

April-cranberry sauce heart

May-cranberry punch

June-cranberry salsa

July-cranberry cake

August-cranberry salad

September-cranberry spread

October-cranberries dipped in caramel

November-cranberry relish

December-stringing cranberries

If you come, I will have a sheet you can have with all the recipes, and maybe you can get a taste of something.

The arrangement at RedLine is not formal.  Renee and I will interact with each other, other artists, and people who come to see the show.  For example at 5:00 Raymond Paul, a counselor, will come to do conflict resolution with Renee and me.  Raymond, Renee, and/or I might ask people who are around for input.

Which is all to say that this piece is going to challenge me in every way, like being very angry for four hours.  Of course, there will be a cathartic quality to this, similar to when I had to smash down a wall once.  Who knows what will come out of this experience?  My hope is that giving so much over to being there will be good for me.

Reedsburg DTour a Blast

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Last year I missed it.  In 2011 Wormfarm Institute initiated a fall festival that included having temporary art installed for ten days in the Reedsburg area.  This year, the festival is titled “’Fermentation Fest, “ and features the Farm/Art DTour – a fifty-mile tour of art installations, Roadside Culture Stands (artist-built mobile farm stands), pasture performances, Field Notes (rural culture education sites), Farm Forms (creations made by farmers), and Roadside Poetry.

It has been a gorgeous fall, and where better to experience it than just outside the Baraboo Range?  Fermentation Fest runs through October 21st.

I have been very vocal about keeping public art out of parks, except where these parks connect with urban spaces.  In general, nature does just fine on its own, and the art interferes.  Yes, some of Milwaukee’s finest parks were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  You could argue that these parks aren’t natural at all.  Olmstead was a genius, he believed in creating clear vistas, and all the more reason to leave his work alone.

I wondered how interruptions along rural roads would work.  They functioned just fine because, like art in the space between park and city, this is art is on the edge between the road and (primarily) farmland.

Much of the art was about framing.  The “Field Notes” were especially effective.  Woodcarver Homer Daehn created nine literal wood frames for informative statements about seemingly obvious elements like “WATER” and “LAND.”  However, they were carefully mounted in spots that made you stop.  It encouraged you to take the time to smell the hay; to hear the wind in the cornfields; and absorb the joining of pond, land, and rocky bluffs.  A number of the other artists also created temporary frames.  David Wells used old farm parts to frame a “classic” Wisconsin farm landscape, complete with an octagon barn.  I found Martha Glowacki’s two round frames less successful.  The frames were more fanciful, becoming sculptures more than frames, and they weren’t as carefully sited.  Heath Matysek-Snyder’s “Kominy-Tractor” completely framed in a tractor with stacked firewood.

Along the route are cemeteries worth exploring, you’ll pass at least one Amish buggy, and you’ll end up talking with others.  Because it is a circular route, you wind up at stops with the same people multiple times and there is plenty to share.

One recommendation: LaValle is just about midway along the route, and a good place to stop and eat.  Try Trail Break Pizza, right where the 400 State Trail meets the commercial section (608-985-8464).

Vote for Milwaukee Place Making

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There is a contest going on right now.  Placemaking Chicago sought entries from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary for “projects that most creatively transformed a vacant lot or building into a vibrant community place.”  The three criteria for Space in Between are:

Originality: How unique is the project?

Accessibility: Is the area easy to get to?

Practicality: Is there an element to the project that promotes and facilitates sustained social interaction? Does the project have the potential to build community? Would you spend time here?

The day the contest was announced, two people emailed giving me contest information and urging IN:SITE to apply.  IN:SITE has done major vacant lot projects from 2009-2012 and, at the time, I thought IN:SITE would be the only entry from Milwaukee to challenge Chicago.

I was really wrong!  Of the 46 entries 12 are from Milwaukee.  Many of the projects are connected in some way with IN:SITE:

“here, mothers are”

IN:SITE helped these artists get in touch with the City of Milwaukee.

“Metcalfe Park Community Action Team Drive-In Movie Night”

I helped out at this event.

“Artists Create Community in Burnham Park”

The executive director volunteered with site planning for IN:SITE.

“Blue Dress Park”

Key people involved have helped plan or been artists for IN:SITE.

“The Amplifier”

Sarah Luther has been an IN:SITE planner and lead artist.

“Pop up art”

IN:SITE is one of the groups that used this space developed by the City of Milwaukee.

IN:SITE is really proud of what it accomplished in 2010.  Considering the three judging standards, the art couldn’t have been more original.  It was seen by 40,000 people every day and covered over eight blocks.  The project led to the community starting to organize its own art initiatives.

Along with the information where you can vote for IN:SITE here:

IN:SITE produced five other short videos documenting the 2010 “On and Off Capitol” project.

Please take a look at the contestants and vote by October 5th.  Milwaukee is doing great place making and the award could do a lot to help IN:SITE, or another Milwaukee organization or artist, do more!

Door Open Milwaukee 2012

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For a second year, I led a tour titled “What Creates Public Art Controversy” for Historic Milwaukee, Inc.’s Doors Open Milwaukee event last Sunday.  The tour included the same six sites as last year, but with new information.

Last year, I didn’t know what had happened to Paul Yank’s “Tulip Fountain” that disappeared from Cathedral Square.  Due to information generated from the tour, I could tell the participants this year that Milwaukee County sold it.

Two other new elements were major discussion topics for the tour.

The Woman’s Club of Wisconsin, with $5,000 in matching funds contributed by the Milwaukee Arts Board, completed the sculpture “Birds of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” by Magdalena Abakanowicz.  It is installed in the Kilbourn median in front of the Woman’s Club.  I used it as an example of when a non-governmental donor raises money for art placed on public land.  The donor assumes the public will embrace the gift.  Not always.  In 2001, when “Birds” was first installed, some area neighbors did not feel they had been adequately informed and included in the process.

Abakanowicz intended for there to be rocks, as large as possible, piled below the six flying birds.  Using a design developed by Margarete Harvey, rocks are now in place, though not as large as Abakanowicz initially envisioned.

Harvey emailed me that some people are taking note of the sculpture for the first time.  This supports another idea I brought up on the tour.  Permanent public art, unless it is extraordinary, stops being seen after a year or so.  It just blends in with the scenery.  The art looks different now, and there is new lighting too, so “Birds” is being noticed.

The sculpture was intended to commemorate the spirit of volunteerism for the 125th Anniversary of the Woman’s Club.  This is never obvious to anyone on the tour, but last week Mike explained it.  He said the birds are flying together.  It is a group effort.

The other new element of the tour was comparing two plans for the redevelopment of Cathedral Square.  Along with one by Jim Shields that we discussed last year, there is now another by Craig Huebner.

Everyone on the tour liked having a permanent stage on the north end that could also house bathrooms.  Right now, both of these amenities are temporary.

The group wanted the park to attract increased use.  Enhancing the children’s area, an aspect of both plans, would help.  And they wanted to pull from parts of both designs that would add a coffeehouse, more tables and chairs, and bike rentals.

The participants also brought up a key concern that neither plan includes: a focal point.  Their preferred solution would be to return a fountain to the south end.

After the tour ended, I went to visit some Doors Open Milwaukee sites.  First, I had to experience Sarah Luther’s “Let the World Entertain You: Abandoned Land Project” at 12th and McKinley.  Crocker Stephenson wrote a terrific story about it:

And I had never gone inside the MGIC building, a couple blocks west of Cathedral Square.  The wall treatments, by textile designer Sheila Hicks, are simply stunning.

All thanks to Historic Milwaukee, Inc. for a second successful Doors Open Milwaukee!

Back to the Wonder Cave

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On August 15th, I drove to the Rudolph (Wisconsin) Grotto Garden and Wonder Cave for the third time.

It is included in the “Wandering Wisconsin” map put together by the John Michael Kohler Art Center:

As with most outsider art environments, part of the pleasure is getting off the beaten track to find it.  If you want to get there in the least amount of time, you end up primarily on major highways.  But west of Steven’s Point, you need to turn onto County Road C.  The world changes immediately, with a herd of fifty bison, odd stuff in people’s yards, interesting road kill, aspen trees with leaves quivering, and birds on a wire.  Will I ever find enough time in my life to do a road trip devoted to using side roads?  Erin Dorbin’s book “uncommon spaces and & everyday places” reminds me of how the journey matters as much as the destination.

The Wonder Cave is my daughter’s favorite outsider art site in the state.  It is adjacent to St. Philip’s Catholic Church.  It was built under the direction of Father Wagner starting in 1919 and was completed in 1983.  The site has over thirty elements, including Wisconsin in Miniature, a waterfall, and beautiful garden spaces.  However, the wonder is the Wonder Cave.  It is a one-fifth of a mile underground passageway with 26 shrines fashioned after the catacombs in Rome.  The largest area shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Olives.

You absolutely do not need to be religious to adore the Wonder Cave.  Here’s why:

–The cave is mesmerizing and creepy.  Perfect for any child over the age of ten, and perhaps younger depending on the child.

–The cave was constructed entirely by hand.  It is not a natural cave, yet there are all these manmade stalactites.  Father Wagner figured out how to build it with the help of the congregation as he went along.  It is a DO IT YOURSELF inspiration and masterpiece.

–There are dozens of signs on sheets of tin created by punching thousands of holes using a hammer and nails of differing sizes (though later a drill was designed to make the task easier).  These signs are backlist with colored light bubs.

–The combination of the cave with the eerie light and signs and bible scenes featuring ungainly marble statues is so incongruous.  You simply have to see it to believe it.

It is open seven days a week, 10-5, from Memorial Day until mid-September.  Many communities detest outsider art environments.  Another glory of visiting is to witness how the community embraces the grotto and fastidiously cares for it.


After the Fire


This blog has been quiet since the end of May because I had an opportunity to put together a proposal for a major IN:SITE temporary public art initiative.  IN:SITE received key funding for it at the end of June, and I will be posting a lot about the project soon.

Yesterday there was a five-alarm fire in a building where I had studio space.  I lost almost nothing.  It was a meeting space and I had a folding table there and some chairs.

But I do feel a huge loss.

I need to explain what made 631 such a valuable building for me.

631 Center Street is not the Fortress.  Not Hyde House.  Not the Nut Factory.  Although these have all been important spaces to me, 631 was different because it was so integrated into the Riverwest neighborhood.  The strongest recent indication of this was the Riverwest Satellite Day and Night that Ashley Janke organized in the spring of this year.  There were over a dozen events, with three at 631.

631 was an art home to me.  I always knew when I went to 631 that I would run into someone I either wanted or needed to find and talk to.  Walker’s Point Center for the Arts is like this for me too, but 631 in an even more intimate way.

I met Sarah Luther at 631.

In the summer of 2008, she mounted an installation at Green Gallery West called “We Are All Always Moving.”  She had just returned to Milwaukee from Kansas City.  I fell in love with the installation and Sarah all at the same time, especially after I experienced her “Ode to A Coffee Pot.”  Sarah played melodies on the cello while three coffee makers perked.

Since then, I have rarely done any art production without having Sarah involved.  I keep her “Field Guide” series in my purse at all times.

So it was a fulfilling moment for me to become one of the four women sharing studio space in 631 2A with Sarah last fall.  At 58, I need to balance my own art production with art organizing.  631 was going to be a space for me to experiment with performance art pieces and spread out material for collages.  However, the first thing I did was organize.  In January, Theresa Columbus performed in the 2A studio.  The audience was a mix of everyone.  Everyone.  People from five decades of art making in Milwaukee.

On the left side of my my desk I taped Sarah’s quote about failure: “I see failure as a catalyst.  It’s a moment where you are forced to stop and begin again…Survival banks on risk, tenacity, a willingness to fall down, the ability to back up, and an intense drive forward.”

This quote is helping me as I think about the future of the Riverwest art community following the fire.


For added reading, see Mary Louise Schumacher’s story about the fire:!page=1&pageSize=10&sort=newestfirst

And an “Art City” March interview with Sarah:!page=0&pageSize=10&sort=newestfirst

What I Didn’t See


Last Friday night I was at the opening reception for “Time Arts Continuum” at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. 5th Street.  I confess that I am not a fan of video art, but I was determined to attend the opening because the description of the reception noted it would include “a performance in conjunction with Dean Valadez’s installation.”  A performance?  I had to check this out.  It sounded like performance art to me.

I arrived and (I will go to hell for this) I was not excited by the video work.  I appreciated that the label for Valadez’s piece included the duration of the two paired videos: eight minutes and twelve seconds.  One of the things that bothers me about video art is how you enter the gallery and have no idea how long the piece is and whether you are seeing the beginning, middle, or the end.  I don’t feel I’m being respected.

I kept returning to Valadez’s installation, “I Wish I Were Here II,” waiting for the performance to start.  Impatient (I’ll go to hell for this too), I found Mary Overman, WPCA’s PR/Marketing/ Membership Coordinator.  I asked her whether the performance was over.  She smiled and said the performance was happening and she’d help me figure it out.  She led me back to the the front gallery and suggested I look a bit closer.

As part of the installation, there are two large cardboard boxes.  One is attached to the wall and you see a clothed male human form from the shoulders down hanging from inside it.  On the floor is the other box with two sets of clothed legs sticking out.  Sure enough, one of the shoes was twitching just a bit.  A live guy was inside there.

I’m an idiot; I wouldn’t have figured it out without help.

The show, and Valadez’ installation, is worth seeing, though the two sets of legs sticking out from the box on the floor will both be “fake” now.

Valadez and I have emailed since the opening, and it was refreshing to hear he has conceptual issues with some of today’s video art and wanted to engage non-video audiences.  He wrote, “While my video has an overarching narrative, it also was constructed as a montage so that conversations between video elements can be related to the photographic still images adhered to the wall – in that sense, I sought a balance between ‘video’ art and ‘non-video’ art.”

I learned a new word from Valadez: collocation.  It has to do with a particular arrangement or juxtaposition of elements.  Valadez purposefully repeats imagery from the videos in the installation because “the collocation of like imagery between the video and the photos and the legs is similar to photo or painting installs and thus deal with visual rhyme.”

I am also impressed with Valadez’ sensitivity about video monitors in gallery spaces.  “I often times find myself bored with videos that simply have monitors setup without interacting with the gallery space or that don’t activate that third space – the intangible atmosphere that circumnavigates itself around the viewer, “ he emailed.  This is an issue for me too.  I hate TV in the fairly comprehensive Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander, kind of way.

It is troubling for me to think about there being “art” on monitors.  By being on a monitor, I question whether it is art.

For a full preview of “Time Arts Continuum,” check out this story by Judith Ann Moriarty on Third Coast Digest:

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