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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Fernand Léger's 1920 watercolor "The City" is one of the 60 works in MAM's new exhibition.

Show frames 10 years of donations to Milwaukee Art Museum


Milwaukee Art Museum associate curator of prints and drawings Mary Weaver Chapin knows she's also talking about herself when she opines, "I think people don't realize how dynamic the museum; that we're constantly changing. Sometimes just one print or drawing at a time, sometimes by huge gifts."

In sorting through the works on paper -- drawings, prints, maps, books, posters, etc. -- for the new retrospective show, "Framing a Decade: Acquisitions of Prints and Drawings, 2001–2011," currently on view in the Koss Gallery on the museum's mezzanine level, Weaver Chapin herself was amazed to see just how much there was.

"When we thought, 'let's do a review of acquisitions,' I thought there might be 200 or so things I'd have to think about but we want back through the database there were something like 3,000 prints, drawings, artists books," she tells me while leading me on a tour of the exhibition.

And that doesn't count any paintings, any sculpture, any decorative arts, etc.? "Right," she says, "That's not even for the whole museum."

The show includes about 60 works that span four centuries of western art and hangs until April 3, 2011. "Framing a Decade" is the first public manifestation of the museum's 2011 celebration of the 10th anniversary of what most everyone inside and outside the museum's walls calls, "the new building."

"This is a really fun chance for us to show the public what can happen in 10 years," says Weaver Chapin, who admits she had a great time working to prepare the exhibition, even though it was hectic trying to put it together while she was heavily engaged in the extremely popular Warrington Colescott exhibition located on the floor below.

"It was really fun to sift through and pick out different things to highlight," she says, her excitement palpable. "I wish I could include more, but here I have about 60 of those 3,000. And they fall into a couple different groups."

She leads me into a room focused on prints by old masters, many donated by Ethel Hockerman Charitable Trust, which has quietly helped build a solid collection of prints to the museum. One especially enthralling work is a portrait of Christ by Claude Mellan, called the "Veil of Veronica," which is reportedly drawn in one single, continuous, circular line. The results are astonishing.

Next we look at a sprawling, exquisitely detailed aerial view of the Siege of Breda, during the 80 Years War, etched by Frenchman Jacques Callot.

I ask Weaver Chapin if it was difficult to whittle down 3,000 works to a representative sample of just 60 for this show, suspecting I already knew the answer.

"There is a certain level that immediately rose to the top and from there it was very hard to choose," she said, confirming my suspicions. "We did get some archival material (things like color samples from Chicago's Landfall Press), so that's easy to say that we love having it, it's really good to learn about the background of the artists ... but (they're) things that we wouldn't pull out to highlight."

One work later in the show, in the contemporary area, is "First Stone," the first print, made in 1960, by Sam Francis. The work is one of 500 received by the museum as a gift from the Sam Francis Foundation and it serves as a bit of a clue to what Weaver Chapin is thinking about at the moment.

She is currently planning for a major exhibition of works by the late California painter and printmaker using works from that massive gift.

"I'm hoping that what this (print) will do is tempt people back for more," she says. "We're going to do a Sam Francis show ... this is just a little teaser."

We move on to see sometimes engaging, sometimes amazing, sometimes simply lovely -- and other times all three -- by Paul Gauguin, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Egon Schiele, Kathe Kollwitz and others and one begins to marvel at the many gems packed in storage at institutions like the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"This exhibition highlights the richness and breadth of some of the finest and rarest prints and drawings the Museum has acquired in the past decade," Weaver Chapin says. "(It) is an invigorating, visual experience."

If you want a little action to accompany your visit to see "Framing a Decade," Milwaukee Art Museum's next MAM After Dark MAD Hot event is slated for Friday, Jan. 21 from 5 p.m. until midnight.

There will be, among other things, a screening of the documentary, "All About Prints," at 6:15 p.m. and the chance to see "Framing a Decade." Complete details are at mam.org/afterdark.


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