One-hundred and five of the works in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Always New: The Posters of Jules Chéret” exhibition, which opens Friday, June 3, are from a large cache of French posters donated to the museum by James and Susee Wiechmann in 2021.
And it feels like a lot of posters. But consider that it is only about one-sixth of the collection the Wiechmanns gave to MAM, and you get a sense not only of the importance of the donation, but the breadth of the collection, which began after the couple saw some French posters at Ghirardelli Square on a visit to San Francisco.
Across their 30 years of collecting, the Wiechmanns – who are among the list of owners over the years of the Goldberg Mansion – put together the country’s biggest and best collection of Chéret posters.
And now it enhances the museum’s collection.
“We are truly grateful for this extraordinary collection of prints that the Wiechmann family has donated to the Museum, greatly enhancing our holdings of works on paper,” says Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director, Milwaukee Art Museum.
“The generosity of local collectors is an integral component of the museum’s ability to bolster our role as a valuable civic and educational resource for our community.”
The Wiechmanns' gift also included funding for a curator of prints and drawings position at MAM that was added five years ago.
"Susee and I are thrilled to add our Jules Chéret poster collection to the Museum’s treasures where it can be shared by all," said James Wiechmann in a statement when the gift was announced in 2017.
"These posters that lit up the streets of Paris in the late 1800s will now shine in the galleries of our Milwaukee Art Museum and those of other museums as they are exhibited around the country."
The new exhibition – the first-ever solo show featuring the works of 19th century French artist and lithographer Jules Chéret (1836-1932) – runs through Oct. 16 in the Baker/Rowland Galleries in the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion.
Posters are arranged in thematic rooms that feature stage-set style transition spaces that alert visitors to what’s coming next. A room with newspaper-related posters requires passing a recreated street scene and newsstand. The travel poster room is accessed through a train-station-like passage augmented with steam whistle and other relevant audio.
While that’s fun and instructive, the posters themselves are, of course, the real stars of the show, with their striking designs, bold colors, alluring fonts and often grand scale.
They are a testament not only to Chéret’s skills as a lithographer – a field in which he was also a pioneer in a number of techniquest, according to MAM Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Nikki Otten – but to his artistic sensibilities and his skills as an artist.
Also included in the shows are related works, like a watercolor showing how Chéret created gouache preparatory drawings for each of his posters.
What’s really amazing is that although these posters, which were advertisements pasted to exterior walls subject to rain and snow and blazing sunshine – as well as to being pasted over with new posters – were by nature ephemeral and meant to be lost to history, there survive so many pristine examples for us to enjoy more than 100 years later.
“Some people recognized their artistic importance at the time,” explains Otten. “And they would bribe the poster hangers and find other ways to get them before they were posted. Later, Chéret realized there was a market and began to sell them himself and through galleries.”
The show also includes at least one poster that was created specifically for collectors. It was an image identical to an advertisement poster but on which Chéret omitted the text.
“By using bold and bright colors and designs, drawing inspiration from multiple artistic traditions, and innovating new techniques, Jules Chéret transformed modern lithography and established the poster as both a higher art form and a reflection of a moment in time,” says Otten.
“With this first solo exhibition of Chéret’s work in the country, I’m excited to welcome the Milwaukee community to explore his genre-defining career and to celebrate the rich dynamism of his imagery and the historical insights it captures.”
The show is the latest in an informal series of shows at MAM featuring French posters, including 2000’s “Toulouse-Lautrec and the Pleasures of Paris” and “Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries” in 2012.
Some works from the Wiechmanns’ collection were included in the 2012 show.
A special poster was created in the Chéret style for this new exhibition by Ericka Walker and you can see it in the show’s first gallery and you can buy a print of it in the gift shop at the gallery exit.
Also available is a 240-page exhibition catalog with essays by curator Otten and other Chéret and poster art experts. It is the first English-language museum publication about the artist.
From July 14-17 – concurrent with the Bastille Days celebration in East Town – the museum will host Streets of Paris, a celebration of French culture with mini French lessons, performances, film screenings and more.
Details on the show, the catalog, Streets of Paris and more at mam.org.
Point Brewery – owned by Wiechmann since 2002 – is releasing a special brew to coincide with the show.
Whole Hog Raspberry Chéret is a double radler with European hops, raspberry juice, subtle citrus and generous carbonation.
“For a radler, it has twice the flavor and twice the ABV typical of this style,” says
brewmaster Mike Schraufnagel.
The beer will be available for a limited time in six-pack bottles and on draft.
“I wanted to combine two of my great passions,” says James Wiechmann. “This exhibit is a celebration of poster art, and you can’t celebrate without a great beer.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.