As the Grohmann Museum on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus celebrates its 15th anniversary, it’s also hosting the largest exhibition ever of works not from its own collection.
The museum. 1000 N Broadway, gives over a large chunk of its second floor to “A Time of Toil and Triumph: Selections from the Shogren-Meyer Collection of American Art.”
The show includes 112 works – paintings, photographs and more – from the more than 400 in the Minnesota collection of Dan Shogren and Susan Meyer.
In the exhibition, which runs through Feb. 26, you’ll find works by Aaron Bohrod, Margaret Bourke-White, John Steuart Curry, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, Edmund Lewandowski, Dorothea Lange, Thornton Oakley and Isaac Soye, among many others, says Grohmann Museum Director James Kieselburg.
“Right after we reopened from Covid, (the collectors) visited and said, ‘Our friend Ric Hartman from the Gallery of Wisconsin Art said we should come to the Grohmann.’ They said, ‘how did we not know? Our collection’s made for the place’.”
So, Kieselburg selected works from the couple’s collection for a show.
“We chose to focus on the 1930s, because of the WPA connection,” says Kieselburg, who also set to work creating a catalog for the exhibition. That hardcover book is available at the museum.
“I selected all these works with their help,” he adds. “They have a personal connection to a lot of these things. And they are real scholars of what they collect, and that I really admire. It's one thing just to collect, but to know about the artists and their lives and their connections to one another...
“They really have a great affinity for Midwestern artists.”
The works are executed in all kinds of styles, though are typically representational rather than abstract in nature. The photographs are especially engaging, but there are many striking paintings, too, sometimes gritty, often alluringly colorful.
I especially like the Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine and Berenice Abbott photos, but paintings like Knute Heldner’s 1925 “The Price of Labor” are quite striking as well.
Kieselburg names a Lewandowski painting (“The Waterfront,” 1935, pictured above) and Thornton Oakley’s 1942 “The Wonderland of Oil” (pictured below) – a pastel and gouache work on paper – as among his favorites.
“This is from the Pittsburgh area,” he says of the latter. “It’s beautiful. It's great because it's that illustrator style, but it kind of foreshadows that mid-century kind of modernism. It's really a pretty special piece.”
By far the largest painting in the show was a 1937 John Martin Socha study for a mural showing the story of wheat production, called “Minnesotans at Work.”
“This was the last addition,” says Kieselburg. “Dan called me and he says, ‘We got a new one that's 6 by 10.’ I said, ‘I hope inches.’
“So we had to spill over into this gallery and we spilled over to the hallway, but it is the largest exhibition that we’ve mounted. Typically we'll take one third of the floor, but this is almost half the floor. But this one was a little more special because it was our 15th anniversary and the art is so special.”
For information on visiting the Grohmann Museum, including hours, admission and more, visit msoe.edu/grohmann-museum.
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.