In Arts & Entertainment

Love it or hate it, Milwaukee?

Local artists weigh in on "The Calling"

Since it rose on Milwaukee's horizon in 1982, the bright orange sunburst sculpture -- titled "The Calling" -- raised controversy and opposing opinions in Milwaukee. Generally, people either love it or hate.

New York-based artist Mark di Suvero created the 40-foot piece from 1981 to 1982 from steel I-beams painted orange. It sits on the end of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the bridge that leads to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The Art Museum commissioned di Suvero and he was paid by an anonymous donor, which contributed to the controversy. Some community members expressed discomfort over not knowing who paid for the sculpture. Others disapproved of the abstractness of the piece and some were offended by the price -- reportedly around $150,000 -- even though it was paid for by a private donation.

There were 11 hearings, but the sculpture was finally approved for public placement by the Common Counsel in January 1982. Di Suvero created the piece in New York, but then disassembled it and shipped it to Milwaukee where he rebuilt it. It was dedicated to the city in April 1982.

In 2001, a second controversy over The Calling surfaced when the Milwaukee Art Museum's new wing, designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened. Some people believed "The Calling," when viewed from Wisconsin Avenue, blocked the view of Calatrava's celebrated Burke Brise Soleil. This despite the fact that Calatrava reportedly designed his structure with the sculpture's placement in mind.

Some demanded "The Calling" move to a new location, but despite many letters to editors and radio talk show callers' gripes, it remains in the spot where it was originally erected.

Love it, hate it or somewhere in between, most Milwaukeeans have a strong opinion of "The Calling," so OnMilwaukee.com checked in with a few artists to get their perspective. And, as always, feel free to share yours via the Talkback feature.

Pamela Anderson, 54
Abstract expressionist painter
I love "The Calling." I think Whitney Gould described it perfectly once by saying, "great works of public art and architecture carry on a musical conversation." I feel that when I drive down the street and see the strong urban abstract di Suvero piece against the graceful yet strong lines of the Calatrava. Milwaukee is so fortunate to have this piece.

Kaylee Carlin, 27
Sculptor
I find it really ugly. It doesn't symbolize Milwaukee to me in any way.

Pegi Christiansen, 56
Chair of IN:SITE (fostering temporary public art)
I don't have strong feelings about Mark di Suvero's piece one way or the other. However, I do use it as an argument for temporary public art. I will ask people if they noticed it last time they were close by. Most people say "no." A permanent piece of public art sometimes becomes part of the landscape and people who go by it regularly stop noticing it. Temporary public art, because it is installed and then is de-installed or changes, has a strong visual impact for the time it is in place.

Kari Couture, 29
Visual artist
Although I can empathize with the other side of this often times contentious issue, I do like the di Suvero. It is a reminder of our industrial roots, it provokes thoughts of the overlap between industry and art and like most public art, it didn't get here without somebody putting up a fight. I say cheers to those that brought the piece to Milwaukee and cheers to the great discourse on art it brings about.

Harvey Opgenorth, 33
Conceptual artist
Yes! I like the sculpture, however the Calatrava blocks it from doing its job. The orange is a complimentary color (literally) to the blue sky and blue lake. Mark di Suvero's "The Calling" is a smart commentary on Milwaukee's industrial past and the bright future it had ahead. Simply, it's festive, and one of the few public abstract expressionist sculptures that the city has.

Arvid Petersen, 32
Painter
I find the sculpture large, orange and appropriate for the space. I see it as a metallic seedling of a structure, sprouting out of the concrete earth. Though unlike nature, man-made, full of straight lines, almost an idea of what may be. I do like it, but it's not one of my favorites.

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Talkbacks

kinnickinnic | March 20, 2011 at 5:58 a.m. (report)

A good work of art, but, in the wrong spot. It detracts from the view of the Calatrava Museum. Move it to the other end of Wisconsin Avenue, to enhance the setting sun.

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BayREVIEWER | March 19, 2011 at 10:28 a.m. (report)

It's Milwaukee. We have idiots like Hitman who probably only knows from what is taught to him in the seventh grade and is told what to like(Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Calatrava to name a few). The same idiots who walk down to the river and pray to the art of a bronze fonz with a beer in one hand and a Mad magazine in the other.

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oldandintheway | March 19, 2011 at 8:34 a.m. (report)

I think you've got to see it from a block or two away to appreciate it. Don't look at it; look at it in its situation. It's sort of like the way Gorman Thomas transformed County Stadium when he stood at the plate. Put that kind of brutish power and passion in the right place, and magic happens. There it sits on a site that waffles between being an entrance to a parking lot or to an art museum, a beginning or an end, a destination or a passageway. It's the only thing there that seems sure of itself, reaching out to its surroundings and pulling them together into a site worth noticing, a dawning, maybe. If you want to have some fun, walk back and forth between the Di Suvero and the "Pledge of Allegiance" sculpture about 50 feet south of it. That's a nicely done collection of statues, but nobody notices it because it doesn't DO anything the way The Calling does. I appreciated our Di Suvero more when I saw the one that the Kansas City Art Museum is so proud of. It's a crippled, cautious little thing that sits alone whimpering compared to our loud shout of a piece. And I really liked our Di Suvero when I saw the side-by-side Di Suveros in Chicago's Millenium Park (just north of that really neat bean thing). One is sort of a resigned, here-we-go-again collection of orange beams and angles that looks like an awkward asterisk, and next to it is a sort of ersatz imitation that seems to be Di Suvero poking fun at his other piece. Wierd. We've got a good Di Suvero and we've got it in the right place. I just can't imagine what an empty, inconsequential place that would be without it.

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Hitman | March 19, 2011 at 1:50 a.m. (report)

Junk. It looks like an asterisk. Some people create beautiful works of art (Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Calatrava to name a few) and some people create the modern version of The Emperor's New Clothes. (Di Suvero, for instance) And all of the other so-called artists and their sycophantic minions rush to praise it because it gives them hope that they too will one day find a sucker community to sell their rubbish to. Emperors New Clothes. Well I don't see them and I don't see the value of this eye sore. Pull it out and drop it in the ocean where it will have some value as a future coral reef. Now that would be beautiful...

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littletinyfish | March 18, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. (report)

It seems like any time there is a call for public art there is vehement discourse on the subject; every piece seems to bring its own controversy, from The Calling to Janet Zweig's piece downtown, to the Blue Shirt. I hope to see more in this potential series(?) which could feature public art and architecture around the city. It gives the casual observer a little bit of history and insight about what it means and why it's there. For what it's worth, I like the piece and while it works both ways, I think it's more of a force to be reckoned with up close, rather than casually driving by on the street.

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