New Materiality at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Over the weekend of April 16/17, Lawrence La Bianca and I flew to Milwaukee to participate in the ‘Dialogues on Innovation’ lecture series at the Milwaukee Museum of Art in conjunction with the New Materiality exhibition. It turned out to be an amazing and rewarding weekend. Several other artists who participated in New Materiality were invited as well, so it was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow artists, hear about their work directly and to have multi-layered conversations about the parallels between our works and the engagement of the digital in contemporary craft. The other artists invited were Sonya Clark (chair of the craft/material studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University), Tim Tate (glass and video artist and rambunctious bad boy), Christy Matson (textile and sound artist and CCA alumna, currently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Nathalie Miebach (basketmaker, sculptor, composer and data juggler). Its hard to know where to start in giving you a taste of a rich and multilayered weekend amongst creative thinkers and makers.

A good place to start is where Lawrence and I did, walking along the bridge towards Calatrava’s sculpted, white-boned building; like two Jonah’s about to be swallowed by the whale.

Santiago Calatravas extraordinary extension to MAM on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The lofty atrium space during the MAM After Dark soiree

The greatest treat for Lawrence and I was seeing our work ‘Soundings’ in situ. We haven’t seen the piece for a while and the last time we saw it we had loaded it into a packing crate in SF bound for Boston. So we were interested to see how it had survived its travels. We were delighted to see that the curaors had chosen to place it on the level above the rest of the New Materiality exhibition along with work by Christy Matson and Sony Clark to give all three works a bit more breathing room. We found ourselves in illustrious company among the MAM permanent collection of contemporary, adjacent to other inspiring and cross fertilizing works

Fortescue, LaBianca, Matson, Puryear – niiice!

Beth Lipman’s delightful work was secreted away in the tiny, cramped ‘Glass and Studio Craft Gallery’ nearby. So the floor admonition not to ‘cross the line’ had obviously been violated by someone!

Beth Lipmans delightfully baroque Laid Table (Still Life with Metal Pitcher), 2007

The separation of Lipman’s work from the main galleries is even stranger considering the adjacent (non-segregated) glass work by Josiah McElheny.

Josiah McElhenys Modernity circa 1952, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely, 2004

Clearly occupying the main stream art discourse was Robert Gober’s Untitled, 1997. The open suitcase reveals a storm water grate through which we can see a weedy rockpool and glimpses of a mysterious bathing/birthing woman. I love the parallels with Soundings in this piece located just a few feet away. The mundane object (suitcase or occasional table) hacked to reveal a constructed liminal landscape/soundscape suggesting something deeper and darker while being superficially seductive.

Robert Gobers Untitled, 1997. Revealing a deep view into…

… pellucid pools of seaweed wafting in the current.

The Milwaukee Museum is such a great gallery. Every time I come visit I’m presented with new juxtapositions of works and get to see new art that I’ve never even known of previously. This visit introduced me to the work of Martha Glowacki.  A new addition to my roster of artists working in and with museums and the histories of scientific views of the world – along with Mark Dion, Fred Wilson, Rosamond Purcell and of course, yours truly.

Glowacki collaborated with the Chipstone Foundation to create a richly embroidered and captivating installation entitled “Loca Miraculi: Rooms of Wonder”. There’s a dense and very nicely crafted catalog/gallery guide available which you can view here. The objects on show are mostly derived from the Chipstone’s unrivaled collection of early American decorative arts which are housed in this exhibition in immaculately crafted interactive cabinets made especially for the exhibition. Each drawer has its own unique display often accompanied by a sound element triggered by its opening. I really appreciate that the display, the historical works and the contemporary art pieces are seamlessly woven together in this exhibition. All in keeping with the spirit of the Wunderkammern where the works of man and of nature (both imagined and real) were given equal weight.

The first room of Loca Miraculi

The Animalia display including an hermaphrodite deer.

One of the beautifully designed and crafted cabinets with openable drawers

The Grotto of Tethys by Mary Dickey imbedded in one of the drawers.


  1. Donald,
    Thanks for these images – I’m jealous. the work looks fabulous and you are certainly with good company. Exciting event!


  2. Great to have you and Lawrence out here for what turned out to be a very enriching and lively gathering. Your contributions are greatly appreciated and the students were especially honored to hear both of you at the Crit on Saturday morning.


  3. Fantastic stuff Donald, seeing my old haunt through your ever-new eyes.


  4. Martha Glowacki April 29, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Tom Loeser, good guy that he is, sent me the link to these pages. I am delighted that you are participating in the New Materiality show at Mam, and that you got a chance to see Loca Miraculi. Now I want to find out more about you and Lawrence; seems like we have some common interests. Your piece in the New Materiality show is my favorite.


  5. […] School of the Arts of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wrote an interesting review of the New Materiality Exhibition currently on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum. You can read the whole review here. And here’s […]


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