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Monday, March 17th, 2008

Time Event
10:17a
Art Museums: Hogarth, FOTO, Sensory Overload
We had Saturday the 15th free, so we decided to take part of the day and see the current exhibits at both the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Haggerty Museum on the Marquette University campus.

The Heggarty is a small but nice facility, that gets in an interesting assortment of exhibits. We went specifically to see "William Hogarth: British Satirical Prints." Georgie, with her interest in black-and-white art, has always been a fan of Hogarth, and I enjoy his works for their wealth of detail and the many extra references worked into the fabric of the engravings.

This exhibit was drawn from the University's holdings, and almost all were new to me. There were two complete examples of Hogarth's sequential work: "A Harlot's Progress," six plates from 1732, which preceded his famous "A Rake's Progress,"; and "The Four Stages of Cruelty," four plates, showing the life of a heartless street boy who ends up a murderer.

There were also a number of his wry commentaries on mores and politics of the day, including "Sleeping Congregation" (1736), and plates 2 and 3 from "Four Prints of an Election", "Canvassing for Votes," and "The Polling," which we found to still have significant relevance today.

It was very good to be able to see these remarkable works in full size, and linger over them as long as we wanted. The detail and subtlety of tone Hogarth achieved in the engraving medium in well-nigh incredible. The exhibit continues through April 13th.

"FOTO: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945" is the current lead exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, consisting of photographic works from the interwar period from Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Photography in those days was an especially fast-growing art form, and there were photographic schools associated with important art movements such as the Bauhaus (several contributions to the exhibit) and was a frequent medium of the Dadaists as well. New forms like the photomontage and the photogram (direct exposures onto film without a camera) emerged. The artists of the times were interested in capturing everything: straightforward portraits, "Metropolis"-like industrial installations, and surreal shapes and juxtapositions. They chronicled the hope of the period following the First World War, the gloom of the Depression, and the despair of a new war in the offing. I was glad that the exhibit included examples of photography as used in the press, in the growing field of photojournalism, as well. Overall, a very interesting exhibit which we were glad to have seen.

While at the MAM, we also stopped in at the lakeshore gallery, where the museum has collected many of its 20th Century "optical", "pop art" and similar pieces under the name "Sensory Overload: Light, Motion, Sound and the Optical in Art since 1945". (Did you ever think you would live long enough to see a "20th Century retrospective" art exhibit?) The centerpieces are Stanley Landsman's "Walk-In Infinity Chamber" (1968), which has not been on view for nearly fifteen years, and Erwin Redl's "Matrix XV" (2007), a 25 x 50 foot LED installation. The Museum's collection includes some fascinating optical effects, as well as some "interactive" pieces such as a wall-mounted steel swoop that generates musical percussion sounds depending on where you stand in front of it. Not all are entertaining: one, "Ruin", by Nam June Paik, a wall-sized installation of jumbled-together console televisions, all showing bright-colored jagged and flickering montages, was the visual equivalent of cacaphony. The "Infinity chamber is very cool. It looks from the outside like a huge black packing case. Inside, walls, ceiling and floor are made of half-silvered mirrors layered over a light grid and other mirrors, such that the interior appears to be a great volume of starry space, in which you stand suspended. The effect is given an additional eerieness by the fact that your own reflection shows only dimly in the first layer of mirrors and not at all after that, so you do NOT see an infinity of reflected selves, which further enhances the illusion of space. This show has an interesting connection with the "FOTO" exhibit, since the installation begins with works by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers, two Bauhaus instructors who are also represented in "FOTO".

"FOTO" continues through May 4th. No end date is given for "Sensory Overload."

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