Friday, August 17, 2012

Paris Posters at the Art Museum

I seem to be constantly at odds with people about the perception of the Milwaukee area versus reality. This largely stems from TV shows (Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, and that Suzanne Somers show that was supposed to be in Port Washington but had a roller coaster by the lake), and unfortunate events like the cryptosporidium outbreak and Jeffrey Dahmer.

The biggest misconception about Milwaukee (in this home girl's opinion) is that it's uncultured. Au contraire. Milwaukee boasts one of the most vibrant arts and entertainment communities in the Midwest. It has several theater groups, a noted art museum, a public museum, a ballet, and a symphony and not even our large neighbor to the south can boast all that.

I'm done bragging (for now.) Instead, let's talk about the art museum. I've been going there regularly since I was a kid. We took a few class trips there when I was in school, and as an adult I've been known to wander the halls during new exhibits and when I feel like I need some food for my soul.

It seems hard to believe that just over ten years ago the Quadracci Pavilion was added on. This changed the art museum from a largely forgotten gem to an architectural showcase. I remember when talk of the new expansion consisted of complaints that the new building would not "match" the modernist War Memorial Center, which is connected to the art museum. See the contrast:

The "old" building is shaped like a floating cross, and for all practical purposes it is clean and modern and (my opinion only) "serious." It says, "This is a serious place" to me when I enter. So when I heard that they were hiring famed architect Santiago Calatrava for the expansion and that part of the design was a whimsical, moveable sunscreen that would look like wings, I was skeptical. I'm happy to eat my words now. The building is every bit as magnificent as the art inside.

Without a doubt, the expansion changed the face of the museum, and also the feel. The entrance of the museum (called Windhover Hall) is meant to mimic the "prow of a ship" (according to the museum website), but to me it feels like you stepped into a giant yet benevolent whale, who will let you glance at the water one last time before swimming over to the main exhibit.

(This is why, no matter what you say something is supposed to mean, people will always take whatever speaks to them away from it. You say ship's prow, and I say benevolent whale. Art -like writing- speaks differently to people, and that's why it's so cool.) By the way, when you look up (from the belly of the whale, or wherever you think you are), it's just as magnificent:

The exhibit I saw recently was Paris Posters, which honestly I didn't think I'd like. Funny how art can change your mind about things.

When I think of posters from Paris I think of Toulouse-Lautrec. He was the count who could paint or create anything he wanted because he wasn't a starving artist, unlike so many of his contemporaries. But his art has never really spoken to me. His life has, though, I think he's a fascinating guy in art history.

So I expected to be somewhat bored by the exhibit. I went anyway, and boy, was I wrong.

I'm still not a fan of Toulouse-Lautrec's work, but the other poster artists (Jules Chéret and Alphonse Mucha especially) were so original and detailed I've changed my mind about posters from that time. They were beautiful, so colorful and detailed, and gave a snapshot of 1890s Paris that I never put together with them before.

I also never realized just how popular posters were back then. (Kudos to the art museum for giving the history on that.) I especially loved the advertising imagery surrounding bicycles and the theater showings of Sarah Bernhardt. I can't show you photos (no photography allowed in the exhibit) but you can download this poster courtesy of the museum:

Just click over to their website and download the copy they offer for your collection.

Incidentally, that guy in the poster became so famous after Toulouse-Lautrec put him on a poster, that he decided to just show the back of him with a cape, because he knew people would still recognize him. (And they did.)

The Paris Posters exhibit is there until September. If you go, be sure to also check out the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. It's on the right as you enter, and since it's almost two stories tall you can't miss it.

Chihuly, incidentally, has a Midwestern connection of his own. He studied glass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 60s. (The glass program was the first of its kind.) I can't remember the first time I saw a Chihuly sculpture but I do know my husband has to practically drag me off every time we're there standing in front of it. There is something about the colors and shapes that draws me in.

It's inspired me to do my own glass sculptures:

(although mine are all with recycled glass and not nearly as cool.) But I get (almost) as much joy making them as I do standing before a Chihuly sculpture.

I believe that art can transform you. It doesn't matter if you're an artist yourself, either. No matter what you're grappling with in life, you can stand before a painting or sculpture and be moved. Art is powerful.


  1. Great pictures! Our women's group at church did some glass sculptures like yours. They had a great time with them. Your art museum sounds wonderful. Added to my Milwaukee list for when we visit.

  2. Who says we're uncultured? lemme at em!
    Welcome, Cherie! Delighted to have you on board the Midwest Train!
    I have an Alexander Calder mug in my collection from the art museum. Pretty cool stuff.

  3. Cherie, this was delightful from beginning to end. Milwaukee is a great place, the museum is one of my favorite places, I want to go see the posters, and your writing and photos did justice to it all. Thank you!


  4. The Milwaukee Museum is a treasure. They host some marvelous exhibits, but their regular fare makes it worth the trip, too. It's nice to hear another Wisconsinite lauding the treasure. I look forward to seeing the posters on your recommendation. The Chihuly sculpture will be icing on the cake.

    It just happens that last week we were in Seattle at the Dale Chihuly Museum near the Space Needle. It was my introduction to his colorful work. We loved the place.

    Wonderful post, Cherie. Welcome to the Barn Door. We are lucky to have you!

  5. Aw, thanks for the kind welcomes! I'm happy to be here with you awesome ladies. You each inspire me.

    Lori: I hope you took lots of pictures of the Chihuly museum. I've always wanted to get there.

    Lisa: If any says "uncultured" again I'm sending them straight to you! Set them straight.


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