Wisconsin Artists Biennial 2001
Rahr-West Museum, Manitowoc, WI, Nov. 18-Dec. 31, 2001. Anderson Art Center, Kenosha, WI, Jan. 20-Mar. 22, 2002.
Awarded Second Place
ON WISCONSIN : LIVE : ARTS :
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Dec. 5, 2001.
'Artists' exhibit returns to old days of competition
Statewide juried exhibits once were plentiful in Wisconsin. Just about every urban center of any heft had one, and almost all were affiliated with an art museum. Many of these shows reflected a predominantly regionalist emphasis.
Ah, the good old days.
Today, big juried shows are an endangered species. The Art Institute of Chicago no longer mounts its "Chicago and Vicinity" roundup of promising newcomers and durable veterans.
The precursor to the Milwaukee Art Museum set the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors show adrift eons ago.
We're lucky to have "Watercolor Wisconsin," mounted annually by the Wustum Museum in Racine, and the ever-engaging triennial put together by the Madison Art Center. The combination of easy transportation, instant communication and the homogenization of culture has proved deadly.
For that reason, if for no other, it's pleasant to be able to report that the "Wisconsin Artists Biennial" lingers through Dec. 30 at the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc. It represents a welcome return to the vigor and variety of the old days.
Somehow, the show's prime movers, Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors president Gary John Gresl and exhibit chair Sally Gauger Jensen, cajoled many of the state's more respected artists - primarily but not exclusively teachers - into putting their careers, egos and reputations into the hands of jurors Frank C. Lewis and Robert Lee Mejer.
Rejection is always painful, and three-fourths of the 400 or so items submitted for jurying were shipped back to their creators. But more than 100 pieces made it onto the walls, and a liberal sampling earned cash or merchandise awards as well.
So it all turned out positively - at least for those included.
The exhibit is, if not groundbreaking, at least pretty consistently interesting. It holds together, albeit through energy rather than a commonality of manner, outlook or means. Pluralism is the cry of the day. So is a sense of shared purpose, in terms of vision and spirit.
Old-time Yankee regionalism - those famous, undulating farmlands depicted by Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry during their late-1930s heyday - remains defunct. But latter-day surrealism, crossbred with a distinctively Badger brand of personal fantasy, continues to manifest itself in work being turned out across the state.
Kristy Deetz's first-place award painting, "Rest on the Flight," is a good example. Realized in encaustic and oil on wood panel, it layers elements of time, perception and memory into a subtly illusive whole that is as enigmatic as it is elegantly textured.
Considerably more whimsical, but with an undertone of pain and regret, is Fujiko Isomura's second-place winner, "The Story of Veranda - Nusumigiki."
This slickly executed blending of time periods, in mixed media on paper, shows Betty Boop consoling a supine geisha. Two centuries, two styles of art, even two attitudes about the role of women intersect in its smooth, woodblock-like contours.
The third-place winner, Ariana Huggett's acrylic-on-wood painting "Trophy," is a not-so-subtle commentary on the prizes that were for many centuries reserved exclusively for men.
Huggett has brushed the image of an upright female athlete, trim and triumphant, onto an oval-shaped wooden trophy base. The figure's wings and arms are upraised in the universal gesture of victory. The tables, it seems, have been turned, if only in the artist's fervent imagination.
Raymond Gloeckler, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was rewarded with a juror's prize for his characteristically immaculate woodcut on paper of a hapless Yak, at once dynamically aware and poignantly befuddled.
Jeff Lipschutz of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was tapped by jurors for combining remnants of old-time regionalism with a salute to surrealism in his oil, "Ghost Town Dandy."
Leslie Vansen of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee won a jurors' award for her dynamic acrylic on paper, "Chimera."
John Wickenberg of Dousman scored with a highly detailed, pencil-and-watercolor work on paper, "Horn of Plenty." It shows hundreds of artifacts of 20th-century art spilling out of a seemingly depthless cornucopia.
Also taking home awards were exhibitors Robert H. Gehrke, Edwin C. Kalke, David V. Holmes, Peggy Thurston Farrell, Gregory Porcaro, Karen E. Muench, George A. Ronsholdt, Teresa Hargreaves, Bob Rashid and David A. Sear.
Perhaps the best prizes, however, were neither monetary nor material. Solo shows at the Anderson Arts Center in Kenosha were allotted to Lee H. Grantham, Lee Holt, Jayne Reid Jackson, Richard Moniski and Sheila Sullivan. Shows at the Vanguard Gallery in Milwaukee went to J.R. Kabot and Fahimeh Vahdat.
After its closing Dec. 30 at the Rahr-West Art Museum, 610 N. 8th St., Manitowoc, "Wisconsin Artists Biennial" will travel to the Anderson Art Center, 121 66th St., Kenosha, where it will be on view from Jan. 20 through March 31, 2002.