Milwaukee Art Museum – China Exhibit

China Exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum - and stupid policies.

I was told today, in a rather contrite manner, by a suit-wearing rent-a-cop with a plainly smug expression, that there was no photography in the main exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Have I mentioned before that I am a devout Libertarian? It would be an understatement to say that I have a problem with authority, especially stupid authority. So, let me share with you some photography:

Last month I decided that to see the Milwaukee Art Museum’s China Exhibits which were being discussed on public radio. After doing some research I learned that the Art Museum has free admission on the first Thursday of every month. I thought that would be a great opportunity. It was a mistake.

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A = A

What is going on here?

Exactly how are we valuing our art?

One’s expectation of reality should never interfere with their ability to perceive reality.
– Richard Schmid

Before I talk about how the Cedarburg Event wrapped up, what my results were, I want to tell you about a conversation that I had shortly after the event closed, which I am still contemplating, and my criteria for evaluating a painting.

Just prior to attending the artist post-event party thrown by the remarkably generous Shoenenberger home, I was congratulating the awarded artists whom I knew, which inevitably ended up in long conversations about art. The last of these involved my friends Brian and Bonnie, both of whom are more established artists than I, both of whom won awards.

We ended up discussing the judging of the event, and at one point I expressed an opinion that good paintings are good paintings because they rise to a standard that is recognizable. By this I also meant that there is a standard by which to evaluate the value of a painting, or towards which to strive for excellence, regardless of style. I did this while inwardly reasserting to myself that if my paintings were better, they would have been recognized and they would more likely have sold.

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Fallout from the Show

This weekend was the 2010 Student/Alumni Show at MIAD. This was geared up to be a major event, a sale of artwork, with work from 89 artists, including 30 of my paintings. Throughout this post are images of the show. It was the most work that I’ve ever shown at one time. Over 9000 postcards were mailed out to promote attendance, MIAD threw the full weight of their mailing lists at this event, and the results were….well…quite frankly dismal. I was gravely disappointed.

I spent a great deal of time preparing for this event, driving to MIAD to hang my work, label everything, I had postcards printed up to garner interest in my other works not shown, I had a framed bio describing the nature of my working method in the field, telling about the struggle of Plein Air painting, I was there for more than half the time the gallery was open, greeting people, shaking hands, meeting artists and collectors, and yet, I had not a single sale.

I can only begin to tell you how frustrating that is. This show contained some of the best work I’ve done this year, a few pieces from last year, award winning paintings from recent events. I had four different people, whom I had not previously met, come up to me and tell me that my work was the best in the show, that they really liked it. that it made sense to them because it was “real.” And yet, none were so moved as to take one home.
I think about the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars I’ve spent to make this work happen this year, I have just finished my 108th painting of the year, and yet, to date I’ve sold only one painting this year. I just don’t know what to make of this city, of this state anymore.

I can point out faults in the show, poor music, poor turnout, poor weather, a poor economy, etc. I can blame an art community that has spent many years training the lay person that they are incapable of appreciating art, that valuable art must somehow be avant-gard and inscrutible. I can remember thinking, though not admitting at the time, when complimented what I saw most clearly highlighted were the shortcomings of the work. I can remember comments throughout the year about how some friends of mine were considering buying my work, yet did not. In spite of my best efforts, I cannot discount the possibility that my technique, my eye were insufficient to touch people enough to spur their patronage.

I strongly believe that there are universal values, experiences that transcend class, race, religion, culture, nationality, etc., that are capable of resonnating with any viewer because they speak to human experience. I have to believe this, because if this is not true aesthetically, then it is not possible politically, and out the window goes the idea of peace and understanding between neighbors, peace and understanding between nations.

To those of you who made the show, I thank you. To those I missed at the event, I apologized (I had to work Saturday). To those who said they were coming, but didn’t, here are some shots of what you missed. (Where were you?)

I did get some validation from this event. Watching the viewers engage my work, I noticed that the pieces I thought were strong were also the pieces they were most moved to look at more closely. I met some very cool older artists, people several decades my senior.

It occurred to me today, that all art is subsidized. If not by patrons or the government, then by the artists themselves. It seems I am the best collector of my own artwork.

Tomorrow I go back to the easel to try again. I know I’m onto something, I just wonder if anyone will recognize it.

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