Four artists to usher in spring at MAM
Twin exhibit sees New York through two different lenses

Feb. 2, 2017


MILWAUKEE  — The Milwaukee Art Museum is showing four new exhibitions in the coming weeks, from New York City street life to a contemporary site-specific installation to paintings from the Layton Art Collection.

The exhibits:

- “Currents 37: Lawrence Weiner: Inherent Innate Tension,” through April 2, marks the first time in the museum’s history that the walls of Windhover Hall are being used to present a work of art. Weiner, one of the central figures in conceptual art, visited Milwaukee in 2013 to familiarize himself with the museum and to choose a site for his work. He focused on the Santiago Calatrava-designed Windhover Hall and designed two installations for the museum.

Weiner’s work reached public awareness in the 1960s and ’70s, when art was taking on new forms. Weiner’s book “Statements,” from 1968, is one of the key treatises of contemporary art. In it he describes the materials, processes and composition of sculpture in such a way that the text represents or becomes the sculpture itself.

Initiated in 1982, the “Currents” exhibition series brings significant work by living artists into the Museum. The exhibition is sponsored by the Museum’s Contemporary Art Society and William R. and Sandra G. Haack.

- “Helen Levitt: In the Street” and “James Nares: In the City,” on exhibit through April 16, explore New York City street life through multiple media and eras. On view in the museum’s Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, the related exhibitions explore and draw comparisons across time between lens-based media.

  Helen Levitt’s “New York,” c. 1940, is a gelatin silver print that’s 6 3/4 inches by 10 1/16 inches.
Courtesy of Telfair Museums, Film Documents LLC

Brooklyn-born photographer Levitt recorded the life of New York’s sidewalks for more than five decades. She began photographing with a 35mm Leica camera in the mid-1930s. Roaming through working-class neighborhoods, Levitt became known for photographing children at play, who were mostly indifferent to her presence. Levitt’s photographs observe people of every age, race and class.

“In the Street” features more than 40 works, including early black-and-white prints, later color work, and a short film, also titled “In the Street” (1948). Unique to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s presentation is a slide show of Levitt’s color photographs and a selection of works from the museum’s collection.

At the same time, the Herzfeld Center’s video spaces host “James Nares: In the City.” A contemporary artist born in England, Nares also draws inspiration from the streets of New York City. The two works on display, “Pendulum” (1976) and “Street” (2011), reveal the artist’s preoccupation with movement, rhythm and repetition. “Pendulum,” originally filmed with a Super 8 camera, follows the arc of a concrete sphere as it swings through the deserted streets of TriBeCa. Thirty years later, Nares captures vibrant city life in “Street,” a high-definition video that plays in continuous slow motion, allowing the viewer to examine Nares’ subject caught, like Levitt’s, unaware.

   The above is a James Nares still from “Street,” 2011. The HD color video with sound runs 61 minutes. It is in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts.
Courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. James Nares

Exhibitions and programming in the Herzfeld Center are supported by the Herzfeld Foundation. Additionally, “Helen Levitt: In the Street” is supported by Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, presenting sponsor, and organized by Telfair Museums, Savannah, Ga. Additional support is provided by the David C. & Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation.

-“Eastman Johnson and a Nation Divided,” on view Feb. 10 through May 21, the exhibit highlights the Layton Art Collection, one of Milwaukee’s seminal collections of American and European art formed by Frederick Layton in the late 19th century. The yearly exhibition will explore a significant work from the Layton Art Collection, providing new insights and interpretations.

 The exhibit “Eastman Johnson and a Nation Divided” features Johnson’s 1859 oil on linen “Negro Life at the South” (37 inches by 46 inches).
New York Historical Society, The Robert L. Stuart Collection

The first exhibition in the series focuses on Johnson. When his painting “Negro Life at the South” debuted at New York’s National Academy of Design in 1859, critics hailed it as a masterpiece. It quickly became a touchstone for both abolitionists and proponents of slavery alike for its indictment of urban servitude on the one hand and its seemingly idyllic view of Southern rural culture on the other. After the Civil War, Johnson returned with a vengeance in 1871 with “The Old Stagecoach,” a painting that critics hailed as the painter’s “latest and greatest” and that attracted “crowds of devotees” at the National Academy that same year. “The Old Stagecoach” garnered unanimous praise for its nostalgic look yet also contains subtle hints at post–Civil War anxieties.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Layton Art Collection Inc.