What a busy day at the gallery today. I did not have time to bake scones but I did pick up a loaf of banana bread from Outpost, as well as some organic pears and havarti cheese. Today’s tea was a mysterious blend that I purchased a week ago in China Town in Chicago. The vendor did not speak English but she hovered aggressively over large glass vats of various blends. Every time I would near one, she would zoom over and say “You take this.” I finally, almost randomly went for what I think is some kind of jasmine blend, very aromatic, with little blossoms of something mixed in. If you haven’t visited Chicago’s China Town it is a real treat. My kids love the avocado milk shakes.
(The image above is Milwaukee’s Bronze Fonz and not to digress but after the Society closed, I met my friend Jonas for dinner and in the course of conversation I realized that I had never seen the controversial Bronze Fonz. We immediately set out to the river near Wells Street. Wow. I was stunned by this incredibly crazy figurine. You must see this. I think it is supposed to be life-sized but the scale is off and the Fonz looks diminutive, even miniature. The coloration of the bronze is hysterically comic-book styled. This is truly one of the weirdest sculptures I’ve ever seen. Had it been on a much larger scale, it would have had the dynamic perversity of a Jeff Koons. But at its present size, standing thumbs up by the river with a nice skyline behind, the Fonz looks so darn lonely. He’s all dressed up but no one else showed up for the party. What I liked the most about this was his smile: a big golden, toothy rapper’s grin.)
Enough of that and onto the Tea Report. The first person to come to the gallery was Claire Ruzicka, a photographer who I met briefly a year ago or so while I was giving a lecture at Cardinal Stritch. She moved to Milwaukee several years and is finding her way into this new locale. We spoke of her new found passion for horses (which I fully share). She’s been riding at a stable in Plymouth, Wisconsin that teaches dressage. Claire also had a file of horse-themed work that she shared.
Next, my old neighbor and good friend, Ruth Treisman, came in with her mother who is visiting from Florida and some other friends, The Feffermans (Mike and Bobbie). Ruth’s daughter just had her batmitzvah last weekend and the painter Reginald Baylor and Portrait Society created a four-foot portrait of the 13-year-old, to be colored in by the guests at the reception. It turned out pretty cool. Ruth decided that the perfect “coming of age” gift for her daughter would be a Claire Stigliani drawing. We spent a lot of time picking out the right one, but in the end, she opted for an image that looks like a self-portrait of Claire playing the guitar. The Feffermans are very involved in Congregation Emanu-El on Brown Deer Road so I showed them some of the Jewish self-taught artist Rudy Rotter’s religious carvings from the 1960s with the hope that there might be a place for them in the temple’s new addition. The young (and cute) local architect Phil Katz has designed the addition, which is green and clean and is going to knock our socks off when it is completed.
My old buddy and collaborator in Susceptible to Images, Kat Murrell stopped in. She was looking light and summery after her mini road trip to West Bend to see the former MIAD student Emily Belknap’s One from Wisconsin show. The museum also has an exhibit of paintings and photographs by Bernhard Schneider. Kat said she really liked Schneider’s landscapes, which is inspiration enough for me to try to find time to get up there.
The artist Sally Kuzma and her friend, the poet Barbara Wuest, came in next. They recently collaborated on an artist’s book of Kuzma’s elegantly scanned and manipulated nature photographs and Wuest’s poems. The book is called “Corn in Four Parts.” The book seems like it has a hand-stitched binding where the threads float into the middle inside seam like the silk of corn. I’m going to speculate that the book is available at Woodland Pattern. It would be the ultimate, meaningful gift for anyone interested in growing things.
Julie Tarney and her aunt Leslie came in. Julie is in love with Claire Stigliani’s Antoinette series. It is true that Stigliani’s work holds its impact in a way that every time you see it, it has a radiant, dynamic presence that feels surprising and I am not just saying that as a gallery dealer. Every time I arrive at the gallery and unlock the door to Gallery B (the red salon), I am newly struck with this body of work. I think it was visitor Barbara Wuest who said that Stigliani’s drawing style is “animated,” which is the perfect description of this young artist’s spirited, playful line quality.
Byron Alpers, a playwright and wood turner and marketing specialist, stopped in for his first visit to Portrait Society. He spent a lot of time looking at the work and reading the small descriptions of each of the seven artists’ drawings. But just after he arrived, a large group of 6 to 8 year olds came in from the Mitchell Street Boys and Girls Club. I knew they were coming, but I had more or less forgot. An explosion of energy ripped through the Society. I really loved how one little boy kept coming up to me to tell me which pieces were “tight.” Another boy asked if I had any Van Gogh’s because the group is currently collaborating on a mural of Starry Night. I told him he’d have to go to Chicago to see Vincent’s work and he seemed highly interested in that. To be eight years old and see your first Van Gogh, in the flesh: I would love to hear his reaction to that experience.
I believe this is a true and accurate summary of Friday, May 29 at the Portrait Society.