Despite the snow on Saturday, we traveled up to Milwaukee for the day. I’m very fond of Wisconsin; I lived in Madison for two years for school and it was great. I’ve been to Milwaukee about 4-5 times so I was excited to have a chance to spend some more time there as a tourist.
The focus of the trip was the Milwaukee Art Museum. It’s got a lovely, if unusual, collection. It doesn’t quite have the headliners like the Art Institute or the museums in Minneapolis, Detroit or Cleveland but it is worth checking out. The collection is smaller but it helps to highlight the pieces better. For instance, the Metropolitan has 100s of Roman busts, which is overwhelming. On the other hand, the Milwaukee museum has one but it really highlights it, making it very special.
One of my favorite paintings is a picture of three women from the Renaissance. They have beautiful flowers in their hair, shining jewelry and all wear richly patterned shirts. But what makes it so sublime is that the wall description explains that these are not women, but men. I have to wonder if this mistaken gender identity was always part of the painting’s history from its creation in the Renaissance or something recent in the our modern era? Maybe these men would have been recognizable as men in the Renaissance but modern viewers have our own modern preconceptions of what men and women wear? I don’t know but I love it.
There is an offset room that contains intricate beer steins and paintings referring to beer and beer halls. I love it. It’s not exactly what you expect but it seems so specific and apt for Milwaukee with its German heritage. There were two steins of particular note to me. One had a dragon attacking a castle with the dragon on the handle; another showed a cage of monkeys with a monkey on the handle. Lovely! There were three charming paintings on the wall from the same artist, Eduard von Grützner. They showed the same monk, getting shaved, playing cards in a tavern, and dropping wine. The dropped wine painting was called “The Catastrophe” which was perfectly named. One of the guards pointed out a little black rectangular object in the hand of one figure in the card players painting. It kinda looked like a Blackberry. It probably was the deck to hold the cards but it was a nice little touch.
When I came to the museum for the first time several years ago, it was the first time I really began to like Roy Lichtenstein. I saw one of “his” comic book woman full of bright colors and anxiety. I began to understand the mastery and point of his work, I think. This time, I noticed a nearby Chuck Close’s painting nearby, which was one of his works that looks like a photograph but he’s actually painted it. Not my favorite of his but it’s always a boon to see his work.
There was a special exhibition on Folk Art, which I think is the Museum’s specialty. There was a cane that had a carved naked woman being eaten by a snake and alligator at each end. Very scandalous. There were many carved animals including a wall of tiny fish hanging from above. And a sculpture of dinosaurs fighting. There was a moving display made with dolls and other found objects. It was supposed to depict a band with corresponding music on headphones, but sadly the headphones were out of batteries.
Next we went to the Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum. It’s a mansion in the style of an Italian villa. I think it may be a place better suited for the summer since it appears to have magnificent gardens going down a hill to the lake. Also, there are special exhibitions, which may be quite lovely. However, we came in between exhibitions so there wasn’t so much substance. The rooms have a medieval/Renaissance feel to them with white walls, imposing fireplaces, and intricate wood work. There were a few rooms covered in wood paneling. It was a bit austere. There is a tiny exhibit on Cyril Colnik, an ironworker, which was interesting. There was an impressive gate he made for the Chicago World’s Fair that has this incredibly evil demon in the middle of it.
There was also the Zuber gallery in the style of décor Chinois. It had this incredibly lush wallpaper showing plants, flowers and birds. The wall sconces were also flowers that almost blended into the wallpaper. There was a small collection of Chinese ivories.
I think my favorite part of the entire museum was the courtyard to get into the building. There is a statue of Hermes in the middle. We came during a snowstorm so it was quite fascinating to see the statue covered in snow while the snow fell gently around him. Not a scene you’ll frequently see in Italy!