***Author’s Note: This was originally composed in the dark days of April 2016. Yes, back when we could go anywhere we wanted and only surgeons and loonies wore surgical masks with any regularity. Now that things are opening ever so slightly, perhaps getting out of your germ-prevention bunker and seeing some art would do you some good. Well, here is my slightly updated/edited experience concerning a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum that I made with my lovely bride. Please witness the obvious display of my artistic ignorance as well. Do enjoy and no touching the art!
Recently, I had the tremendous good fortune to spend a pleasant afternoon at the Milwaukee Art Museum with my devastatingly attractive and mindbogglingly delightful wife. We are both artists and art aficionados of a sort. I am proud to say my wife is an artist with words and her writing is top notch. Her ability to turn a phrase makes me as envious as someone that is filled with envy, if you’ll pardon my failing to mix a metaphor completely into a simile. Meanwhile, I can make a very good dish of spaghetti and can name all the Renaissance masters that stole their monikers from adolescent malformed martial artist tortoises. So that makes us just about even.
But before starting on our journey through the halls of kinda sorta fine art, we decided to refuel in the museum’s café. The menu, adorned with plenty of deliciously inedible vegetarian and gluten-free choices, dazzled the mind. Of course, I made the obvious choice under those circumstances, having a burger that was lamb-based while my bride chose a dish consisting of scallops, mushrooms, and a nourishing amount of vacant plate space. After finishing some wonderful cannoli, we ventured forth and left the café. It only took the waiter about an hour to find us to present the bill, which I recall the wait staff celebrating as a new record for him.
As a former resident, I readily admit that Milwaukee is not known for art and/or artists. Oh sure, Hank Aaron was a great home run hitter back in the day and Miller Genuine Draft usually tastes slightly better than the can it comes in, but really that’s about it. Larger cities such as Chicago and New York have the best art collections that were ever either smuggled out by fleeing Nazis during World War II and/or featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Milwaukee falls quite short in both categories. So as a result, the museum is…well…hm. Here’s the nicest way I can put this: there’s a lot of open floor space in there.
Yes, the museum has a Monet and a Renoir and a Degas. There’s plenty of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works and a Rodin as well. (And yes, I said Rodin not Rodan in case you were expecting a huge battle with Godzilla and Mothra, and instead found a sculpture of people making out. It disappointed me as well.) Beyond those heavy hitters, the recognizable names dropped off rather sharply. Most of the paintings could be labelled that they were painted by Sir Slappy Winstonhugh-Balls IV and I would have no reason to doubt it. But hey, it’s Milwaukee and as going to this museum is better than dwelling on the mostly disappointing Summerfest band choices for any length of time, we didn’t let this spoil the experience.
Now, with all that falderal being said, I have a bit of grousing with the museum in general. For instance, there is a blatant vagueness of the history on some of the placards that accompany the artwork. I know that historical investigation is extremely daunting and art research can be a thankless task. After all, it isn’t like the artists themselves were keeping copious notes for posterity, fully aware that the greatest of their mediocre works would someday be hanging on a wall near Lake Michigan. I understand, and I get it, but just don’t make it sound as though your study was just a grant burning expedition, throwing vague darts at the board in the hopes that something sticks.
Here’s an example: if you don’t know which country a piece of art definitively came from, just admit it. No harm, no foul. Granted, it will ultimately appear as if your education and research was worthless, but it is considerably more honest than placing “Probably Polish or German” on the placard. Why not just say “European” instead? Even put in the small print something like: (The location where this work originated has been narrowed down to Poland or Germany. As more research is conducted, the work’s definite geographical origin will be determined at a future date.) This is all better than just using a made-up word such as “Netherlandish”. And no, I did not make that one up; it adorns an informational placard in the museum. “Netherlandish”?! How outlandic!
As I aforementioned, the bestest and brightest works of art were gobbled up by New York or Paris for display and cities like Milwaukee were left with the crumbs. Unknown artists painting undetermined people from undefined locations. So since the old masters are nowhere to be seen, this results in having a contemporary art section that serves the all-important job of filling up the amazing amounts of acreage in the building. Fortuitously, this leads into another quibble!
I don’t mean to get on the uncultured horse and flat out criticize contemporary artists. After all, they are the struggling souls trying to glue burnt Colorforms figures to broken bedpans covered in glitter and dried lily pads and when all is said and done, who am I to judge this vision? Golly, if the money is there, I can throw paint at a garbage can lid covered with stapled carpet samples and glued used Q-Tips with the best of them. My foundational criterion for art criticism is: could I make something better or at least equal to the works on display if I bothered to even try to apply myself? And bear in mind, I am by no means an artist whatsoever. Oh, sure back in the day I could outline Dick Tracy bad guys without batting an eye, but it was hardly the work of a dedicated artist.
Most of this work falls into what I like to cleverly call the “C’mon…really?!” corner of the art world. Allow me to use this in context. “So…this is art because the artist hung up 3 individual rectangles, each consisting of only a single primary color? Hm. C’mon…really?!” Since my childhood consisted of watching hours of The Snorks and poring over pages of The Hardy Boys, I suppose I didn’t grow up with the proper artistic background to appreciate the commitment of a guy that just took a blue plank and stood it up against a wall. This is my curse. (But it is a livable curse compared to those afflicted with horrible amounts of money who violently overpaid for this stuff.)
And yet, it doesn’t bother me as much as someone having the ironclad cojones to go the distance to claim that an empty K-Mart display case is “artwork” but then couldn’t be bothered to even name the damn thing. Are your creative juices so incredibly tapped that you’re just settling for titling your work “Untitled”? You mean to tell me that after months of trying to complete your arduous artistic journey by covering an old stuffed deer head with diapers, shellac, and various fruit can lids, that you were too spent creatively to even bother christening the finished product? Well, I call shenanigans on that hoo-hah! Even that primary color dude called his work “Red, Yellow, Blue #2”, so you can do better than calling something nothing. (And by the way folks: Yes, this piece is #2! This means that rather than blending these colors to form amazing creations, this artist has instead repeatedly kept those colors trapped on their own separate rectangles. Please, I implore you: pray for this man.)
Well, perhaps I’m out of line on this whole untitled thing. Let’s face it, coming up with my own lackadaisical titles for blog posts is trying enough with my limited range noggin. On the other hand, I haven’t gotten the joy of having my work displayed in the best art museum that Milwaukee has to offer either! Also, at the very infinitesimal least, I throw on a hackneyed and overwrought title that barely stirs mild disinterest in the hearts of literally tens of readers.
However, as I understand the creative nature of these artistes, I shall attempt to lighten their immeasurably heavy burden by offering up some titles that could come in handy. No need to thank me, it is my pleasure to not only help, but to also increase my overall word count. Feel free to choose any of these for your art pieces at your tortured leisure:
- Butterfly Euthanasia
- Riboflavin Sunset
- Windy Spanking
- Gobs of Leather-Flavored Ice Cream and Burning Warlocks
- Crayola Sledge Trunk
- Despair of Aces
- Throttling Paramecium
- Northern Thwackamadoodle
- Untitled #97.2¾
- Uncle Herbert’s Banana Cream Saddle
- Steamed Ampersandwich
- Polecat Yardstickers
- Flanged Tankini As Mustard Attacks
- Exercise in Color Traffic Control
- The Quicker
- Holocaust of Jarts
- A Simpler Wanting with Blueberry Llama
Hopefully all the amazing titles listed above will get used soon. I cannot wait for the next time I find myself absentmindedly strolling around the Louvre when my eye falls upon “Moisten Puppies” on their revered walls. See, I’m getting all lachrymose already. (No, thank you, Word Synonyms!) In fact, I believe I hear my artistic muse calling to me right now! Think I’ll make some spaghetti, throw it against the wall, frame it, and call it “Flavor Manslaughter”.
You can go right ahead and make my check out to “Cash” by the way, Mr. Art Patron. I’d like to be able to put a down payment for my surprisingly exorbitant museum café check.