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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Discover ‘All the Buzz’ at Racine Art Museum

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Insect species, which outnumber every other animal species on Earth, inspire a sense of both fascination and fear. Interestingly, the psychological implications of observing insects—whether they are considered beautiful, intriguing, disgusting or creepy—may differ between cultures and individuals. One person’s favorite insect could be another’s worst nightmare.

An artistic focus on insects comes together in “All the Buzz,” an exciting collection of exhibits and programs that started in April at the Racine Art Museum (RAM). “All the Buzz” includes three individual exhibitions featuring nationally renowned artists Catherine Chalmers, Jennifer Angus and JoAnna Poehlmann. Two complementary exhibits, “Insects and Invaders” and “Eccentric Insects,” open June 13 and will display additional artworks from the RAM’s permanent collection.

The upper-lever gallery exhibition “Catherine Chalmers: American Cockroach” offers an intriguing viewpoint on this frequently maligned insect. Chalmers, who was recently named a 2010 Guggenheim fellow, expands on the implicit hierarchy of the insect world in various cultures, where butterflies are often preferred to cockroaches. Chalmers explores these concepts through silver gelatin and C-prints with provocative visual clarity. Her compelling photographs show respect for the cockroach’s unique place in the world and promote the value of all organisms.

Two Wisconsin artists continue the theme in the lower-level galleries. In “Jennifer Angus: Patterns of Insect Life,” Angus, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, installs tropical insects on the gallery walls. This spectacular display replicates Victorian-era wallpaper visualized with contemporary applications. Angus also covers miniature Victorian houses with an insect byproduct, beeswax, and then fills the interiors with anthropomorphic insects. In so doing, Angus questions how human and insect worlds coexist.

“Angus brings the gift of seeing insects you’ll never see from other countries,” Curator of Exhibitions Lena Vigna says.

In a retrospective titled “The Insectopedia of JoAnna Poehlmann,” Milwaukee’s Poehlmann offers playful insect imagery. The intricate details of the artist’s small-scale, mixed-media drawings and accompanying poetic text enhance the witty, imaginative pictures and concepts that reflect Poehlmann’s intense interest in her subject.

“This suite of exhibitions is a way to challenge our perceptions on how we view these creatures that we may not think about,” Vigna notes.

The RAM hosts a number of corresponding activities throughout the summer, including workshops and classes that relate insects to artistic expression. Chalmers appears at the RAM’s “Free First Friday” gallery walk beginning at 6:30 p.m. May 7. The June 4 “Free First Friday” event features gallery walks by Angus and Poehlmann.

Here in the city, Annie B.’s Milwaukee Artbeat celebrates its one-year anniversary at 6:30 p.m. April 30 at the Hide House, 2625 S. Greeley St. An $8 donation includes a lesson in salsa dancing, a Latin dance performance and J.D. Rankin’s reggae music along with food, wine and gallery art from local talents.