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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kohler Arts Center’s Adventurous ‘Sense of Humor’

Art Review

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“My name is Mr. Weekend. I am an artoholic.” A giant white sock puppet with bulging blue eyes repeats these words from a corner of the art gallery in John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s current exhibition, “A Sense of Humor” (through Sept. 26). This unique exhibit displays the work of 22 artists exploring the idea of humor.

Mike Simi’s robotic puppet, titled Mr. Weekend,saw action in Detroit as a mechanical Nachi arm constructing the Chrysler 300 automobile. Now obsolete, the machine has been recycled into a contemporary piece of art as a 13-foot-tall puppet.

Like several other artists in “A Sense of Humor,” Simi captures both the comedy and tragedy of his subject. The idea of talking to a monstrous puppet whose mouth and torso move realistically appears hilarious on the surface, but the puppet’s past life echoes the experience of millions of unemployed people during this serious economic recession. Is Mr. Weekend merely funny, or a compelling work of contemporary art?

Bill Amundson continues the ambiguity while using colored pencil and graphite to comment on commercialism and suburbia. Amundson’s Tuscan Landscape with Starbucks depicts the hilly Italian countryside dotted with commercial cafés—an especially amusing thought, given Italy’s history of producing its own delicious coffee products.

In a completely irreverent use of ceramics, Charles Krafft revisits the decorative arts with Martha Stewart Commemorative Prison Plate, whichparodies the famous blue-and-white consumer collectibles with hand-painted expertise. Exhibited alongside Krafft’s porcelain Martha Stewart Skateboard,modeled after Delft tile, both objects offer a sardonic commentary on American celebrity and culture.

The renowned William Wegman presents a video and prints of his beloved Weimaraners from his private collection. This includes a 1991 color Polaroid featuring his pet dog in a flowing dress.

Laughter is said to universally relieve stress and lower blood pressure, yet humor itself differs from person to person—a concept that is explored throughout this exhibition. An introductory warning informs viewers that certain artworks “may not be appropriate for all audiences,” but each piece still embodies artistic integrity. And the Kohler Arts Center proves that exploring society’s proverbial “funny bone” can lead to adventurous territory.

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