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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Racine Art Museum's 'Not So Still Life'

Art Review

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The directions on the Racine Art Museum's website (www.ramart.org) seem to favor I-94, but I prefer the sleepy Highway 32 route, winding south through funky neighborhoods, 1950s motels and cabins set on the shore of Lake Michigan. In any event, the snail's pace put me in the mood to visit "Not So Still Life" (through June 5), which is culled from RAM's vast collection. The exhibit features works on paper—watercolors, graphics and photographs—arranged in tandem with sculptural objects. What a joy to visit the RAM's splendid modernist structure (441 Main St.), sandwiched between Milwaukee and Chicago, far from the clutter and clamor of urban life that is anything but still.

Do the words "still life" suggest vases of flowers and bowls of fruit arranged just so? Well, in this exhibition you can have your realistic flowers and realistic fruit and also ponder those objects (and more) as symbolic of objects in our lives and the lives of the artists. It's relaxing to study art that doesn't clang, whirl or command. This isn't to say that the exhibition lacks energy. What you'll find is the soothing thrum born of scholarship and curatorial caring.

The late John Wilde is often tagged as a "Wisconsin" artist, but his image Untitled Still Life With Peppers, 1973, depicts peppers that could be from gardens in the Midwest or anywhere. Superbly rendered in oil and gifted by an anonymous donor (thank you!), it calls to mind the best from the years when Wilde painted in a surrealist mode. The peppers drift and float, caught in the silent shimmer of time. Was the artist going with the flow of objects as symbols and imaginings? I would venture, yes!

Don't rush before hurrying back to the noisier side of life. Explore and absorb the diversity in the four galleries, and don't miss the notable RAM windows, a splendid mixture of trash and glass, installed through July 24. Whichever route you take home, you'll find the time at the museum has been well spent. The scream of sirens and screeching of brakes can wait awhile longer.
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