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Monday, May 16, 2011

Milwaukee Art Museum's Intriguing 'Digital Dialogues'

Art Review

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In the art world, the terms "fine craft" and "21st-century technology" rarely go hand in hand. But the Milwaukee Art Museum's cutting-edge exhibition "The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft" mixes the two with sophistication and superior technique.

The MAM's lower-level gallery houses approximately two-dozen works that incorporate digital media into time-honored techniques like basket weaving and glass blowing. The results seamlessly merge past traditions and recent technology to present masterful, mostly postmodern artworks.

In one corner of the gallery are Tim Tate's blown and cast glass, electronic components and original videos that replicate small glass reliquaries. Tate created a series of six bottles with cast glass book stacks for stoppers. Among them is one titled Burned But Not Forgotten (2008), which contains a tiny screen inside the bottle that flashes title pages from classic literature (for example, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) with flames burning between the series of pages. This may be viewed as a metaphor for printed text being relegated to the past.

Wendy Maruyama's wall sculpture Kanzashi Stroke (2008) uses polychromed wood, abalone shell and video to create an oversized hair comb (named the kanzashi comb and used by geishas). A diminutive video screen near the top of the sculpture simulates the geisha's honored traditions.

Innovation and imagination connect in "The New Materiality," as the exhibition demonstrates how 21st-century technology can be integrated into techniques honed from past centuries and applied to fine contemporary art. Though it's a small exhibition, it contributes noteworthy ideas that further examine some of the museum's current themes—including the recently ended Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit that showed how the famed architect embraced the latest technologies available.

"The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft" continues through June 12.
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