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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

MWA's Insightful Retrospective on Lichtner, Grotenrath

Art Review

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The remarkable images currently on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA) are unmistakably by famed Wisconsin couple Schomer Lichtner and Ruth Grotenrath. Yet the exhibition, "The Yin and the Yang: Schomer Lichtner and Ruth Grotenrath, A Retrospective," also presents fresh ideas.

During Grotenrath and Lichtner's prolific careers as artists, the pair produced ceramics, paintings, prints, stencils and sculptures. Over the decades, their unique, individual styles changed dramatically in subject, theme and color palette—a development that unfolds in the MWA retrospective, which begins with images from the 1920s.

Also readily apparent is the yin-and-yang approach each artist applied to similar influences and subjects, which can be seen in two paintings presented side by side on the museum's west wall. The 1948 images, Grotenrath's My Wisconsin and Lichtner's America's Dairyland, express devotion to the artists' home state. In My Wisconsin, Grotenrath overlaps a mix of barns, pine trees and roosters, applying a flattened composition to the menagerie with techniques that she would hone over the rest of her career. Lichtner's work studies the state's cows and cornfields, foreshadowing a love of the farmland animals that would become his creative muse.

But the exhibition dispels the notion that Lichtner's artwork consisted only of ballerinas and black-and-white cows. Lichtner's gifts shine through in various media, including figure drawing, large-scale murals and sculptures.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, two screen prints demonstrate the artists' enthusiasm for Japanese printmaking, which they discovered on a trip to the Far East in the 1960s. Milkweed, Lichtner's casein on Oriental paper, evokes the sparse elements of brush painting. Grotenrath's White Cloth offers a more decorative approach to these influences, featuring a simple table set with Oriental bowls.

The MWA culled works from private and public sources to add breadth to the retrospective. Viewers who admire Grotenrath and Lichtner will find much to appreciate in this exhibition, which continues through July 10.
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