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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Intimate Lichtner and Grotenrath Exhibition

Art Review

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In 2011, the Midwest has been privileged to view several extensive collections from a pair of respected Wisconsin artists. The latest is an intimate exhibition mounted in the second floor balcony gallery at Marquette University's Haggerty Museum of Art with the definitive title “Ruth Grotenrath and Schomer Lichtner: Interior/Exterior.” It runs through Aug. 7.

Lichtner's half of this collection are exterior landscapes of Holy Hill that he finished between the 1930s and '50s. The remaining images are abstracted interiors painted by Grotenrath during the 1950s-'60s. All the exhibition's artworks appear untitled, created with casein and/or collage on Japanese paper, and then gifted to the museum by the Schomer Lichtner Trust and Kohler Foundation, Inc.

Lichtner's landscapes reveal only the rolling hills and church spires captured in this celebrated Kettle Moraine terrain. Not one cow roams in the background, and the paintings follow the state's seasons through their color palettes: ivories and blue grays in winter, vibrant pinks and greens observed when spring and summer follow, and then burnt siennas and deep oranges found during autumn. Hung on an east-facing wall, Lichtner's saturated gold, gray, green and red painting recalls Holy Hill by peering through summer tree foliage filled with monarch butterflies, a sensitive counterpoint to his more renowned and playful ballerinas.

Grotenrath's paintings portray her continuing fascination with composition, decoration and flattened surfaces, overlaying everyday objects through a united vision. All these interiors, including one depicting the well-documented orange table that inhabited the artists' residence, display a reverence for material objects contextualized within a personal space and inspired by Japanese art.

The 10 paintings in this exhibit are a small fraction of the body of work Grotenrath and Lichtner completed over a lifetime, but offer an uncommon opportunity to examine minute facets in two artistic careers. Each subsequent museum exhibition delves deeper into this extraordinary couple's dedication to their individual professional journeys. While providing an insightful microcosm to Grotenrath and Lichtner, this retrospective further commits Wisconsin art history to the Haggerty's permanent collection.

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