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Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

Museum of Wisconsin Art Traces 'Modernism in the Midwest'

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Conceived in Europe during the late 19th century, the Modernist art movement made its way to America via the northern East Coast. These avant-garde aesthetic philosophies then found their way to artists living near the Great Lakes. The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA) recognizes these forward-looking individuals in an exhibition organized by Ohio's Massillon Museum, "Against the Grain: Modernism in the Midwest."

The exhibition traces Modernism in the region from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair through the final battles of World War II in 1945. More than 50 artworks collected from museums across the Midwest show that Modernist masters Manet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Braque and Miro influenced artists in America's vast agricultural plains.

Though the MWA exhibition focuses on a variety of painting genres, Modernist expressions are most easily identified through the portraits. Modernism explored the psychological elements of its subjects, making it easy for viewers to relate to portraits. Lucius Kutchin (1901-1936) applies complementary hues in Girl in Green to convey a mood instead of merely a photographic reality. A deep ruby bracelet, lips, strands of hair and roses contrast the girl's dark green dress to brighten her taupe skin.

In a nod to Fauve's color theories, William Sommer's (1867-1949) Ray in a Red Collar portrays a young boy painted in complex golds, greens, oranges and reds. Though his face is recognizable, it is reduced to stylized forms and shapes.

Well-known Wisconsin artist Carl Holty (1900-1973) takes the Modernist figure further and interprets Cubism with the paintings Pink Lady and Europa. His images break the figures into distorted, often geometric shapes that record his observations from multiple planes and viewpoints simultaneously.

Women were involved in the Modernist movement as well, and works from two women are displayed in the main gallery. Lucia Stern's fiber art image Martinique features arms and fingers flowing with Caribbean rhythms. Julia Thecla presented touches of Surrealism in her opaque and dreamlike watercolor Mary in Blue Shoes.

Often the Midwest has been considered less sophisticated than the East Coast, but the MWA breaks through those stereotypes with this cosmopolitan exhibit showing the regional rise of Modernism.

"Against the Grain" continues through Oct. 2.