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Monday, Feb. 6, 2012

Museum of Wisconsin Art Shines Light on Gilardi

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During his lifetime, Bernard Gilardi produced wild paintings in the basement of his Milwaukee home, paintings that have gained notice only since his death in 2008, after which Portrait Society Gallery in the Marshall Building brought them into the light. Wake up, Bernard! You're an art star!

A select number of his works are on exhibit in West Bend at the Museum of Wisconsin Art's Main Gallery until March 25, and I'm guessing that area folks have never seen such a gathering of images with glow-in-the-dark qualities, both surprising and beautifully painted. Unlike rosy renderings of blowzy flowers, Gilardi's efforts focus on social concerns—one could say most of the “isms” of our culture, including racism. There's a strained and desperate religious tone imbued in the work, and in the troubled, questioning faces staring back at viewers. Do they mirror the artist's concerns about a world where all is not fair in love and war? I write this with a dollop of guilt, for is it not almost fraudulent to guess an artist's intent when that artist isn't around to demolish or defend the perceived intent? The 24-by-30-inch 1979 Gilardi Untitled (Three Clowns) is ghastly gorgeous, and though I first thought of the Three Stooges, I quickly switched to the unfunny—deception, death and decay.

Back stories are the stuff of art history and the very guts (the packaging, so to speak) of tales that drive gallery sales, and when they're brought to light, there's no stopping their prolific blooms and snaking tendrils. In an adjacent gallery, Alison Stehlik queries how branding and design impact our perception of symbols. It's a perfect match with the Gilardi exhibition.