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Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

‘Nohl Fellowships Exhibition’ Examines Contemporary Culture

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This year's “Nohl Fellowships Exhibition” has the feeling of capturing particular facets of contemporary culture. The six artists and the collective (American Fantasy Classics) featured in the exhibit draw from undercurrents of history, a sense of place and calibrating the present with the past.

The work of Nicolas Lampert quickly delves into history with works highlighting the Milwaukee Commandos, a group active in the mid-1960s alongside of Father James Groppi. His prints of powerful marching figures are overlaid with an ethereal map of Milwaukee, visible when the light hits right. It is an evocative reference to events of the past that still resonate in the present. Similarly, Hans Gindlesberger's Partial Architecture explores cultural history and family memory in black-and-white photographs of modern Germany, interrupted by surrealistic forms derived from destroyed buildings in World War II. The vagaries of these forms and their odd relationship to contemporary figures suggest the quicksilver nature of history, full of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Sonja Thomsen's installation suggests the passages of time on another scale, delicate in the momentary pause of architecture or frozen landscape. Her sculpture, trace of possibility, is like a postmodern fun-house mirror, as the viewer can enter it like a fun-house mirror or an icy cave.

Working in the tradition of two-dimensional media, Richard Galling creates paintings that are maps of strange topography, veering into language or symbol in broad, looping strokes. The colors seem deliberately harsh, and for Galling it is a practice of mark-making generated as a mechanized, stenciled and stilted practice. How do we discern information and communication these days? Our multilayered lives do not make it easy. For Galling, as described in the exhibition notes, this layered effect can "allow for a continuous interference of interchangeable painted information."

The installations of Sarah Gail Luther and American Fantasy Classics are most elaborate of all, enveloping the viewer in a created environment. Both conjure a sense of specific, physical surroundings. Luther recreates an urban scene with plants, telephone pole and mailbox. Her practice includes telling the stories of neighborhoods through drawings and maps and encouraging communication through physical means such as postcards. American Fantasy Classics creates a streetscape inspired at least in part by the Milwaukee Public Museum’s "Streets of Old Milwaukee" installation, but speaking to a contemporary reality—a city as real and surreal, momentarily suspended like an experiment of social and artistic ingredients.

Video is also part of the exhibition, with Brad Lichtenstein’s documentary As Goes Janesville offering a view of social, economic and political issues of the day. Lichtenstein is represented in the gallery by a number of clips from prior work.

The “Nohl Fellowships Exhibition” continues at Inova/Kenilworth (2155 N. Prospect Ave.) through Dec. 9 and is complemented by an extensive calendar of additional events.
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