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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photography: Joined and Committed

Art Review

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It would be an error to say photographers Johnie Shimon and Julie Lindemann are the “J & J” of Manitowoc, Wis., even though, like G & G (British art duo Gilbert & George), they’re close as twins. The pair got together during their student years in Madison, and they stuck together after graduation, setting off to bite the Big Apple. After a year, they returned to Wisconsin.

Following their careers for 25 years tempts me to say that their show in the Koss Gallery at the MilwaukeeArt Museum (Aug. 14 through Nov. 30) will be the peak of their combined efforts. The opportunity to exhibit 43 portraits of those who have passed through their lives is indeed a mark of accomplishment and the show itself was two years in the making. However, their accomplishments are so many and varied that to define this event as the topper is a risk.

“Unmasked and Anonymous: Shimon & Lindemann Consider Portraiture” is the perfect tag for an event that blends the contemporary and the historical. In Ann in HerKitchen, we see a young woman wearing a filmy black negligee and mismatched socks. Posed in front of her kitchen counter strewn with beer bottles, she could be any young woman anywhere. Do we care that the kitchen is in Madison and the year is 1999? After all, the shutter clicks and Ann is history consigned to the realm of half-truths.

When Shimon and Lindemann exhibited their photographs at Chicago’s Sarah Bowen Gallery, the accompanying catalogue was titled Observation is Not Knowledge. It’s a tease, but it suggests that posers may be imposters. Are they? Portraiture, it seems, is more about filling in the spaces the artist—be it painter or photographer—leaves open for exploration. What’s genuine is the craftsmanship of this Manitowoc-based pair, which excels at control. To my eyes, they’ve never been stuck in numbing rut. Generous and open, these two are also unmasked and anonymous.

On sabbatical when the fall semester kicks in at LawrenceUniversity in Appleton, Shimon and Lindemann will return to teach both past and present photographic techniques.

“We have a blast teaching Digital Processes despite our reputation for using early photographic processes,” says Lindemann.

Organized by the MilwaukeeArt Museum (in tandem with Shimon and Lindemann) and curated by Lisa Hostetler, the exhibit includes a 68-page catalogue with essays by Hostetler as well as Shimon and Lindemann. It will be for sale in MAM’s gift shop and also at the opening on Aug. 14 during a reception and book signing. An added plus is a generous sampling of portraits by both in-state and out-of-state photographers. Those who admire the best will recognize among the 26 stellar selections the best of Francis Ford, Diane Arbus, Stanley Ryan Jones and Larry Clark.

The time is now for the MilwaukeeArt Museum to make a solid commitment to its large collection of photographs, which have for too long been shuttled about to various locations within the venue. I’ve never understood this. Perhaps MAM’s new executive director, Daniel Keegan, will make the right choice and give viewers a permanent and generous area to showcase this dynamite discipline.

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