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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Cultural Fragments

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   Unconventional but fascinating displays at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) feature fragments of photographs, remnants of mass-media images and found objects imprinted with the identifiable marks of popular culture. These bits and pieces scavenged from society comprise complementary exhibitions that explore the theme "Pieces of the Whole."

  The largest of the exhibits, "Messages and Magic: 100 Years of Collage and Assemblage in American Art," consists of 125 pieces ranging in origin from the 1920s to 2007. Interest in collage began in the 1920s when Surrealist Andre Breton proposed that recognizing an image requires not only seeing it, but also uncovering a complex system of mental and contextual references. Using found objects and clips from newspapers and magazines to construct incongruous, satirical, poetic and thought-provoking images, artists demonstrate how the familiar can be reconfigured to convey new meaning. As Leslie Umberger, senior curator at the JMKAC, says, "Collage and assemblage as art mirrors the evolution of popular culture…as it extracts messages from the multifaceted and multidimensional world."

  The magic of these messages resonates in Search for Understanding (1920-1950), the work of Cuban artist Felipe Jesus Consalvos, who fashioned more than 650 pieces of satirical pictures culled from cigar bands he collected at the factory where he worked. The contemporary 215 Points of View (2005) by Jonathan Schipper, a 5-and-a-half-foot steel and rubber ball filled with cameras and monitors that constantly records the fleeting world surrounding it, is another example of collage and assemblage that is intended to challenge the familiar cohesion of life.

  Complementary exhibits include "Kathryn E. Martin: Flotant" (opens Oct. 12) and "Renee Lotenero: Shape and Shatter" (opens Oct. 19). Martin deconstructs the ordinary using 50,000 plastic cups restructured into ingenious environments specifically designed for the JMKAC. Lotenero gleans her inspiration from architectural ruins in order to fashion sculptural pieces that intermingle handmade tiles, drawings, photographs and used objects. Martin and Lotenero will attend the Autumn Celebration on Oct. 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The celebration features music, art workshops and other festivities, including a gallery talk by Umberger that focuses on supernatural images and meanings.

  The "Art Crawl 53: The Fall Crawl" travels into Waukesha on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 4 to 10 p.m., preceded by a 3 p.m. public art dedication at the Waukesha Transit Center to unveil James Walker's hanging glass sculpture. The evening events coincide with "The Big Read," a national literacy program that continues through October. This year's selection, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, inspired a display of classic cars and the creation of a film by Waukesha high-school students, Isn't It Romantic, to be shown amid the variety of art offered at the numerous galleries in downtown Waukesha.

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