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Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

To Err Is Human

Art Review

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­Sometimes it pays to err… like arriving at the wrong place to view "Wisconsin Photography 2009." Yes, I was at the Racine Art Museum (RAM), a stellar space on Main Street, but, uh-oh: The photography show was at the RAM's venerable Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, a few miles west. No way would I ignore the Main Street venue, so in I went to catch the final day of the amazing paintings and figurative ceramics of Viola Frey. Forgive me, but they were divine.

Before heading to the other RAM on Northwestern Avenue, I strolled around and stumbled upon the amazing Mathis Gallery, filled with quality paintings and prints. Sadly, many of the lovely old buildings in the area are empty, but the Racine Arts Council has filled the windows of their ArtSite space with excellent work. As I drove west to the Wustum, it was clear that the strip mall route had sucked the life out of the downtown. But the heart of art still beats there.

"Wisconsin Photography 2009" features 90 pieces by 45 state-based photographers. The juror, Rod Slemmons, director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, went through 761 photographs to get to the aforementioned 90. Whew. Of the Purchase Awards, Christine J. Sobczak's three elegantly understated silver gelatin prints are by far and away the strongest works: a string of pearls, a small saucer, a regal tiara, each set on a table draped in a formal cloth, a table tilted slightly, so as to skew the scene. If Slemmons had selected only one artist, surely Ms. Sobczak would have been the one.

Upstairs is a collection of Purchase Awards from the past. What a thrill to see the 1995 platinum palladium print by J. Lindemann and J. Shimon, Trish & Matt Downtown (No. 2), Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Their 2009 digital video (Circles) runs circles in a small room nearby, but it should be downstairs. The sole video in a sea of so-so art (through Nov. 28) deserves floor one.

Exiting, I pause in front of F/A-18 Fighter A/C 2009, a cleverly composed slice of plane, printed digitally in Inkjet ink. The artist, Bernard M. Spinelli, deserves a medal for high-flying excellence.