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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Changing Focus

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Inthe period between World War I and II, photographic art appeared to “change the world by trying to see it differently,” using new technology and technical expression discovered through the lens of a camera. Recording this change in photography is the Milwaukee Art Museum’s latest exhibit, planned together with the National Gallery of Art, titled “FOTO: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918- 1945.” The exhibition opens Feb. 9.

In Milwaukee, the only U.S. venue for the show outside New York and Washington, D.C., the exhibit expands to 170 rarely seen photomontages, gelatin silver prints, journals and publications in the Calatrava’s extensive space. Through these intimate portraits and prints developed by more than 50 artists, both famous and unfamiliar, “FOTO” demonstrates the impact of this inspiring and influential art.

The exhibit, divided into eight sections, focuses on the impact that Central European photography played in the history of media culture, especially in the development of pictorial magazines such as Life. These publications brought the classic pictures of the illustrated press into the public eye. Ideas conveyed through this photographic art represent both the optimism after World War I and the oncoming anxiety of fascism during these transitional decades, as old beliefs confronted new thoughts in a quickly changing culture.

One of the most fascinating sections is on surrealism, a movement that manifests itself as surrealist artists come to prominence in Central Europe during the 1920s. These images brought additional experimentation and freedom of thought to photography.

Artists created imaginative prints that incorporated subjects such as intuition and natural instincts, dreams and hidden desires, death and the afterlife. The Austrian born Herbert Bayer’s Lonely Metropolitan (1932), a photomontage with gouache and airbrush, illustrates a surrealist viewpoint reminiscent of painter Rene Magritte.

To enhance the landmark FOTO exhibit, a video program featuring 30 short and full-length films will be shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) and UW-Milwaukee to provide additional insight into modernity. The video program will be of special interest to Milwaukee, says MAM Assistant Curator Lisa Hostetler.

“The films and photography in this collection all relate to the central European heritage of the Milwaukee community,” she notes. “I hope they embrace it.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, a series of gallery talks will be given once a month, along with two Saturday book salons and a Sunday “Foto Fun for Families.” The opening reception takes place Thursday, Feb. 7, at 5 p.m. The exhibit ends May 4.