Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

The 2011 Mary L. Nohl Fellowship Individual Artist Exhibition: Nicolas Lampert

Printmaking and Social Protest

By Peggy Sue Dunigan
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Every year the “Greater Milwaukee Fund's Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists Exhibition” opens with anticipation. The city’s art community eagerly anticipates this premiere exhibition that officially opened last week for 2011 and runs through September 9, which allows one year for the seven 2011 chosen artists to create and then present their best artwork to the city. 

The exclusive fall exhibition graced the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Inova/Kenilworth Gallery located on Prospect where established artist Nicolas Lampert, a member of Justseeds Artists' Cooperative, presented a poetical political journey through printmaking with artworks titled Father Groppi and The Commandos. In the exhibition and by collaborating with Paul Kjelland, Lampert used repetition over the gallery walls with his bicolored posters to heighten their evocative meanings while reasserting this humble art process. Similar to pasting posters over building walls on city streets as done in past decades for political protest.  

Posters, prints and printmaking reflect a highly democratic art medium because the process relies on inexpensive materials to produce, and prints were frequently found in the unique legacy of Latin and South America during government unrest, as well as throughout Europe. Either produced as posters, or in pamphlets to distribute to gain a  particular neighborhood's attention. In respect to this legacy, printmaking belongs to the rich history of displaying political and social controversy, dissent and protest on the streets and walls of wherever the posters could be hung to draw attention to the prevailing cause.

Lampert channels this distinguished history in recalling the racial upheaval Milwaukee experienced during the 1960’s in response to Dr. Martin Luther King’s March in Washington and Selma Montgomery March. After meeting Dr. King and participating in these marches, Milwaukee's Italian Catholic priest Father James Groppi was installed at St. Boniface Parish, set to begin his own civil rights clash throughout the city. Much of this essential information can be found on laminated sheets near Lampert’s exhibition space in the gallery to inform viewers of Milwaukee's relevant history if necessary, key to appreciating the exhibition to the fullest. 

Briefly, during 1967 through 1969 Milwaukee's Groppi protested for fair housing and summer jobs for youth, incidents where he was arrested numerous times. During one especially turbulent period, 200 successive nights of civil unrest assaulted the city, inciting curfews, when Groppi pursued desegregation by marching over the Sixth Street Bridge into primarily white neighborhoods. While collaborating with Paul Kjelland, Lampert conjures this disruptive past in his series of black and blue posters with Father Groppi leading a street march, or holding a poster reading "Black Power."

Groppi also founded a Milwaukee chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council named the Commandos in the late ‘60’s. Lampert’s set of posters The Commandos hanging on the opposite gallery wall celebrate this history and honor the young people who were groomed to be leaders in the civil rights movement and concerned enough to protest these crucial issues.  

Another installation/sculpture features a clothing rack with four baseball jerseys dangling on it, similar to a sports locker room. Lampert transforms the insignias to name the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council on the shirt sleeves, with the Milwaukee Commandos written over the front of the baseball pinstripes. Fashioned in black, white and gray similar to the Major League Baseball uniforms, the chosen hues reinforce the color integration by mixing them on the jersey.   

Lampert appears to juxtapose culture’s obsession with sports against critical social issues, perhaps to ask what the public considers more vital, sports or civil/human rights? Only one of many concerns Lampert’s exhibiton questions. While Milwaukee's Father Groppi and The Commandos may be placed in the distant past, a recent play at the The Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio suggests that Dr. King’s legacy of dreaming for a promised land filled with peace and nonviolence for all people of color may yet be unreached, or even unattainable in the current social climate. Lampert's moving 2011 Mary Nohl Fellowship exhibition contribution overlaps with Milwaukee’s production of The Mountaintop to revisit Dr. King’s 1960's civil rights movement, a fascinating arts overlap to ponder in viewing the play, the exhibition or both. Either way, as a 2011 Fellowship recipient, Lampert presents powerful images. Prints that jolt the mind into thinking where the city has stood during these social issues and where it could, or perhaps, needs to be marching in 2013.  

For the complete listing of events coordinating with the 2011 Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists Exhibition," including Nicolas Lampert's UWM Arts Center Lecture Hall Artist's Now! lecture on October 17 at  7:00 p.m, please visit: www.arts.uwm.edu/inova or check out Lampert's blog and printmaking at www.justseeds.org  

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