Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012

Reopening of Portrait Society Gallery Unfolds Beautifully

A Trio of New Exhibitions Christens Renovated Space

By Peggy Sue
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At a grand reopening party on November 9, the Historic Third Ward’s Portrait Society Gallery hosted a trio of new exhibitions. Three recently enlarged galleries complement an additional room for art storage and documentation that completed a long summer of innovation meets renovation. Each fresh space impressed owner/curator Debra Brehmer’s well-wishers that celebrated with her on Friday evening.

Brehmer's fifth floor expanded gallery in the Marshall Building invites strolling through the opened and conjoined spaces, with higher ceilings allowing for spacious artwork. The cozy, smaller lounge features armless ivory couches surrounding a coffee table, which could present miniature installations from various artists in the future. 

In the first room open to the hallway, the large gallery, the exhibition “Natural History: Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman was inspired by a Rainer Marie Rilke poem: They worked to flower/and flowering/is being beautiful/But we wish to ripen/and that means being dark/and taking pain.

The 14 portraits, or busts, in this gallery, colored in subdued blues and grays, or soft ebony, were overlaid with organic silhouettes of branches, flowers and leaves. The softened features in these women’s faces and focused from varying perspectives spoke elegantly to the process of flowering over time, a long life. Yet, that process to maturing embodies the pains of the world, both personally and communally, although the images retain a subtle, uncommon elegance. 

That evening before the official opening, artist Richard Knight was touching up the gallery for the viewers to come. He briefly mentioned that he believed these portraits were acquaintances and friends of Ciurej and Lochman, two women who have collaborated for over 20 years, flowering as artists and friends.

In another adjoining gallery, the powerful, provocative exhibition “Decay Utopia Decay” featured J. Shimon and J. Lindemann, who have participated at the Portrait Society several times. A large installation occupies the middle of the their room; twigs tied together to sculpt a primitive cave or tent structure with elements supposedly from the artist's farm.

All the photographs in this exhibition were captured on the couple’s rural Wisconsin home and included the prints Greenhouse Damage (a play on words of an actual working green house) or New Corn Queen. Displayed in these delicate cynotypes’ images one detects their fragile quality, superimposing the atmosphere of the decay in these environments and buildings to the photos.

Three prints, Parsnips, Cauliflower and Squash exquisitely illustrate farm produce, portraits of organic crops either destroyed by cooking and eating or rotting if left unpicked. While no perfection or utopia exists on earth, Shimon and Lochmann prove photographing decay could be superb and cutting edge.

The smaller lounge provides those comfy seats for the art discussions Brehmer and Portrait Society welcomes during open gallery hours while Milwaukee anticipates the gallery’s annual “Winter Chapel” presented by Kevin Giese in 2013. In this intimate space Nicolas Grider returned to collaborate with the gallery in his photographic series Absence Makes.”

Postcards placed in a basket outside the galleries were available from a previous Shimon and Lindemann exhibition and could be addressed to the two photographers unable to attend the opening. What a perfect November evening for the “flowering” of Brehmer’s Portrait Society Gallery. Her sublime insight and unique perspective unfolds more than traditional beauty from the far reaches of the art community. Congratulations and Best Wishes, Portrait Society Gallery. 

Portrait Society Gallery's three exhibitions continue through January 5. Stop by and congratulate Debra Brehemr, stop and rest in her hospitable lounge and contemplate the challenging portraits through the holiday season.   

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