Transcending time and medium, the Modern Rebels exhibit housed in the Milwaukee Art Museum portrays the enduring challenge faced by artists everywhere 〞 the challenge to push the boundaries of convention and acceptance and to establish an identity as an artist. The exhibit, which closes September 20, is surely one to please those wishing to see a diverse and vast collection of works. Over 68 artists and 70 pieces are represented, with the works on loan from the Albright-Knox museum in Buffalo, NY.
The gallery is arranged chronologically, so that viewers can follow the evolution of our perception of ※rebellion§ over the centuries. The earliest pieces date back to the Post-Impressionist movement of the late 1800’s, running all the way through the Minimalist movement of the 1950’s and featuring the works of Abstract Expressionists, Modernists, Pop Artists, Cubists and Surrealists who left their mark on the artistic world during these definitive periods. The exhibit was a compliment not only to the artists, but also to the curators who organized such a sweeping and immersive history of rebellion through art.
It was a surreal experience to view fabled works of art, like Roy Lichtenstein’s Head-Red and Yellow or Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait with a Monkey, in real life and at a local venue. Wisconsin native Georgia O＊Keefe, who already has work is housed in the main gallery, is also represented in this special exhibit.
The show also prompts pertinent discussions about the ethics of art and the varying expressions of modern rebellion.
We really appreciated the fact that there was such a vast amount of work being shown with such varying physical appearance. Upon first look, it would seem as though there was nothing in common between the many paintings and sculptures. Vincent Van Gogh＊s post-impressionistic style, something that grew as a reaction against the Impressionist movement, which favored the naturalistic depiction of color and light, certainly appeared much different than Pablo Picasso＊s cubist techniques that aimed to provide the viewer with multiple physical viewpoints on the subject matter.
La Musique by Henri Matisse, painted in 1939, was perhaps one of the most fascinating and beautiful pieces to look at in the show. Matisse, a painter of the Modernism and Fauvism movements, strove to use strong colors and personal styles in his art that contradicted the representational and realistic methods valued during the Impressionist movement, the precedent artistic movement. Two curvaceous women are depicted wearing dresses, one playing the guitar and the other sitting on the ground, perhaps listening to the music. Behind them, large, organically shaped leaves provide the background, and the legs, feet, and hands and bodies of the women are stylistically elongated, giving them the look of exaggeration but also unconventional beauty. Upon closer look, one can see that the paint that compiles the colors of their faces and bodies is transparent in some places, and brushstrokes are evident. Perhaps some consider this effect to look unfinished and hasty, but we believe this style contributes to the piece in a positive manner. The transparent technique gives the figures in the piece a sort of movement and style that is unique to the painting itself, and defies what perfection means in the world of art, as well as the conventional definition of ※complete.§
Also fascinating was Giacomo Balla＊s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. This painting, which at first glance appeared to be a sequence of layered photographic frames depicting the movement of a walking dog, became one of the futurist movement＊s most definitive icons. Futurism was a rebellion against the weight of the past, and works by these artists were characterized by their technical emphasis on movement, dynamics and modernity. Bulla＊s piece typified this school of thought and was in clear contrast with the pieces around it.
These striking juxtapositions are a common theme throughout the gallery. But however different they look, all artists are unified in the way their art questioned the traditions and norms of their time.
We left the exhibit inspired to discover our own identities and question the world around us just as these great artists, whose influences continue to steer the direction of the art world, did during their lifetimes. Their legacy has been lasting, and continues to ask viewers what it really means to rebel against what is known.
by Celeste Carroll and Sydney Widell