On Friday, January 17, 2015, the Neville Public Museum opened the Green Bay Art Colony: A Celebration of 100 Years show with recent works by the Green Bay Art Colony and was jurored by Fr. James Neilson, professor of Art at St. Norbert College.
And, this show is a lot of what you might expect for an art exhibit in Northeastern Wisconsin—lots of plein aire and realism, Impressionism and (mostly purely) functional fiber art.
Pretty pictures of animals and barns, landscapes and still-lifes.
And, the artists themselves lean towards an older, more High Craft tradition.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se—there are a number of High Craft artists that exist simultaneously with the Fine Art (i.e., Conceptual Art) world—but there are also these wonderful moments from artists—both young and old—that show that art in an Art World sense—art that is conceptual and challenging and interesting—still occurs and (potentially) thrives this far into rurality.
Although, it probably does bear mentioning that the pieces that I found interesting are not remotely the pieces that were deemed worthy of prizes by Fr. Neilson.
Kathleen Jerlinga’s large-scale oil paintings are filled with vivid colors and a fluidity that evokes Color Field paintings—particularly Morris Louis veil paintings—yet also subtly evokes fantasy landscapes and Ukiyo-e, “The Floating World”, that’s complicated due to a dimensionality brought about by the artists’ medium that disregards the superflatness of Ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints.
They were, by far, the most interesting, challenging pieces in the show for me and were an interesting synthesis of the habitual landscape and abstraction-without-intent that so prevails in this area.
Teresa Ann Gifford’s “recycled art” (sic) pieces, which are really assemblage bookart sculptures with a distinctly (if ill-defined) steampunk aesthetic that reference, albeit seemingly unintentionally, Joseph Cornell’s Surrealist assemblage shadow boxes with (yet with very little of Cornell’s austerity) combined with Joan Miro’s later, almost twee Surrealist collages.
Which brings up an important difficulty to the Green Bay Art Colony’s show: there often seems to be a distinct lack of awareness of the artistic heritage that we all come out of as artists—whether intentionally or not.
There also often seems to be a lack of awareness of what’s occuring in the broader Fine Art and High Craft worlds.
It’s also disappointing that this show was touted as being “A Celebration of 100 Years” of the Green Bay Art Colony, yet there was very little about the show that indicated this theme or the importance of the nine women who founded the Art Colony in 1915 and were the driving force for the creation and development of what would become the Neville Public Museum.
Please note that these nine women’s names are not to be found in the introductory information to the show and are, in fact, hidden deep within the show itself (and not connected to any work that they made); although a gesture to the original show—a display of women’s shawls and historically significant objects—literally looms above the rest of the show as shawls hanging like ghosts from the ceiling.
Too far away to see or experience.
Too far to actually make their relevance known.
The closest thing that there is to an actual acknowledgement of the 100 years that the show is supposed to be celebrating are four paintings hidden and cloistered from the rest of the show with the only indication that this wasn’t just some strange curatorial decision—because there are many strange curatorial decisions in this show—is a 4×6” framed piece of paper situated on a table with a shawl all in front of a black-and-white image “that represents”—basically, it’s a reenactment—that first show in 1915 and has the names of the founders of the Art Colony and the Neville in a probably-meant-to-be-“artistic” font: May Beaumont, Jess Buchannan, Anne Ellis, Louise Ellsworth, Lou Hall, Jane Joannes, Marian Luckenbach, Deborah Martin, and Dorothy Rice.
The paintings that are in this micro-historical inclusion were not, by-the-by, created by any of these women and the earliest, in fact, was not painted until 1936.
There’s also a tiny multimedia presentation that doesn’t really do anything to illuminate the last hundred years of the Art Colony.
Largely, the Art Colony’s show is disappointing with little energy or anima, just a lot of things that would have been revolutionary when the Art Colony was founded (if the multimedia presentation is to be trusted), and while there are flickers here and there of life and light and concept and engagement, they often seemed damped by the lack of context—present, past, and future.
Hopefully, those flickers will grow into a flame.
Green Bay Art Colony: A Celebration of 100 Years is at the Neville Public Museum until March 1, 2015 with a $5 entrance fee.