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Current exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum: review

"30 Americans," early tattoo art and other reasons to visit the MAM this summer.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Kehinde Wiley, Triple Portrait of Charles I, 2007. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Thurgood), 2008. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Robert Colescott, Pygmalion, 1987. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Hank Willis Thomas, Branded Head, 2003. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Mickalene Thomas, Baby I Am Ready Now, 2007. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

 (Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.)
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Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"30 Americans": Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bird On Money, 1981. Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

"Celebrating 125 Years of Art"
The Milwaukee Art Museum traces its origins to two different institutions, both established in 1888: the Layton Art Gallery and the Milwaukee Art Association. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of these founding organizations, the museum has organized a quasquicentennial exhibition, “125 Years of the Milwaukee Art Museum.” On display are photographs, architectural models, videos, brochures and other objects that chronicle and commemorate the history of the museum. The exhibition plays up the MAM's important architectural commissions including the neo-classical Layton Art Gallery of 1888, Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s War Monument Building of 1957—which became the museum’s home after the two founding institutions formally merged—and the Quadracci Pavilion designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2001. In addition, a number of works from the Frederick Layton Art collection (the museum’s founding collection) are on view and highlighted throughout the museum. Through August 10, 2013.

"Question Bridge: Black Males"
When the MAM decided to display the video installation Question Bridge: Black Males, no could have predicted the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial and the spotlight it cast on American attitudes toward African-American males in the 21st century. All the more compelling, then, is this five-channel video installation organized by artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. The video features dozens of African-American men who ask each other questions such as “What is the reluctance to take responsibility for improving our communities?” and “Why do we keep using the ‘n-word’?” The answers are amazingly frank and reflect a diversity of opinions. At three-hours long, the installation is exhaustive in its questioning; but a 20-minute viewing is enough to become immersed in the conversation and engrossed by the differing perspectives. Through September 8, 2013.

"30 Americans"
On loan to the Milwaukee Art Museum from the Miami-based Rubell Family Foundation, “30 Americans” features 75 works from a who’s who of contemporary African-American artists, including Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Rashid Johnson and Nick Cave. The show’s quality of works and breadth of content is worthy of a summer blockbuster. Standout pieces include iconic works such as Jean-Michel Basquiat's Bird on Money (1981) and Kehinde Wiley’s Equestrian Portrait of the Court–Duke Olivares (2005). Appropriation is a strategy used by many artists in “30 Americans," who borrow and manipulate text and images to question authority or challenge conventional meanings. Great examples include Iona Rozeal Brown’s Sacrifice #2: it has to last (2007) which combines Japanese pictorial devices with hip-hop themes, and Glen Ligon’s Gold When Black Wasn’t Beautiful #1 (2007) which appropriates jokes by Richard Pryor to address larger questions of identity and aesthetics. A companion show, “Wisconsin 30” presents the works of 30 African-American artists with ties to Wisconsin. Through September 8, 2013.

"Tattoo: Flash Art of Amund Dietzel"
Amund Dietzel (1891–1974), once known as the “Master of Milwaukee,” was an ex-sailor with a talent for tattooing. Inked from feet to neck, Dietzel traveled in carnival sideshows as the "tattooed man" before opening his own tattoo shop in downtown Milwaukee in 1913. Contemporary tattoo artist Jon Reiter has spent years collecting what remains of Dietzel's "flash" or tattoo design drawings. Gathered from private collectors and Dietzel's surviving family members, approximately 800 flash from Reiter’s collection are on display here, including classic designs featuring Chinese dragons, hearts, crosses, daggers, American flags and, of course, buxom women. Dietzel’s signature flash featured a stalking panther, a motif that he developed and refined over the years. The exhibition, the first of its kind at the Milwaukee Art Museum, preserves the tattoo artist's nearly forgotten legacy while revealing a little-known chapter in Milwaukee’s past. Through October 13, 2013.

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