Here, in our foyer space, we consider the act of collecting today and how the objects we live with can inspire creative connections and passions in our lives.
Artists collecting art
Among many other partners, the Charles Allis curatorial staff relies on members of the community to help frame and conceptualize exhibitions and programs in order to reach a wider audience and stay in contact with the outside world. One such group is our Curatorial Advisory Committee, currently consisting of three well-known regional artists: Melissa Dorn, Nirmal Raja, and Rafael Salas. You might say we’ve created a “collection” of advisors to guide our decisions; a process of collaboration that is central to our organization.
In considering how the collections we amass influence us, we asked our Curatorial Advisory Committee members to submit a grouping of items combining work from their own portfolio with work from their collection of art or found objects. In response, Dorn selected an impactful art object made by a friend, while Salas chose an intangible art form – country music. Raja’s grouping shows her appreciation for the utility and cultural symbolism of everyday culinary tools from India. Each of them has also written a short explanation describing how the grouping relates and how the collected objects they live with every day become prompts, or perhaps visual consultants, for their own art practices.
Left to right: Nirmal Raja, The Memory of Objects, 2004, acrylic on panel, paired with found objects
About her pairing, Raja says: Objects come with their own histories and identities. They are records of a past that has imprinted itself on them - transforming them into relics, palimpsests and containers of narratives and histories. When people migrate to different lands and cultures, objects become relics once again. They are the remains of a culture left behind and reminders rooting their owners to a land that is no longer home. In my practice, I periodically return to examining such objects and respond to material culture while speaking to preservation and loss, transformation and solidification. One painting depicts a screw top travel jug and tin trunk that was an essential for travelers well into the 1960s and 70s and the other painting depicts culinary tools developed particularly for the Indian kitchen - potholder, coconut grater, nutcracker, pastry spoon, and crimp.
An Allis Cabinet of Curiosities
Curiosity is an excellent place to start asking questions, and it is in that spirit we present this room of objects – located in the depths of our collection and archive storage areas – to appreciate from a new perspective. The objects here are intentionally unlabeled in order to incite a purely visual response and curiosity, much the same way you might encounter collected objects at a friend’s house. Your friend does not likely label the things she collects, but the collection, observed as a whole, paints a picture of your friend’s interests, tastes, curiosities, travels, and aspirations. Further, each object may have a story behind it that once told by your friend, helps the object come alive with new significance.
Because Charles and Sarah Allis’ voices are now silent, we are left to wonder about the stories they would tell about each artifact in this room. Rather than listening, we find ourselves asking questions.
With this in mind, we invite you to spend time in our “cabinet of curiosities” and formulate a few inquiries of your own. In our North Gallery, you have an opportunity to exchange questions with other visitors, perhaps offering answers as well.
From Q to A and Back Again
By now you have ended your tour of the Allis home and collection. What questions do you have about what you have seen and experienced? What knowledge do you personally have that might help us in our discovery of the Allis history and the stories behind our collection?
Like a 19th century scientist working out a hypothesis on a slate, we invite you to take up a pencil and add your questions and answers to our “chalkboard”. Feel free to answer questions written by others, or pose new questions in response. Diagrams, arrows, and formulas are welcome and encouraged!
The Milwaukee Women’s Art Library (MWAL)
Welcome to the Milwaukee Women’s Art Library (MWAL). The room you are standing in represents the first phase of the library, where collection of materials, meetings, and workshops will take place. After the MWAL’s official opening in 2020, visitors will be able to view, listen, read, research, and borrow materials. The public is invited to participate in the collection process by donating ephemera (articles, photographs, exhibition documents, tapes, etc.), submitting suggestions, and attending meetings. Please use the sign-up sheet or suggestion box on the table to indicate your interest in getting involved.
What is the MWAL?
Women operating outside of economic centers are often overlooked not only by the regions which overshadow them, but within their own localities, further distancing the women of future generations from the histories of their own communities. The Milwaukee Women’s Art Library (MWAL) attempts to provide a solution to this issue by developing a library and archive founded on principles of solidarity, difference, and action. Curated by Chicago-based curator Ashley Janke, the MWAL will open in August 2020 at the Charles Allis Art Museum, preceded by numerous meetings and work sessions to bring the new library together. The MWAL will act as a space for the collective remembrance of women and non-binary people of all ethnicities whose actions, work and narratives may otherwise become lost in the ebb and flow of the constantly shifting cultural landscape.
Photography by Kevin Miyazaki