Milwaukee feels saturated in art and culture at the moment. It feels a little overwhelming to put all these events on your radar, but I believe it’s worth it to consume as much art as possible over the weekend. I’m biased in this area, but something about Milwaukee these days seems, I don’t know, sparkling? Motivated? Art agendas make you feel like you’re along for the ride, playing your role in a city-wide theater.

The Milwaukee Film Festival is having an exceptional year (through April 25). Top Chef restaurants are at peak performance while all eyes are on their craft. Milwaukee Zine Fest continues its DIY legacy and, along with the film fest, turns sweet 16 this year (April 20, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Central Library). Deep Lake Future has repeatedly extended its inventive and playful installation (through July). Are you feeling spoiled yet?

Here are four stops to include on your spring Gallery Night & Day docket, with highlights and recommendations in several neighborhoods.

Tory Folliard Gallery (233 N. Milwaukee St.)
See: Laurie Hogin’s Folklore

Laurie Hogin, “A Pair Of Furies (Young Chicks In The Woodland) Young Warrior”

Folklore is a crayon box apocalypse. Laurie Hogin’s exhibition at Tory Folliard arranges freakish flora and fauna in classical poses, distinguished from actual life on Earth by their toxic neon colors, unusual patterning, and off-kilter proportions. These allegorical images apply historical artistic tropes to illustrate enduring topics of now.

Young Warrior, two paintings, illustrates birds with watermelon plumage, surrounded by the names of women in mythology carved onto toadstools—Demeter, Artemis, Medea, Circe. With an expressive cry skyward, the creature appears bound to the earth, now flightless at the end of its evolution.

One of the largest painting in the show, Habitat Diorama, combines creatures glimpsed in other works gathered together on a rocky outcropping. Deer rear, tigers scowl. The reptiles appear wise, the oldest lineage and maybe the hardest to snuff out after all. An ape in the center, seemingly exempt from the fear whipping into a froth around it, holds an extinguished match in its hand and looks back at the viewer, a knowing expression woven across its face. Is this a look acceptance? Culpability? Accusation? This ape and the other not-quite creatures appear groomed and vibrant, but their eyes betray levels of consciousness, conceivably cognizant of some impending biblical event. They will become residents of a new ark—if anyone is even left to save their doomed kingdom. Could we appreciate this work without an environmental context? Or a religious one? These beasts with limited expressions—ferocity, stoicism, and disbelief—bare teeth and bristle, activated by aggressive stances, or wide-eyed and open jawed, exhausted that the wheel of history once again swivels outside their favor.

Laurie Hogin, “Habitat Diorama With Pyromaniac Species”

Hogin’s style blends techniques reminiscent of other allegorical works by Albrecht Dürer, Beth Cavener, and Brueghel the Elder. Human absence is acutely felt in these works, as if man has recently departed. Clues are still embedded in the pottery and toxic waste. Missiles dot the firmament.

The Pfister Hotel’s Artist in Residence (424 E. Wisconsin Ave.)
See: Layers of Friendship, by Heidi Parkes and Anja Notanja

From 2010 to 2020, the Pfister had a Narrator-in-Residence program for Milwaukee-based writers, wherein writers lurked the hotel collecting original stories for their blog. This was discontinued during the pandemic and has not been revived, but this weekend former narrator in residence Anja Notanja will reoccupy one room of the hotel just beyond the first-floor bar and concierge and generate original works for visitors. She remembers the former residency with fondness, but understands that the stuff of good writing (haunted rooms, hotel lore, prying into guest affairs, etc.) does not make the baseball players want to stay here when they visit.

Heidi Parkes, the Artist in Residence, will not be in attendance this Gallery Night due to a prior commitment to teaching a textile course in Japan. Instead, her good friend Notanja will hold down the fort and generate poetry for guests based on a table of “friendship objects” in the center of the room. When I visited, Notanja was set up with her typewriter, snug between Parkes’ fiber works on either side of her desk. The royal blue room was cozy and intimate, easily filled with the clack-clacking of the poet at work.

Parkes’ quilts are spaced around the room and capture her versatile techniques. She exercises embroidery and appliqué, word play and coffee dye. Vignettes Quilt no. 2 contains erupting stitches and hints of moon phases. Four sets of eyes gaze wide and unblinking out from a pale plot. The words “all I need” are contained in their own little space, while most of the composition bustles unsettled across the canvas. Nearby, Verdant, Aim, Nimble, Soften is less energetic with its creams and greenish blues. Small mixed fabric patches resemble garden plots seen from above. Subtle red and yellow swirls are stitched like connective paths encircling the grids. One comes away from this piece thinking about disappearance. There are many more quilts to consider in this space, each with its own unique mood and composition. It makes the space feel so comfortable and welcoming.

Heidi Parkes, “Vignettes Quilt no. 2”

The artists aim to emphasize hospitality and friendship in a lonely society. Perfect for the historic hotel, through which many have passed since 1893. Typewriter poetry is an accessible takeaway from this experience for guests who wish to own a memento from the evening but are not in a position to buy art. If you can’t afford one of Parkes’ quilted tapestries, you can certainly afford one of Anja Notanja’s poems, which will be generated on the spot based on a friendship object the women have assembled on the small coffee table. A stack of prompt cards, a plastic frog, a can of SPAM. Pick one and see what happens.

David Barnett Gallery (1024 E. State St.)
See: Masterstrokes: Three Centuries of Drawing

Cynthia Torroll, “Retrograded”

The magnolia tree was in full bloom when I arrived, striking pink and white against the lakeside Button Mansion that serves as David Barnett Gallery’s second location. Originally established in 1966, it is now one of the longest operating private art galleries in the area, on its 57th ear. Barnett began this gallery in a remodeled basement with $186 to apply to the cause. A collector from age six (when he purchased 200 stamps for $1), Barnett has expanded his collection to include familiar names like Picasso and Thiebaud. His oldest piece is an 1805 drawing by Fiennes Trotman, called View of Chequers Court. (Barnett has been personally threatened to hand this particular artifact over to the British Royal family on more than one occasion.)

Such bits of history appear beside regional artists Cynthia Lund Torroll, Tom Shelton, and Sylvia Spicuzza, who feature prominently in this exhibition, demonstrating Barnett’s range of taste and style, which can also be observed in paintings from his own artistic practice. Torroll’s work in particular is striking. Her photorealistic women are in the process of fading in and out in airy graphite and vibrant pointillism, and across the first floor her style is distinct and easy to recognize. Shelton’s Alphabet Colors becomes an exhibition highlight in textured colored pencil. These works repeat color and letters in what materializes as a systematized catalogue. A former botany and forestry major, Shelton’s apparatus is to capture fragments and order them accordingly, and when applied to images, the effect is orderly and efficient in a room where the curation tends towards gleeful chaos.

Tom Shelton, “Alphabet Colors”

For Gallery Night, the event is billed as a collection that spans 300 years and is officially on display across two rooms. Which is a little misleading: It seems that every wall and surface in the entire building is covered in fine art, filling staircases and glass display cases. If you have the ability to do so, climb upstairs to the attic. This route weaves you through the historic building and up to the unfinished third floor. There are three rooms with work from The Rouges Artists Group, a Milwaukee creative collective holding a pop-up in the unrefined space. It brings a certain type of person a certain type of pleasure to see diligently constructed floral paintings and polished marble sculptures the shape of inner ear mechanisms against a backdrop of structural negative space. I was entirely charmed.

Because this collection seems to function as a personal archive, a way of writing one’s own history through the fine art that strikes a person at a particular stage in life, a slapdash element that is entirely welcoming pervades the space. I believe it would be difficult to have a bad time at this historic and labyrinthian gallery on Friday. There will also be free wine.

Cival Collective (911 W. National Ave.)
See: Driftwood Mobiles by Lindsay Marx. Until April 25

On the phone, Lindsay Marx tells me that her mobile sculptures must be viewed in person. That they don’t translate into photo or video. Although the same could be said about most art, she’s absolutely right to emphasize that these pieces have a presence of their own that is much more dynamic when you’re trying not to collide with their fragile and delicate floating forms in Cival’s back room.

Textures range from burred and smooth, craggy and twisted, with gems and stones and buttons strung between the driftwood on a clear filament that makes these mobiles ghostly, hovering. In a few places, the wood has been marked with minimal manipulation to break up the visual continuity. Such periodic rests allow for a breath or a sigh, something light to agitate the work so that it twirls, slightly, to reveal each mobile’s abounding dimensions. Sculptural practices are material intensive. Creation requires a period of amassing and organizing in manner that is traditionally more physical than other disciplines.

When Lindsay Marx became a parent, she found it difficult to sit still in a studio. So, she moved outside into the available natural environments, including the lakefront. She began collecting and stringing driftwood with objects that are similar from a tactile or visual perspective. The finished mobiles are drawn in space like living sketches, their compositions as adaptable and turbulent as the environment that produced their softened edges. Maybe this body of work is partially a metaphor for becoming a parent—malleable, unsettled, composed of many small remnants that have become altered by their conditions over time.

While Cival is primarily a shop for bespoke jewelry and lifestyle objects, the driftwood mobiles are integrated seamlessly into the storefront’s aesthetic. I do suggest seeing these objects in person to experience the wistful and active way these pieces articulate themselves in the air. Enjoy the curation and offerings from a small bar. And enjoy the feeling all around Milwaukee that something vital and artistic is newly awakened.

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About The Author

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Annie Raab has written about visual art and culture for print and online pubs since 2014. She has a BFA in fine art and an MFA in writing, loves pool, cardio, and tiny apples. She lives in Milwaukee, partially on a sailboat.