Sometimes you just need to unplug from the world.
As useful a tool as it can be for providing information, entertainment, and interpersonal connection, the internet can also be a horrible, addicting, and overwhelmingly negative realm for one to spend his or her time. Yes, it’s important to keep up on what’s happening in the world around you, but people can only see so many videos of abused animals and marginalized people, read a finite amount of articles about terrible political practices, and click on a limited number of posts in order to confirm they, in fact, will not believe what Honey Boo Boo’s mom looks like now before they’re left feeling as if the planet is doomed, pure joy is dead, and society is in too deep to turn around now. It seems like that feeling of battered helplessness is more intense now than ever before.
As hazardous as this might be for the co-owner and co-editor of a web-only publication to write, it’s important to take some time away from the internet’s predominately pessimistic pull in order to remind yourself there’s a whole world out there to explore. You need to log off, back away from the screen, and actually spend some time in this universe you’ve read so much about. There’s an endless planet out there that’s replete with innumerable natural wonders, interesting and inspiring people, and moving works of art.
Right here in southeast Wisconsin, we’re fortunate to have a place that presently houses approximately 35,000 artistic renderings. The gorgeous and sprawling Milwaukee Art Museum hosts a world class art collection that ranges from paintings to sculpture to photographs to mixed-media assemblages, and everything in between. If having this amenity right at your finger tips isn’t enough to get you away from your computer or phone for a few hours, perhaps the fact that MAM is home to a healthy number of pieces that feature cats—kittens and house cats, as well as lions, tigers, lynxes, even a puma—will do the trick. To aid your internet-addled acclimation to life offline, Milwaukee Record took the liberty of looking through the entirety of Milwaukee Art Museum’s public collection and rounding up every feline (the internet’s favorite animal) we could find.
Upon entering the museum’s ground level, MAM wastes little time introducing you to furry friends. Even before entering the museum proper, there’s a small-but-notable number of cats on items in the gift shop.
Those items include books, plush stuffed animals, and other goodies.
The cats only continue when crossing the Collection Entrance threshold. The eye is immediately drawn to enough cats to make you wonder if a “Meow-waukee Art Museum” name change is in the cards. There are anthropomorphic felines on an Egyptian sarcophagus, and a shadowy jungle cat on a Grecian urn that predates Christ.
There’s a noble brass and wrought iron lion clock that was formed by an unknown German artist in the 17th century and a wooden 16th century lion door knocker.
There’s also a variety of other pots, ceramic bowls, platters, clocks, and cups that either find the king of the jungle serving as the main figure, or just subtly incorporated into the design.
Though the Level 1 is light on house cats, “Tea Service,” a 1756 painting by Charles-Eloi Asselin, signaled better things to come on other levels.
Those better things just wouldn’t come right away. From L1, we went down some stairs to access the museums Lower Level, which was just days into displaying its new exhibitions, Helen Levitt: In The Street and James Nares: In The City. Evocative and hypnotic as the photo and video exhibits were, there were sadly short on cats. From that zero-cat level, we were whiskered away (sorry) to the Mezzanine in hopes the museum’s smallest level wasn’t devoid of kitties.
With the Mezzanine’s focus on folk art and 20th-21st century design, the prospect of seeing cats drastically increased. The level instantly produced lions, tigers, a lynx—oh my!—in the form of wood carvings, stone sculpture, and a walking stick that portrayed a jaguar eating a nude woman head first.
And this jungle painting with swimming tigers and a proud lion glaring back at visitors.
Milwaukee Art Museum’s uppermost level is also its largest and most eclectic collection of microgalleries. Boasting a veritable maze of walls with European art, American works, a vast grouping of modern art in The Bradley Collection, and an alternating exhibition in the Bradley Family Gallery, Level 2 saved its best for last…at least in regard to the quality of kitties. While the volume of cats paled in comparison to what Level 1 offered, felines were featured more prominently in the still-respectable sum of cat art. Drossos P. Skyllas’ 1955 oil painting “Young Girl With A Cat” was a purrfect (sorry again) start.
Kees van Dongen’s “Woman With Cat” (1908) soon followed.
The came Mihaly Munkacsy’s “The Rivals (Little Kittens),” along with a few more lions emblazoned on vases, a beer stein, and porcelain bowls.
By the time our very specific trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum ended with Jean-Leon Gerome’s gorgeous 1883 work, “The Two Majesties,” we were beaming with the…pride (sorry for the last time) that comes from finding more than 70 cats and cat-like creatures in more than 30 pieces of art work (and gift shop items). With this mission dumb? Absolutely. Stupid as it was, at least we got away from screens for a while and enjoyed a day somewhere special. You should try it sometime.