Review: ‘Forward 2018: A Survey of Wisconsin Artists Now’ Shows a Diverse Selection of Local Art

Milwaukee’s Charles Allis Art Museum showcases the work of a diverse group of outstanding Wisconsin artists in its seventh biennial juried exhibition, on display through April 14.

Forward 2018: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now consists of 45 works (out of 450 submissions) selected by jurors Ariel Pate, assistant curator of photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Faythe Levine, assistant curator at John Michael Kohler Arts Center and Arts/Industry program manager.

Forward 2018 features everything from still life and abstract paintings to aerial photography to digital video and stop-motion animation to textile art and sculpture. Artists include Hal Rammel, Pat Hidson, Austin Fischer, Joe Acri, Alyssa Ackerman, Siara Berry, Jeffrey Clancy, Steve Burnham, Sheila Held and J Myzka Lewis.

Exhibit curator Jenille Junco said the works showcased in this year’s Forward marks a departure from traditional subject matter and media.

“Zoo,” by Sheila Held. Photo credit Kevin Miyazaki

“Each year is different in and of itself, but the work chosen this year was especially unique,” she noted.

Housed on the first and second floor of the Charles Allis mansion, exhibit works explore a number of themes. Christie B. Miller’s lively, cartoonish drawing, “Hi, I’m Mags…I’ll Be Your Waitress Today,” examines socioeconomics, while Jeffrey Clancy’s “New American Heirlooms,”* an assortment of sterling silver kitchenware, Austin Fisher’s photograph “American Teens,” Ariana Vaeth’s rich oil painting “The Dream Team” and Joe Acri’s digital video “Hiawatha Express” explore themes such as culture, race relations and LGBTQ rights.

Junco said the artists’ subject matter “tended to create a dialogue, hitting on issues and ideas that currently inhabit our daily lives.”

Other Forward pieces, among them Mike Paré’s black and white beach scene “Mediterraneum Series 04” and “Mediterraneum Series 07” (ink on paper), Hal Rammel’s photograph “Angle of Incidence,” Pat Hidson’s brightly-colored abstract painting “Sedna Enjoying the Breeze,” and Emma Smith’s oversized sculpture “Blythe” are concerned with form and still life objects.

“Sound Waves #4: Red Line” by Jean Judd, photo credit Kevin Miyazaki

Joseph Mougel’s ambrotypes from edited Google Earth images, “Old Mission (Pinned)” and “Sugarloaf (Motel),” are a testament to a part of Milwaukee’s art and architectural history. Mougel’s photographs bring to mind mammoth-plate cameras of the late 1900s.

Jean Judd’s Sound Waves #4 Red Line (handpainted dye and handstitched thread), Sheila Held’s grand-prize-winning “Zoo” (wool and silk weft on cotton wrap), and J Myzska Lewis’s “Brick 157” (cross stitch embroidery on cotton, mounted to panel) and “Access Cover 2” (suede flocking and window screen on carved panel) experiment with the possibilities of fabric, texture and unusual artistic mediums.

“The works we chose swing between representational and abstract, but never lose contact with human tactility —whether they are stand-ins for the body or a person, things to be worn, tools to be used or simply results of mark-making or the artistic process. Seeing them together in person for the first time was a bit like meeting a group of individuals, each with their own voice and demeanor,” said Pate in a statement about the Forward 2018 winners.

The exhibit’s contemporary art works provide a pleasing contrast to the Charles Allis permanent collection, a mix of 19th century French landscape oil paintings, still life and Japanese and Persian-influenced ceramics.

“New American Heirlooms” by Jeffrey Clancy, photo credit Kevin Miyazaki

Forward 2018 winners:

Grand Prize:
Sheila Held, Zoo
Wool and silk weft on cotton wrap

Margaret Fish Rahill Excellence Award:
Joe Acri, Hiawatha Express
Digital Video

Award of Excellence:
Siara Berry
All Together, Now
Terry cloth, steel, broom handles on canvas

Austin Fischer
American Teens

Viewer’s Choice Award
Madeline Glaspey
Memory Hallway
Oil on canvas

Director’s Choice Award:
Maeve Jackson
Black and white Polaroids

Go See It: Forward 2018: A Survey of Wisconsin Art Now; Charles Allis Museum (1801 N. Prospect Ave.); through April 14

*Editor’s note: a previous version of this story erroneously referred to Jeffrey Clancy’s piece by the wrong name. We regret the error.