Conversation: Deb Brehmer and Lau­rie Win­ters on

Milwaukee Magazine - - Culture -

Won­der­ing which Wisco artists to watch? Just ask Lau­rie Win­ters, the di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of Wis­con­sin Art, or Deb Brehmer, the owner of the Por­trait So­ci­ety Gallery. The two have a lot in com­mon. Both women left academia to work more closely with artists. Both spent stints at the Mil­wau­kee Art Mu­seum. And both have de­voted their lives to cham­pi­oning the ca­reers of tal­ented lo­cal artists. We in­vited them to talk shop at De­bra’s Third Ward gallery. The conversation, and wine, flowed freely.

LW: I think the art scene here is pretty an­i­mated. There's a younger group of artists – Shane McA­dams, Keith Nel­son, Peter Bar­rick­man and Shane Walsh – who sort of live be­tween Mil­wau­kee, Cedar­burg and New York. So they're here part of the year and in New York part of the year. And there's this nice sort of col­lab­o­ra­tive en­ergy. I ad­mire what they're do­ing. I think it's re­ally smart, though it'll be in­ter­est­ing to fol­low them and see whether that makes a dif­fer­ence on how suc­cess­ful they're go­ing to be in go­ing to the na­tional level.

DB: We also have more self-taught artists in Wis­con­sin than pretty much any other state in the coun­try. And that has sup­ported other self-taught artists. You know, gen­er­a­tions sup­port sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, like Rose­mary Ol­li­son. [Editor's note: Ol­li­son is a self-taught, Mil­wau­kee-based artist. Her largescale, multi-me­dia works were fea­tured in a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Por­trait So­ci­ety Gallery in 2016.] There's a the­ory that it's like our ex­cla­ma­tion point on win­ters, this kind of idea of work ethic, self-made ... man iden­tity, kind of. I don't know. That is some­thing to char­ac­ter­ize Wis­con­sin too.

LW: I was a cu­ra­tor of Euro­pean art for 17 years and had lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence with the Wis­con­sin art scene. Hon­estly, that lack of fa­mil­iar­ity has ben­e­fited me. I was able to as­sume my cur­rent role with fresh eyes and have never felt con­strained by what hap­pened in the past. Would you say you've seen changes in art pro­duc­tion in the last five or 10 years?

DB: I’m see­ing more peo­ple work­ing in clay and fab­ric and video and film and mix­tures of them all. A pho­tog­ra­pher we rep­re­sent, Lois Biele­feld, of­ten in­cor­po­rates video in her ex­hi­bi­tions and even built a full-sized, dou­ble-stall bath­room for a sound in­stal­la­tion. The young painter Skully Gustafson trans­formed the en­tire gallery, in­cluded col­lab­o­ra­tive pho­to­graphs and built a stage within the space. Re­ally, even Rose­mary Ol­li­son – she's paint­ing, she's weav­ing, she's mak­ing quilts, she's mak­ing jew­elry, she's mak­ing clothes, she's work­ing with all th­ese ma­te­ri­als. I think we're just see­ing more and more ev­i­dence that an artist isn't go­ing to be like this purist, kind of like, "I'm a sculp­tor, I'm a painter, I'm a this." More peo­ple are go­ing to be do­ing shows that rep­re­sent di­verse prac­tices.

LW: I’m re­ally ex­cited by artists who are push­ing tra­di­tional bound­aries or who work col­lab­o­ra­tively. Beth Lip­man is a prime ex­am­ple of the for­mer. Wis­con­sin is of­ten cited as the home of the stu­dio glass move­ment and Beth has taken that move­ment to a new level of def­i­ni­tion. An­other ex­am­ple is the work of Shana McCaw and Brent Buds­berg – a mar­ried duo whose video pro­duc­tion of­ten evolves into com­pli­cated large-scale in­stal­la­tions.

DB: It feels like the tool­box is now wide open. Artists are be­ing asked to move into th­ese dif­fer­ent ter­ri­to­ries.

Deb Brehmer (left) and Lau­rie Win­ters at the Por­trait So­ci­ety Gallery

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