Saturday, December 23, 2023

50 Paintings — Milwaukee Art Museum

Eddie Martinez, Untitled 2020 Detail, acrylic and oil on panel

Last month, an exhibition titled 50 Paintings opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Co-curators Margaret Andera and Michelle Grabner selected 50 paintings—each produced by one of 50 different international artists over the past five years. The objective was to compile a collection of work that would represent current trends in painting today.

As I explored the exhibition, I found myself searching for a common idea—a visual or conceptual throughline that defined this specific snapshot-in-time. With the understanding that no idea is entirely unique, I thought about the global collective conscious. I scanned the gallery walls knowing that the creation of fine art is typically the artist’s reaction to the world and world events. Although the exhibition contained a variety of captivating and approachable imagery, it seemed obvious to consider the global events of our recent past.

So, five years, 2018 to 2023... Humanitarian crises throughout the world, a global pandemic, an increase of authoritarian dictatorships, the Central American Migrant exodus, journalists silenced and murdered, climate science ignored, the murder of George Floyd, the rise of the MeToo Movement, Russa’s aggression toward Ukraine... Each of these events revealed an attempt to dominate, manipulate and control. The symbolism within this collection of paintings became more apparent—board games, and all things associated—strategy, determination, manipulation, and conquest at any cost.

Eddie Martinez, Untitled 2020, 30 x 40in., acrylic and oil on panel

The untitled piece by Eddie Martinez began to unravel some of the mystery within the exhibition’s content. Martinez is recognized for creating mixed media imagery that utilizes abstract figurative elements created with gesturally drawn strokes of translucent pigment. The untitled canvas, included in the exhibition, presents a quickly drawn face painted on a nebulous shape with an underlying checkerboard pattern. It suggests the imprint created by daily media games—perhaps implying the long-lasting psychological effects of the 24/7 news cycle. 

Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#04-22), 2022, 66 x 67in., oil and spray paint on canvas

The checkerboard is referenced again in Untitled (#04-22), a substantial canvas by Rebecca Morris. This image is an exaggerated segment of the standard checkerboard produced with cloud-like washes of oil pigment and enhanced with spray paint. The canvas is edged with a bold metallic border—curtailing the expected geometric 64 square format. The image seems to imply hope or perhaps suggesting that the viewer attempt to focus on the more encouraging segments of the game.

Pat Steir, Untitled XXII, 2019, 36 x 36in., oil on canvas

An abstract work by Pat Steir is another notably thought-provoking image included in 50 Paintings. Known for her Waterfall series of dripping pigment on canvas, Steir’s Untitled XXII of 2019, captivats the viewer to examine the details of gently trickling pigment frozen in time. The imagery invites the spectator to focus on a specific moment in time, perhaps referencing the intervals of the transition within society as a whole. 

Well worth exploring, the 50 Paintings exhibition continues at the Milwaukee Art Museum through June 23, 2024. The museum is located at 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. Learn more at:

Pat Steir, Untitled XXII Detail, 2019, 36 x 36in., oil on canvas


EDDIE MARTINEZ was born in 1977 in Groton Naval Base, Groton, Connecticut and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo museum exhibitions include the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, (2019-2020); Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Michigan (2019); The Bronx Museum, New York (2018); The Drawing Center, New York (2017) and The Davis Museum at Wellesley College, MA (2017). He has also had solo exhibitions at Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2023); Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2022); Loyal Gallery, Stockholm (2021); Perrotin, Hong Kong (2019); Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels (2016); Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2014); Galerie Mikael Andersen, Copenhagen (2009); Galeria Commercial, San Juan (2007) and Bucket Rider, Chicago (2005). Additionally, Martinez’s work has been featured in Modern Painters, ARTINFO, The New York Times, ArtReview, The Brooklyn Rail, and Art in America.

REBECCA MORRIS (b.1969, Honolulu, HI) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her recent survey exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in September 2023. Other significant solo exhibitions have been held at the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2019) and Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Holland (2014) as well as presentations at Made in L.A., Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016), the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014), The Wexner Center for the Arts (2018), and The Renaissance Society (2005). Other solo shows include those at 356 Mission Rd., Los Angeles, and LAXART, Los Angeles.

PAT STEIR Born in Newark, NJ, Steir went on to study at the Pratt Institute and the Boston University Colle of Fine Arts, graduating with her BFA from Pratt in 1962. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions in many prestigious museums and galleries, from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Tate Gallery in London, to Cheim & Read in New York, among many others. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1973 and 1976, and the Alumni Acheivement Award from the Pratt Institute in 2008. Steir’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the Metropolitain Museum of Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and many other institutions. She lives and works in New York.

MARGARET ANDERA, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art
Margaret Andera has a history of over twenty years with the Milwaukee Art Museum. She began her tenure in 1989 as a curatorial intern, assigned to work on the newly acquired Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. She joined the staff full-time in 1993 as a curatorial assistant and advanced her expertise in contemporary art and the art of untrained artists. • Andera since has facilitated several important acquisitions of contemporary and self-taught work for the Collection and has been instrumental in establishing the Milwaukee Art Museum as a leading American institution for modern self-taught material. • Among the exhibitions she has curated are On Site: Andrea Zittel and Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art, as well as Vito Acconci: Acts of Architecture, Magnetic North: The Landscapes of Tom Uttech, Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection, and Currents 36: Dirk Skreber, whose accompanying catalogues are but a few of Andera’s several publications.

Michelle Grabner is known for her broad perspective developed as teacher, writer and critic over the past 30 years. The site where it all comes together is the studio. Her artmaking is driven by a distinctive value in the productivity of work and takes place outside of dominant systems. • Central to the work is process. Grabner references Penelope’s clever ploy of weaving by day and unweaving at night, which kept the suitors at bay in Homer’s Ithaca. Like Penelope, Grabner finds a generative space for mending, healing, and woolgathering within her unique system of de-weaving and filling in. Like Penelope, who used the coded language of shroud-making to bring about change, Grabner uncovers new dynamic relationships through her visionary practice of repetition. With a deep attention to abstract patterns and all the metaphors they conjure, Grabner pushes the limits of compositional structures to discover the tipping point between stability and precariousness, between continuance and wondrous difference.

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