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Sculpture Milwaukee Celebrates 5th Anniversary As It Unveils New Artworks In Milwaukee

Sculpture by Alison Janae Hamilton
Courtesy of Sculpture Milwaukee
Sculpture by Alison Janae Hamilton on display in downtown Milwaukee.

For the fifth consecutive year, works of art will be returning to the streets of Milwaukee. Sculpture Milwaukee is returning with new works and new guest curators who are adding their own take to the exhibition.

Michelle Grabner is a local artist whose work has been featured in past Sculpture Milwaukee exhibitions. Grabner, along with fellow artist Theaster Gates, were brought in to guest curate this year’s exhibit. She says Sculpture Milwaukee brought the two artists on board to get new perspectives on which public art pieces would feel relevant to the city.

“The idea of a guest curator, or guest co-curators in this case, is to really think about, be responsive to the context that culture is in and then next year, bringing on another curator who may think differently,” says Grabner. “So that’s really important for, I think, the health and longevity of the exhibition.”

Courtesy of Sculpture Milwaukee
Michelle Grabner is a local Milwaukee artist who, along with fellow artist Theaster Gates, was brought in to guest curate this year’s Sculpture Milwaukee exhibit.

The two came up with the title "there is this We" for this year’s exhibition, which will run through the fall of 2022. One through line that she says exists in the exhibit is the exploration of repurposing materials. Grabner says the pieces not only reuse materials but dig into the context and complications that come with reclaiming the individual materials.

“Thinking about what you do with the materials at hand that go beyond branding, go beyond use value and thinking about using them in a different way,” she says.

But programming an exhibition of public art comes with its difficulties, one of which being that the sculptures are left outside on the streets of Milwaukee for over a year. When it comes to keeping the art safe, Grabner says its mostly up to trusting Milwaukeeans won’t vandalize or damage the pieces — something Sculpture Milwaukee hasn’t had to worry much about.

“Even if they don’t respond positively to the piece, maybe they’re challenged by the piece, we trust the public to synthesize, to analyze what is going on here,” she says. “If something happens, we have a great team that will respond immediately to maybe a bit of graffiti but for the most part, we’ve had remarkable success with public respect.”

Courtesy of Sculpture Milwaukee
Sculpture by Thaddeus Mosely on display in downtown Milwaukee.

Grabner says picking a favorite sculpture from the exhibit is like choosing a favorite child but points to the inclusion of a sculpture by artist Thaddeus Mosely as something that stands out.

Mosley is an artist based out of Pittsburg whose work includes crafting sculptures out of the reclaimed wood from around the city of Pittsburg that he carves using a mallet and a chisel. In his latest work, he has pushed his pieces one step further and transformed his wood carvings into bronze statues, Grabner explains.

“He is a very mature, senior, self-taught artist from the east coast and these forms get transformed into bronze sculptures. They’re really extraordinary. I’m so honored to have somebody so esteemed as Thaddeus Mosely in the exhibition,” she says.

"there is this We" features the work of 16 different artists whose work has already begun being constructed on the streets of Milwaukee.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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