At least one Milwaukee attraction never had to close during the coronavirus pandemic. Sculpture Milwaukee is a non-profit organization responsible for filling downtown Milwaukee with outdoor exhibitions. The current works will be on display through winter, spring, summer and fall.
Sculpture Milwaukee has created one of the most robust collections of contemporary public art in the country. Marilu Knode is the director of curatorial affairs and education, and this year’s co-curator. She’s been involved in the arts community for more than 30 years and says some of the work in this year’s show is reflective of what’s going on today.
“I feel very fortunate that our board was really committed to putting sculpture Milwaukee on this year despite all of the problems we’ve had,” she said. “But we really think this is a year when public art is part of the discussion about what we’re going through.”
Knode pointed out that Thomas J. Price’s sculpture titled Within the Folds (Dialogue I) is especially relevant in a summer full of protests for racial justice. Price’s sculpture is of a Black man dressed in athletic wear and a hoodie. The title refers back to classic Greek sculpture and art history. This particular piece has only ever been shown in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the country.
“Thomas Price is hacking into that art history by using the formal qualities of sculpture but presenting a very timely bit of content to it,” Knode said.
Knode says Sculpture Milwaukee wanted to put Nari Ward’s Apollo/Pole piece near where the Democratic National Convention was being held in hopes that it would become a bigger part of the conversation on race relations. She says it did get some attention but was not quite as bright a beacon as they hoped.
“The fact that he has the sign flip between Apollo and Pole is very current. Where access to voting is really very much compromised, not just by voter ID laws, but by the pandemic,” Knode said.
Sculpture Milwaukee is planning to register people to vote by the exhibit, hoping to bring attention to the artwork as well as voting rights issues. Knode says the challenge with that is the lack of people walking around downtown.