Let's be blunt: Non-objective art has some serious personality issues. Like so many artistic terms whose names and meanings spring from the minds of the original off-kilter crowd--a.k.a. us--non-objective art exists in a space of inherent contradiction. It is an intangible idea that must express itself through the tangible. It is work devoid of any representation of objects that must present itself through objects. It is, in and of itself, a paradox, therefore providing the greatest opportunities for a downright trippy experience.
In the larger timeline of human history, non-objective or abstract art has not been deemed by the Guardians Of The Western Art World as an acceptable form of expression for very long, though evidence of its widespread use and acceptance by the humble hoi polloi goes back to the very birth of our let's-put-a-design-on-this-thing-so-it's-not-so-bloody-boring instincts. Thankfully, a few people back in the late 19th century thought it might be fun to start exploring this early inclination and then, because we can never leave well enough alone, complicate it with deep philosophy. Hooray for us!
Anyhoo, by the time the 20th century glided in, the few had grown to a fair number. Then we tried super hard to annihilate ourselves in the Great War (1914-1918), a global trauma that jump-started many new art movements and bolstered the rolls of non-objective/abstract practitioners and admirers. Then we tried super extra hard to wipe ourselves off the planet again in the Second World War (1939-1945), after which even more artsy folks were drawn to the simple yet complex non-objective/abstract path.
One of those artists went by the name of Lucia Stern (neé Martha Ida Lucia Karker; 1895-1987), who lived her entire life in Milwaukee. With a bio as fascinating as any of the most famous and a resume that bespeaks her absolute dedication to the practice and advocacy of the arts, Stern has nevertheless been largely, though not totally, ignored. And to that we all shout, "Booooo!"
Well, kids, we may now rejoice, turning our deafening "Booooo!" to a hearty "Yay!" as that legacy of neglect of Stern's, erm, legacy ends tomorrow with the one-night only Lucia Stern: Why Not Be In On It exhibition at Usable Space.
Curated by Neil Gasparka and Elisabeth Albeck, the exhibition finds its roots in a not uncommon story: An individual sees a piece by an artist he/she has never heard of and is floored. He/she then becomes single-mindedly intent on finding out as much about the artist and her work as possible and is again knocked-out. Then he/she says with great passion, usually to him/herself, "I must share the tale of this outstanding artist and her work with the world!" And so he/she does. The End.
Actually, there's a whole lotta detail and whatnot not outlined there, so I sat down with Gasparka for a small chat to flesh-out the story. Turns out that last November, while working in the Preparatory Department at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), he was the one who had the all-important encounter of the uninitiated--MAM has a couple of Stern works in its collection. He was very impressed, to say the least, and did a bit o' research to find out more about her and her work. Then, as sometimes happens, he got distracted.
Meanwhile, having engaged in many conversations in which he spoke about this artist with such admiration, Gasparka's partner, Elisabeth Albeck, surprised him with a Christmas present of an original Stern, purchased on--wait for it--eBay. With that, the passion was back in full force and, in January, both Gasparka and Albeck committed to curating the exhibition.
Needless to say, the past five months have seen Gasparka and Albeck invest countless hours of research and plod through hip wader deep layers of logistics to get this show up and ready for your viewing pleasure.
There will be fourteen pieces total on display, as well as archival photos, an audio interview and a video interview with the artist, generously on loan from the Haggerty Museum of Art, MAM, Timothy Cobb Fine Arts, Milwaukee Public Library, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Golda Meir Library. Two private collectors along with Gasparka and Albeck are also contributing work.
Of additional note, since Stern was also a writer and poet, twelve brave souls have agreed to read some of her literature at the event, including the entirety of her 1971 chapbook, Criteria For Modern Art.
As we stated before but with far less emphasis, Lucia Stern: Why Not Be In On It is a ONE-NIGHT ONLY show, so there are no second chances, kids. Get yourselves over to Usable Space, 1950b S. Hilbert Street in Milwaukee, tomorrow night, Friday July 17. The exhibition runs from 6:30-9:30PM, with readings beginning at 8PM. See y'all there!