Group Efforts

Recently in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there was a lengthy article about Milwaukee’s collaborative visual arts groups. (“Calm, Cool, Collective“) In part, this article was a response to a Jan. 19 article in the New York Times, “Doing Their Own Thing,” which identified Milwaukee as one city where artists made their own art scene through collaborative efforts. Working together is nothing new; it’s a basic survival talent we have as human beings. People work together to make music, dance, and theater. But in the visual arts, it is less common and more remarkable when it occurs. The two recent articles feature the work of artists who truly collaborate to make art works or presentations of art work that are cohesive and reflect a unified concept or vision. Another form of collaboration is that of a more action-oriented group that works together to produce diverse programming and goals that further the interests of the arts in one form or another. Some examples of this kind of group include the >Riverwest Artists Association, the Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors, and the Wisconsin Designer Craftsman. Sometimes the ways in which these differing groups function overlap, often with the same people being part of many different groups. There are also groups of artists that band together for the sole purpose of producing exhibits and events without any particular unifying theme. The “Barn” has a long history of shows dating back to days when Bret Barrett and Gary Hodel were artists in residence. (See the “Barnstorm” article in this issue.) A loosely organized exhibition like the Barnstorm event provides a catalyst for the creation of non-commercial personal work that often takes risks that are rare under the bright lights of traditional galleries. In some instances, the art work is eclipsed by the opening event itself, which may not be completely undesirable. Perhaps it is a dated provision of modernism that art be presented in neutral, unadorned spaces. In some respects, this way of experiencing art is more in keeping with the numinous experience art once was as an activity of the human race. Group production efforts cited by the articles mentioned earlier include collaborations like the Rust Spot, Dye House, or All*Cin Productions. These groups create art shows or performances based on specific themes or strategies that may also be specific to the space in which the productions are created. They are remarkable as a mode of creating visual art because they involve the ideas of numerous artists to create one piece or series of interrelated works — a significant departure from the idea of the lone artist working in seclusion. The art work that is produced is often a hybrid of differing views, a synthesis of vision that has a character uniquely its own. Although much art work is still accomplished through personal introspection and working alone, these alternatives give art making a new voice. In many cases the dynamics of the audience are considered by the artists to be an integral component of the art work. This participation within the art itself returns the audience to an active role where the art experience is at the center of life, not relegated to the outer fringes of an illusory other world. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003
by Mark Lawson