A Trip to the Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum

Frank Juárez

Photos by Artdose Magazine

On February 18th, I headed to the eastside of Milwaukee to see the current exhibition at the Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum. The last time I visited this museum was 2018 for the Forward Wisconsin exhibition. This visit was long overdue.  

The Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum is under new leadership. Jaymee Harvey Willms is the newest Executive Director with a new curatorial staff. I have known her for about five years when we were tenants of the Material Studios + Gallery in the Third Ward. It felt good to reconnect on a beautiful 40-degree Saturday afternoon. 

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, We get further down our storage loop, 2019

The visit consisted of a guided tour of the exhibition highlighting contemporary works by featured artists: Stephanie Barenz, Kelli Black, Loretta Bourque, Jennifer Chadwick, Alissa Chanin-Kolaj, Pia Cruzalegui, D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Melissa Dorn, Michelle Grabner, Millicent Kennedy, Vaughan Larsen, Eleanor Neal, Kate E. Schaffer, Denise M. Schanz, Artemis Sidikman, Valaria Tatera, Renee Valenti, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Julie M. Zappone, and The Everyday Feminist.

Top row – L to R: Kelli Black, The Pulpit of Cognitive Dissonance, 2022; Stephanie Barenz, Swim Towards the World, 2022; Valaria Tatera, Back Off My Snatch, 2022; Bottom row – L to R: Melissa Dorn, Fem-utility Closet, 2023; Artemis Sidikman, Sweet Song, 2021, and The Everyday Feminist, Letter to Sarah Ball Allis, 2023.

There is a great mix of local, national, and international artists curated by Milwaukee-based artist, Kate E. Schaffer. Kate had originally proposed this exhibition in 2017. 

Schaffer writes, “The idea of curating an exhibition called The Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum emerged from a visit to the museum where I saw and felt Sarah’s presence, but noticed a lack of attribution to women artists and Sarah herself. Because this problem persists in contemporary art too, the exhibition was an opportunity to blend the collection with contemporary artists who utilize feminism as an important theoretical and practical approach to living and artmaking.”

Millicent Kennedy: Provisions – Labor and Luxury, 2022

These contemporary works were well-curated within the room’s decorative aesthetics, the mansion’s architecture, and Sarah Ball Allis’ private art collection. From my understanding, this exhibition represents the works that she would have collected. I must admit, I have not heard about Sarah Ball Allis before. But if what I saw during my visit is a sample of what she was about, I left wanting to know more. 

Once the tour ended, I walked through each room paying closer attention to the installation, video projections, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Seeing a common thread between these artists’ practices, voice, and vision was impactful, thought provoking, and challenging. If this exhibition is an indication of the Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum’s newest leadership, add this venue to your list of places to see art next time you are in Milwaukee. 

“Sarah and Charles built their art collection, home and legacy together. The Allis does not exist without Sarah. Her last will and testament spells out her dedication to the fabric of Milwaukee and leaves us with a directive: to educate, delight and inspire. However, she’s been left out of the story of this home and collection. We see and recognize patriarchal norms at work in this institution, and the critique of it is needed. As an institution, we’ve been working to correct this, to bring Sarah and Charles to life for our community. We’re so excited for Wisconsin to see this exhibition, for people to really get to know and love Sarah the way we do.” – Jaymee Harvey Willms

I wonder if this exhibition would have the same impact in 2017 as it does today. Perhaps the timing delivered a bigger platform and opportunity to make a significant and meaningful statement about women, femme, and non-binary artists. Or perhaps this curated exhibition should have happened a long time ago. What do you think? 

If you go:

Sarah Ball Allis Art Museum

1801 N. Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202

A celebration of artmaking and feminism

Ends June 11, 2023


Published by Artdose Magazine

Founded in 2013, Artdose Magazine LLC is an independent print and digital art magazine committed to connecting and supporting the visual arts in the Midwest. Published by Frank Juárez, the magazine is premised on the belief that we all share common goals of introducing, engaging, and offering diverse art experiences. Artdose Magazine LLC appears in print as a bi-annual art magazine, through a weekly art e-newsletter and on Instagram and Facebook. About Frank Juárez Frank Juárez is an award winning art educator, artist, publisher, art coach, and former gallery director living and working in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.. Organizing local and regional art exhibitions, community art events, facilitating presentations, supporting artists through professional development workshops, use of social media and networking has placed him in the forefront of advancing and promoting local artists and attracting regional and national artists to collaborate, network and exhibit in Wisconsin.

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