Written by Todd Mrozinski
Josh Hintz, Var/Var West Galleries
For as long as I can remember, I have seen Josh Hintz in two incarnations. First, as the builder, covered in drywall dust after the newest addition or install of his ever expanding studio and gallery endeavors. Secondly, at openings, in dapper attire with mustache quaffed, mingling like the Jack of Hearts in a full house. I saw him once in casual attire and did not recognize him. He has built a community of artists and galleries from the original Var, which started with a small cast of artists in a single large studio space in Bayview, to the opening of their current, larger space in Walker’s Point which has now been open for five years. For the past year, a new endeavor three blocks away has seen the redevelopment of the former Pitch Project into Var West. This massive space houses numerous artist’s studios and has three exhibition venues. Var West gallery, which features regional and national emerging artists, Hawthorn Contemporary (curated by Jason S. Yi), which focuses on national and international exhibitions and Between Two Galleries which is a pop-up exhibition and performance space. As of today, Var and Var West house 55 artists.
It is as appropriate to call Hintz a developer as it is a curator, a provider of space and opportunity for artists to mix and ponder, create and grow. I can’t think of another space in Milwaukee that has more young artists in a consolidated space that also provides them exhibition opportunities. When asked what he sees as the main role of a curator, Hintz states, “To bring things of interest out of the shadows and put them on exhibit for others to contemplate. The gallery is an empty vessel that needs it’s context challenged continuously by the curator.” When asked what artist, living or dead he would choose to curate a show of, he chose the ever mercurial Andy Warhol. “With an artist like him, I could really challenge the relationship between curator and artist. Between the things we do and the things he did, it would be a hot mix of fantastic.”
So far, Hintz has brought a hot mix of fantastic to the Milwaukee art scene. I wonder where the next incarnation will happen and when another bucket of drywall mud will be mixed, providing artists from Milwaukee and beyond space to explore and be seen.
Maureen Ragalie – Saint Kate Arts Hotel
Few people know that this spring, Maureen Ragalie died at the bottom of the main stairwell of Saint Kate, the new Arts Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Not literally but symbolically. In humor, during a pre-opening party when a group of artists were asked to paint on the stairs before the finished flooring was installed, Ragalie laid on the ground and was traced in white latex house paint. The“chalk outline” of her will forever be on the subfloor of this new blank canvas. Next to the outline is an “alive” version of her smiling and holding a wine glass, painted with dexterity and wit on the dusty cement floor by artist Ariana Vaeth.
In a sense, the new Arts Hotel is a death and rebirth for this curator who, before moving back to Wisconsin (she was born and raised in Wauwatosa), worked as a registrar in one of the major galleries on Earth, David Zwirner in New York. She also worked for the website , which gave her an even broader range of art outside the realm of the norm. When returning to Milwaukee, she began working at the Green Gallery and with Sculpture Milwaukee, which is where she heard about the position at Saint Kate. It seemed to be a perfect fit. She is in charge of helping with the “seed” collection of about 100 works of local, national and international artists as well as curating 3 smaller gallery spaces in the hotel with shows lasting three to four months each. These spaces will focus on installation and video work that engage the visitors who experience it.
If I were to sum up Ragalie’s curatorial philosophy in one word it would be “immersive”. She hopes to curate spaces that will encompass the viewer, to change their ordinary experience of art viewing into something extraordinary. When I asked her if there was one artist, alive or dead, that she would like to curate a show of, she chose Doug Wheeler, a pioneer of the “Light and Space” movement that was prominent in California in the 60’s and 70’s which aimed to reshape the viewers perception of the known world. I’m curious to see how Ragalie’s vision will reshape Milwaukee’s perception of what art is and where it can take us.
Beth Zinsli – Wriston Art Galleries, Lawrence University
The Wriston Art Galleries is located on the campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. It is an intriguing, windowless space comprised of three octagonal shaped galleries connected to each other in a row. Visitors enter the smallest space first and proceed into a medium and then a large gallery. As I walk through, I feel like I’m entering a sacred space, an inner sanctum or modern-day cave. It seems appropriate that curator, Beth Zinsli, feels at home here because her background is a mix of historical study and contemporary art. She is a Wisconsin native and did her graduate work in the history of photography, contemporary art and theory, and visual culture studies at UW Madison. In 2013 she became curator at the Wriston Art Galleries and Assistant professor of Art History at Lawrence. She earned her doctorate in 2014.
Zinsli curates the three spaces that change five times a year. Along with the annual Senior Art Show, the exhibitions often connect with student’s curriculum and strive to provide inspiration, insight and contemplation. Usually an area of each exhibition is dedicated to showing preliminary work to better educate the viewers and students about the artist’s process. Along with the exhibition space, the Wriston’s permanent collection contains more than 5,800 items from prints, drawing and paintings to coins, textiles and objects from antiquity. Zinsli led me from room to room, through the collection storage, opening boxes with childlike zeal to reveal antique parchment or a stunning Kathe Kollwitz etching.
When I asked her what artist, alive or dead she would like to curate the work of, she mused that the answer changes daily. But when pressed she said Los Carpinteros, a Cuban artist collective formed in 1992. She explains, “The name means both “carpenters” and “woodpeckers” (much of their early work was made of wood) so there is a sense of both the craftsmanship and collaborative nature in their work and the idea of persistence about getting to the essence of something. There is a subtle political edge to their work and a surrealist sense of humor that I love”. This choice of an artist collective instead of a single artist seems to reveal much about this curator and her collaborative approach at Lawrence University. It refers back to an older tradition of artisans while simultaneously connecting and questioning the role of art and history in our contemporary culture.
Todd Mrozinski acquired his BFA in painting and drawing from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1997 where he was the recipient of a Fredrick Layton Scholarship and attended The New York Studio Program. He was the 2015-16 Pfister Artist-in-Residence and curator of The Pfister Pop-Up Gallery. He is represented by The Woodman/Shimko Gallery, Provincetown, MA/Palm Springs, CA. Todd is is a contributing art writer for Urban Milwaukee and teaches drawing and painting for MIAD’s Pre-College and Continuing Education Programs. He and his wife, Renee Bebeau, have a studio in The Nut Factory in Milwaukee, WI.
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