Light, Motion, Sound, and the Optical to fill Museum Collection Galleries

Posted on November 30th, 2007

Immersive light environments, optical illusions, and interactive sound installations-these uniquely engaging works of art that explore the principles of perception take center stage in a new exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum developed from its Collection. On view January 24, 2008 through October 2009, Sensory Overload: Light, Motion, Sound and the Optical in Art since 1945 tracks two populist visual art movements, Kinetic and Op art, and their spectacular legacies.

In all, the exhibition showcases approximately 50 works in almost 15,000 square feet of gallery space. Visitors will see works by such well-known artists as Frank Stella, Robert Irwin, and Bridget Riley, and encounter Stanley Landsman’s legendary 1968 Walk-In Infinity Chamber, an environment of mirrors and lights that is returning to the gallery floor after 15 years. Works by contemporary talents like Michelle Grabner and Josiah McElheny are on view in the exhibition as well, as is a 53-foot-wide painting by Alfred Jensen and the 13-foot-high Nam June Paik piece, Ruin, which the Museum recently acquired. In addition, select images, films, and videos will be projected in two black box theaters installed in the galleries. Sensory Overload also includes an immersive 25 by 50-foot LED installation by artist Erwin Redl.

Chronological in its presentation, the installation begins with works by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers, two Bauhaus instructors whose ideas stimulated the developments of Kinetic and Op art. The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of vibrant early Op art pieces by European and American artists such as Victor Vasarély and Richard Anuskiewicz. Pieces by artists working in the 1970s (Al Held, Frank Stella) reflect the continued influence-and evolution-of Albers’ ideas, while the works of Peter Halley, Philip Taaffe, and the so-called post-hypnotic artists such as Bruce Pearson and James Siena carry the optical tradition into the 1980s and 1990s.

Kinetic art is defined as art that incorporates “real or apparent movement.” The Milwaukee Art Museum has collected and exhibited work in this genre ever since 1967 when it co-organized with the Walker Art Center Light/Motion/Space, one of the first museum exhibitions of Kinetic art in the United States. Sensory Overload continues this long-held focus at the Museum, which permanently features atop its Quadracci Pavilion the Santiago Calatrava-designed, and world-renowned, Burke Brise Soleil-commonly known as “the wings,” a 110-ton work of kinetic sculpture-and Alexander Calder’s Red, Black, Blue (1973), rotating above Windhover Hall.

Events associated with the exhibition include a 50th anniversary celebration of the first exhibition of Group Zero. Group Zero was a legendary artists’ collective founded in Düsseldorf by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in the late 1950s. Later joined by Günther Uecker, this group of artists expanded art at a new ‘zero hour’ after World War II. With a blank slate, they rebelled against the destruction caused by war, using technological materials to produce an aesthetic response.

Thursday, January 24, 6.30 p.m.
Lubar Auditorium
Free with general admission

Attend this lecture for an introduction to Sensory Overload and be among the first to see the newly installed contemporary galleries. Guest speaker Erwin Redl, whose major installation piece Matrix XV is featured in Sensory Overload, will join Chief Curator Joe Ketner and introduce visitors to his extraordinary work.

Wednesday, February 6, 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 25, 1:30 p.m.
Free with general admission

Join Chief Curator Joe Ketner for a brief, informative tour of works featured in Sensory Overload.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum’s strengths are in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine “Best Design of 2001.”

The Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Thursdays when the Museum stays open until 8 p.m. (supported by Greater Milwaukee Foundation). For more information, visit www.mam.org.

Tickets are $8 adults, $6 seniors, $4 students, and free for children 12 and under. This ticket includes general admission to the Collection galleries. Group tour reservations and discounts are also available; please call 414-224-3842. To become a Museum Member and receive year-round benefits such as free general admission and complimentary feature exhibition tickets, call 414-224-3284. 

Digital images available upon request