Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection

Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection February 10May 06, 2012 Milwaukee Art Museum

This exhibition celebrates the gift to the Museum of the Anthony Petullo Collection, with the most extensive grouping of European self-taught art in America. Comprising more than three hundred artworks, the gift greatly enhances the Museum’s holdings and establishes the Milwaukee Art Museum as a leading American institution for self-taught art. Accidental Genius will feature more than 200 works by many of the most important European and American artists in the genre, including Henry Darger, Minnie Evans, Martín Ramírez, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, Bill Traylor, Alfred Wallis, Adolf Wölfli, and Anna Zemankova.

Self-taught artists typically explore and develop their skills independently, rather than within an academic setting or by adhering to any established artistic movements. Several artists in the Petullo Collection are represented in great depth, allowing for a comprehensive examination of their work. British artist Scottie Wilson (1891–1972) started doodling on a tabletop in the back room of the shop he owned; he quit the business to devote all his time to his art, which included making tableware designs for the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company. Examples of both his drawings and his ceramics are included in the exhibition. Swiss artist Rosemarie Koczy (1939–2007), imprisoned with her family in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, was driven by her experiences to create work in which the figures are barely able to emerge from their densely hatched backgrounds. Rural Texas native Eddie Arning (1898–1993) discovered his artistic ability later in life through an art class offered at his nursing home; magazine illustrations served as source material for his pastel drawings.

Some of the lesser known but equally significant artists collected by Petullo include English laborer James Lloyd (1905–1974), who developed a pointillist painting technique after studying the dot patterns associated with printed reproductions of famous artworks. Italian draftsman Domenico Zindato (b. 1966) is also represented, with his labor-intensive, meticulously detailed drawings. 

The Museum’s commitment to the work of self-taught artists began as early as 1951 with the gift of two paintings by Wisconsin artist Anna Louisa Miller. Other important works entered the collection over the following three decades, culminating in the 1989 acquisition of the Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. With the acquisition of the world-class Petullo Collection, the Museum’s holdings now encompass a more broadly inclusive representation of self-taught art as a worldwide phenomenon.

Portait of Anthony Petullo

About Anthony Petullo

Anthony Petullo built his collection over a span of three decades. Objects from his collection have been on display throughout the country, including a six-stop museum exhibition, and various objects have been loaned to museums and galleries around the world. An entrepreneur and author, now retired, Petullo is a longtime member of the Museum’s Board of Directors and the Museum’s Exhibitions Committee. He is also a member of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee and has received multiple awards for his community service and charitable contributions.

“My collection reflects the driving passion of both the creators, and the collector,” said Anthony Petullo. “When I began collecting I had no idea the impact that my collection would have on the self-taught art world. I am grateful that I have had the good fortune to share these incredible objects with so many, and I am honored that they will continue to be enjoyed at the Milwaukee Art Museum.”