Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Contemporary Wisconsin Furniture Maker Charles Radtke Highlighted in New Exhibition at Milwaukee Art Museum

Posted on March 21st, 2019

Charles Radtke: Contained is the first retrospective exhibition for the Cedarburg, WI–based artist.-

Milwaukee, Wis. – March 21, 2019 – Visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum will have the opportunity to see meticulously crafted and subtly complex works that blur the boundaries between furniture and contemporary sculpture in Charles Radtke: Contained.

On view April 19–Aug 25, 2019, the new exhibition is the first retrospective for renowned furniture maker and artist Charles Radtke, who lives and works in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Radtke’s objects are in a number of private and museum collections, including at the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Milwaukee Art Museum.

More than 35 cabinets, tables, chairs and doors featuring the artist’s signature craftsmanship and attention to detail will be on view in the Bradley Family Gallery. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s ongoing exploration of the cabinet as a container. Several works have intricately designed interiors or hidden compartments, while others are more traditional woodworking forms.

“Radtke’s pieces initially draw the viewer in through the technical mastery and elegance of the work,” said Margaret Andera, interim chief curator and curator of contemporary art. “A closer look, however, reveals surprising features such as asymmetrical wood grain patterns, five-sided legs, and subtly painted details. We have watched the evolution of Radtke’s career, and are excited to bring greater national attention to this extraordinary artist.”

Largely self-taught, Radtke was first introduced to basic woodworking skills from the Franciscan Friars at St. Paschal’s Friary in Oak Brook, Illinois. Now known for his exceptional skill in techniques like dovetailing, planing, carving and finishing work, Radtke often personally harvests the wood he uses for his work. The more recent works featured in the exhibition show the artist going beyond the mastery of technique toward a more conceptual exploration within the forms, including challenging, rather than enhancing, the natural characteristics of certain woods.

This exhibition not only celebrates the work of a Wisconsin artist but also encourages visitors to understand furniture beyond its function and to look more closely at materials and form.

“I really try to think about making something as pure and as salient as I possibly can without getting in the way of the design,” said Radtke. “When somebody looks at the furniture, I would like them to pause and try to absorb all of the nuances.”

Radtke has won multiple national awards throughout his career, including Best in Show at the Lakefront Festival of Art, held annually by Friends of Art at the Museum, in which he participated three years. His work was first featured at the Museum in the exhibition On Nature: Five Wisconsin Artists, in 2002.

Charles Radtke: Contained is curated by Margaret Andera, interim chief curator and curator of contemporary art, and organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum.

A full-color exhibition catalogue is being published by the Milwaukee Art Museum with essays by Margaret Andera and Glenn Adamson, Senior Scholar, Yale Center for British Art.

Supporting sponsors include Milwaukee Art Museum’s Friends of Art, Christopher and Sally Candee, Heidi and Greg Borca and Marcia and Kent Velde.

Exhibitions throughout 2019 are made possible by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Visionaries including John and Murph Burke, Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, Joel and Caran Quadracci, Sue and Bud Selig and Jeff Yabuki and the Yabuki Family Foundation.


Artist Gallery Talks
Tues, April 30, 1:30 p.m.

With Charles Radtke and fellow furniture maker and UW-Madison professor Tom Loeser

Tues, August 13, 1:30 p.m.
With Charles Radtke and Margaret Andera, interim chief curator and curator of contemporary art

Free with Museum admission, free for Members

Gallery Talks

Tues, 1:30 p.m.

May 21, June 4

With Margaret Andera, interim chief curator and curator of contemporary art

Free with Museum admission, free for Members

*Exhibition photos available upon request