How To Do “Sculpture Milwaukee” With Kids

Sculpture Milwaukee brings world class art to Milwaukee again this year along Wisconsin Avenue. This year’s collections features 23 art works that use a range of materials and come from divergent backgrounds.

But Wisconsin Avenue is a high-traffic area, and some sculptures are easier to navigate with kids in tow. Here’s an easy, short route to navigate Sculpture Milwaukee with kids, avoiding the high traffic areas.

To follow this route, park near O’Donnell Park and find The Calling sculpture (the big orange guy also known as “Sunburst”).

Part 1: O’Donnell Park

Sculpture #1. A Greater Perspective

Elmgreen & Dragset
O’Donnell Park (929 E. Wisconsin Ave)

Elmgreen and Dragset, from Denmark & Norway respectively, are known for questions how culture shapes our environment by putting objects in unexpected places. This giant bronze telescope, for example, is not accessible given its height, and can’t offer the viewer any beautiful view since it’s made of bronze.

“The artists’ use this old-fashioned, romantic tool of discovery to suggest the perspective of the great explorers who shape history is too narrow to accommodate the wide world around us. For Sculpture Milwaukee, A Greater Perspective is sited on the edge of Wisconsin avenue, overlooking the lake. No telescope could reveal the traces that successive generations of visitors left on our shore. The sculpture feels lonely, bereft of its’ purpose, a lingering monument to clouded vision, a call to knowing our own past.”

Sculpture #2: Holiday House

From the Sculpture Milwaukee website: “British artist Richard Woods has a funny take on the frenetic rise of DIY cutture and the English tradition of caravan camping, while thinking about globally urgent issues like housing insecurity and population displacement.”

Sculpture #3: Kitchen Trees

B. Wurtz

O’Donnell Park (929 E. Wisconsin Ave)

Wurtz’s work often incorporates objects from daily life in the same way Pablo Picasso did. From the Sculpture Milwaukee website: “His series of five fantastical trees are like something from Dr. Seuss-a riotous set of shapes and colors that defy the serious adult landscape around them. Wurtz uses stainless steel colanders as his “trunk”, with plastic fruit dangling off wire branches. Wurtz, a committed environmentalist, is interested in the odd juxtaposition of a human-made tree of life against the highly manicured urban landscape. The work is sited by Milwaukee’s Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, meeting one of Wurtz’s audiences on the street where they play.”

Sculpture #4: Hot Dog Vendor

Red Grooms

875 E. Wisconsin Ave.

“Grooms’ Hot Dog Vendor recalls the real-life food purveyor who is a fixture of Milwaukee’s summer at Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street. His Tango Dancers is an intimate portrait of a couple enjoying the sensual touch of dance, ignoring the peeping eyes of a busy city street.

Red Grooms could be described as Pop Art Maximalist, creating environments with bawdy and baroque visual actors that reflect the day’s news. He is a visual raconteur, scouring the streets for unique or daily events. His eclectic influences range from: carnivals, vaudeville and road side attractions of 1930s and 40s America; Walt Disney, America’s premier purveyor of Main Street kitsch; and theater producer and visual artist Robert Wilson, known for his visually complex meditations on time and human movement, among others. This mash-up evokes distinct reactions in the art world, which often demands serious work. Just as comedies never win best picture Oscar, works with a sly sense of humor and trenchant sense of human fallibility are perceived as being kitsch, or too populist. Yet Grooms’ work is enormously popular and accessible; he is an “everyman’s” artist, one who chronicles the ups and downs of life.”

Part 2: Northwestern Mutual Building

Cross Wisconsin Ave. and head towards the Northwestern Mutual Building. There are two more sculptures to enjoy in their picturesque courtyard area.

Sculpture #4: Penguin

John Baldessari

Penguin, 2018, is a self-portrait, raising to the height of the artist. The work is a continuation of his self-portrait series of 1974, when the artist sought to conceal and distort his identity beyond recognition. Baldessari’s overt use of humor is part of what has distinguished his work since the 1960s, and through his Penguin he refers to the original Mary Poppins movie and Charlie Chaplin’s hapless walk, both references that linger in today’s pop culture.

Sculpture #5: Cleft From The Series Dendrite

Roxy Paine

Northwestern Mutual (720 E. Wisconsin Ave.)

From the Sculpture Milwaukee website: “Roxy Paine is recognized as one of his generation’s most inventive conceptual artists, whose practice revolves around the impact of modem human technologies on nature, including human nature. He creates facsimiles of natural forms (trees, mushrooms), which allows us to ask about the deep connections we have to the other species of our planet.

Paine is most celebrated for his series of haunting silver trees, based on the branching, tree-like habits of cells. While nature is at the heart of the Dendrite series, by visualizing the invisible, Paine suggests the human figure. Each branching “tree is wildly unique, some grasping for the sun’s embrace, some, rooted stoically to a site that can no longer nourish them. Ultimately we see how the microcosm is repeated in the macrocosm, and how humans are truly part of nature.

Cleft is the latest in the artist’s Dendrite series, and one of the only pieces the artist has created for himself (not for a specific commission). The tree is cleaved down the center, split by the actions of an arborist, cutting away at the tree’s heart to accommodate power lines. As biologists reveal more about the complex network of communication and nutrient sharing that goes on underground between trees of one species, the more this brutalized tree evokes sympathy. Paine honors this mature member of a species, while suggesting the invisible damage we do to ourselves and each other.

Note on installation: While Paine’s work appears clean and minimal, there is a complex network of support structures beneath the dirt that holds the tree upright-a massive concrete base, robust bolting mechanism, rebar. The work is also grounded to avoid attracting lighting as any tall deciduous tree might. Installation requires six people approximately five days to install, two human lifts, welding equipment, a water tank, and active security around the perimeter to protect the piece, the installation team and the public.”

Part 3: In The Car or *Carefully* On FootThe sculptures below are in high traffic or construction areas, but your kids will love them.

We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For & Empathy For Everyone

Sam Durant

275 W. Wisconsin Ave. (Shops of Grand Ave.)

“Over the past three decades, Sam Durant has created photographs, installations, sculpture and light boxes that consider the political ramifications of the past and their impact on our lives today.

In his series of commercial sign boxes, Durant isolates phrases in protest signs from events over the past few years. He blows the phrases up and produces a vinyl to be slotted into a commercial grade sign, common to convenience stores and gas stations around the globe. While some of the signs are explicit, others are suggestive, transcending topical issues and considering patterns of human behavior.

These two signs, installed in the windows at The Avenue, add to the crowded voices of this commercial corridor, reinforcing how we are barraged with messages every day. While the phrases can be read as song lyrics or protest chants, Durant highlights our common language to see if we might find common ground.

Empathy for Everyone (large version) is based an on-line image of a protest sign at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington. We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For is based on a sign at the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives protest, a student-led demonstration in support of stronger gun legislation after the school shootings at a south Florida high school.”

Gild The Lily (Caribbean Hybrid I, II, III)

Carlos Rolón

111 E. Wisconsin Ave

“Carlos Rolón is known for his socially-active practice that engages audiences in bright, expressive, multi layered installations, paintings and sculpture that use gold leaf, mirrored glass, tile and iron.

Rolón is explicit about his own cultural in-betweenness. He is first generation Puerto Rican-American, and uses natural forms and social traditions as a way to explore overlapping political and cultural histories. He references the vernacular architecture and design of Puerto Rico, pointing to the island’s history of immigration, colonization, sugarcane production, industrialization and tourism. In recent projects in Puerto Rico and New Orleans, Rolón used the decorative iron fences brought to Puerto Rico and the American south by African slaves, and the tiles, macramé and mirrors of tourist hotels and impoverished Caribbean home to explore common human desire for beautiful spaces. Just as all landscapes hold their histories within them, Rolón embeds history through his use of luxe and common materials.

For Sculpture Milwaukee, Rolón will sheath the outside of the lobby cube of the Chase Bank building with a translucent diorama of tropical flowers, making the “bird cage” lobby the largest sculpture in the region.

The choice of the Chase Bank lobby is specific. The modernist cube is emblematic of the urban renewal and revitalization schemes that took place across the country in the post-war period. The International style of architecture, redolent of the idealism of the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, reminds us how post war America salvaged the style as a marker of our own global power. As a resident of Chicago, Rolón grew up with the dreams and problems of urban life.

By turning the transparent lobby into a glowing jewel box Rolón’s installation will be like a flame that attracts us to a key city intersection, where east meets west, north meets south, and where water meets street. Rolón’s unexpected cube will connect to the summer sky, the blue water of the Milwaukee river and concrete that flows beneath and through the lobby space. Rolón’s luminous beacon signals the reinvigorated vibrancy of our downtown.”

Tango Dancers

Red Grooms

310 W. Wisconsin Ave.

See “Hot Dog Vendor” above for artist information. Groom’s Tango Dancers is an intimate portrait of a couple enjoying the sensual touch of dance, ignoring the peeping eyes of a busy city street.

Find out more about Sculpture Milwaukee, the artists, and events here. Learn more about Trolley Tours of Sculpture Milwaukee here.

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