A new experimental museum opens in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Included in the collection are a house filled with thousands of tiny statues decorated with shards of marble and seashells, a tavern surrounded by statues decorated with beer bottles, and a Manhattan loft-like place with rows of colorful resin prints from books. leather bound.
Art Preserve museum curator Laura Bickford says, “This is the first of its kind, the first and only institution dedicated to studying the environment that artists have built.”
Various artists display their collections, ranging from educated to self-taught, from rural to urban areas. The common thread is their joy in being creative. Bickford added that his party is trying to provoke further thoughts on, among other things, who makes art, who is considered an artist, where the art comes from and what the art form is like.
“We really want to continue the ethos that every aspect of our lives can be beautiful, and every aspect of our lives can be enlivened by the practice of art and creativity.”
The museum was the dream of Ruth Kohler, who died shortly before the museum was completed. The director of the Kohler Art Center is fascinated by “outside” artists and neglected art forms.
As a child, his family went out to the countryside every Sunday to visit the so-called bath temples, where people installed the tubs vertically in front of their homes to display religious statues.
In time, Kohler became more and more fascinated by the work of Fred Smith, a retired woodcutter turned owner of a drinking establishment in Northern Wisconsin. Smith went on to create more than 200 large concrete sculptures on his rural estate starting in 1948. Some of his sculptures are now in the Art Preserve.
The museum officially opened to the public in June. Starting construction is not easy. The environment created is often made up of hundreds or thousands of parts that were never intended to be placed outside of their original location.
Nebraska artist Emery Blagdon, inspired by his parents’ fight with cancer, spent decades building “The Healing Machine,” a huge warehouse of moving statues– combining ornaments ranging from Christmas lights to plastic beads. There are more than 400 decorations that accompany this installation.
Some of the materials used by the artists – such as folded paper, paper glue, and glitter – were not chosen because of preservation considerations. Most artists, says Bickford, don’t think about the durability of their work and just use available materials.
The wooden beams around the museum, angled to block direct sunlight, provide a layer of protection.
The building’s designers have also worked to create an atmosphere where visitors can feel surprised – stumbling into hidden corners as if they were discovering an artist-built neighborhood, along a wooded path or on the side of a road.
In one corner of the museum, statues of Dr. Charles Smith is piled on the shelves awaiting the artist’s visit next October. Since the 1980s, the Louisiana self-taught artist has covered his home and gardens with statues depicting people and events from black American history.
Bickford explained that Smith allowed the statues to go through a process he called ‘rotting’. “For him, they are the ones who get the experience of life. He then rebuilds them and strengthens them over time.”
As one of the few surviving artists whose work is exhibited at the museum, his position is unique. Smith provided input on how his work would be presented.
Bickford hopes that visitors to The Art Preserve will be inspired by the environment Smith and other artists have built. He wanted people who passed the building to look briefly at the neighbor’s house when passing through the fence of the house. [uh/ab]