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Upside Down & Inside Out

Big Vegetables at Villa Terrace

Nov. 11, 2010
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Believe me, I don’t hand out accolades where none are deserved. In covering both the Charles Allis and its companion Villa Terrace, it’s been a love/not love relationship. Over the course of many visits and many years, I decided both venues lacked fresh ideas, or call it “vigor” if you prefer. So much was ho-hum and anyone who follows my reviews is well aware that the Great Room at the Allis is not a place to exhibit art. Wisconsin does not lack for great art, but you’d never know it from most of the prior efforts. There were some steller exceptions thank heavens, enough to keep me returning, ever hopeful.

Alors! Fresh and innovative has come to both venues since the arrival of curator Martha Monroe. What changes two years has brought. For example: a paring down of the oppressive overload of shows. Where once there were way too many, now there are three at each. I got a glimpse of her curatorial talents when she integrated splendid sculptural works, clever and cunning, into the permanent collection at the Allis. It was seamless and sensational.

And it was also a pivotal moment.

Up the stairs at the lovely Villa (or a slow ride on the elevator), you’ll find the sturdy and stunning works of Tom Loeser, head of the wood and furniture design area at UW-Madison, in an exhibition called “Trees Are The Biggest Vegetable.” I won’t go in to his inclusion in various prestigious collections, but one of note is the Milwaukee Art Museum. Loeser is hard to label, but his pieces are a kind of post post-modern modernism with a tweak of circus-y fun. Damned refreshing and a breath of fresh air, as if I’d emerged from a pile of fussy cups and plates and the decorative doo-dads that give the Villa its name.

And built to last may I add? The multiple chairs with charmingly chiseled and painted seats harken back to ladder-back chairs, and their painted embellishments curiously echo fabrics woven from rags. On the south wall a multi-pastel-colored paper chest with two framed drawings detailing the construction of the chest, almost steals the show. But not quite. It is a brilliant curatorial addition, however. In the north room, form and function meld in a style that shouts “built right,” as there’s nary a glob of hot glue in sight. One door south and I pause for a mélange of topsy turvy, upside down fun furniture I touch the smooth-as-silk finishes on several pieces; peruse a case sleek with sculpted miniatures. But “is it craft or is it art?” It’s the best of both.

Ms. Monroe, bring us more of the same. Bring us the fresh and the innovative. Wednesday- Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. is not nearly enough time to frolic in this welcome change for the better. Loeser’s magic is around until January 23, so you have no excuses my friends. Monroe has some sensational plans for 2011. I can’t wait.  


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