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Charles Allis' Garden Party

Aug. 2, 2012
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It's summer at the Charles Allis Art Museum, and curator Jane Brite and brilliant curatorial assistant and exhibition designer John Larner are busy arranging art ideas sprung from the talents of Wisconsin artists invited to share in the bounty of summer. “Our Gardens: Inside and Out” (through Oct. 7) is certainly not about “pretty” pictures, on that they agree. Of course there are some pretties, but the best is way more than pretty.

The west wall of the Great Hall and the intimate galleries on floor two are wild with color and forms both subtle and not. The garden adjacent to the venerable Allis is dominated by a historic yellow Beastie; however, don't expect the garden theme to morph, Monet-like—for, you see, gardens are also places of Bosch-style earthly delights and Eden bowers laden with danger. Adam knew. Oh yes, Adam and his apple knew.

Lurking here on the wall, my dear, a giant spider by Tom Clark, and there Food Fight, a nasty trio of bronze fruit suggesting the apple, banana and pear could blow the garden to kingdom come. Warrington Colescott imagines a rose garden fundraiser (a thorny issue?), and if you like poison in your watercolors, consider Jean Crane's Nightshade. There's plenty to chew on in Michael Meilahn's Corn Free Standing, an amazing glass piece fabricated by Vanguard Sculpture Services, another Wisconsin product. It's my personal favorite, and the entry hall where it reigns is perfect for it and a magnificent Truman Lowe wonder in wood, flanked by Susan Falkman's marvelous The Angels Are Waiting, carved in marble.

Exhibitions come and go, and group shows are difficult to review, but I have to say that this effort embraces diverse styles and for the most part avoids boring stuff planted so-so-in-a-row. Gardens don't grow overnight, but John Larner's designer touch is akin to magic.


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