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Our Brother’s Keeper?

David Lenz’s ‘People on the Periphery’ at Museum of Wisconsin Art

Nov. 1, 2016
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“David Lenz: People on the Periphery” (through Jan. 8, 2017) powers up the Museum of Wisconsin Art, specifically with an oil painting titled Niagara Falls, 1984. It is one of only two works in the photorealist retrospective that is devoid of figures. In this froth and foam roaring drama, nature takes the central role. It knows not about inequality, the ongoing theme in the artist’s career. The painting is owned by the West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, a company that understands the elements of chance in this thing called life. George Orwell, writing his 1945 Animal Farm, knew it too. Speaking of the human condition, he said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

In most of the work represented here, Lenz asks us to look beyond ourselves, and consider what divides us. Disabilities? Grinding poverty fueled by lack of jobs, lack of hope, lack of education? Living on the periphery where hunger dwells and various terrors lurk, can, for those with fortitude, be a challenge to rise above. The moving portraits of children and adults, happy (or resigned) in a world which may or may not crush them, suggests life is a draw of the straw. Who among us will go over The Falls and live to tell about it?

Curator Graeme Reid assembled the exhibition, and his scholarly essay about Lenz is yours for free at wisconsinart.org/shop/ebooks.aspx.

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