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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Gasparka

Experience Awe-Inspiring Public Art Up Close Before It Leaves Milwaukee’s Downtown

Since 2017, through the vision and efforts of the team at Sculpture Milwaukee, Milwaukeeans and visitors to the city have been presented with dynamic exhibitions of public art, featuring works from internationally-renowned and prominent local artists. Monumental sculptures interact with the seasons, disrupt expanses of steely grays with pops of bright color or uncommon materials and forms, create endless photo ops, and cast imaginative backdrops for our human, everyday moments. Smaller works are accessible at eye level, and even share the sidewalk with pedestrians, or hang from trees in public green spaces. If you spend time downtown, you end up marking time with these art objects that add dimension to our urban landscape. Whether or not you have a personal connection to the sculptures, the continuity of their presence, variety, and the quality of this public art has had the effect of transforming Milwaukee into a city that is known internationally for its public art curations.

A thin, dense scaffolding of bright yellow, with potted plants stands on the Baumgartner Terrace of the Milwaukee Art Museum with the lake and trees behind it.
The Crisis, By Rashid Johnson. Photo by Brian Pfister/Sculpture Milwaukee.

But like every curated exhibition in a museum or gallery, works must eventually come down in order to go back to their owners or home collection, and to make room for the next curatorial vision to come to life in the space. In October, Nature Doesn’t Know About Us, an exhibition that opened in Summer of 2022, will begin its deinstallation. The exhibition, curated by guest curator Ugo Rondinone, includes works by David Hammons, Agnes Denes, Joan Jonas, Sarah Lucas, John Giorno, Maya Lin, Maren Hassinger, Ned Smyth, Geoffrey Hendricks, Pat Steir, Oscar Tuazon, Rashid Johnson and more. While you can experience the meditative, poetic, and ephemeral works of Nature Doesn’t Know About Us, don’t sleep on the opportunity to experience the power of these awe-inspiring works up close.

The works that are going off view beginning in mid-October are works by Agnes Denes, Joan Jonas, Sarah Lucas, John Giorno, Maya Lin, Maren Hassinger, Ned Smyth, Geoffrey Hendricks (pictured above).

A birdseye view of waves of gravel arranged in a courtyard like a stylized seam among landscaped rocks and plants.
Courtyard Sea, by Maya Lin. Photo by Brian Pfister/Sculpture Milwaukee.

A fresh way to explore and engage with this exhibition and this summer's Actual Fractals, Act I, is through Sculpture Milwaukee’s new Scavenger Hunt experience. The hunt is broken down into East and West versions, is designed for participants of all ages (and levels of art knowledge/engagement), and provides prompts, questions for reflection, and tips to navigate the downtown landscape.

A stone on the sidewalk is carved with the phrase "LET IT COME LET IT GO" in capital letters.
LET IT COME LET IT GO, YOU CAN'T HURT ME CAUSE STORMS CAN'T HURT THE SKY, DO THE UNDONE, by John Giorno. Photo by Brian Pfister/Sculpture Milwaukee.

We are so fortunate that Sculpture Milwaukee exists and will continue bring new visions and new perspectives to our cityscape in the future. As the message of John Giorno's sculpture, we can let the works come, and let them go, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love what we have while we have it.

It’s easy to lose sight of the impressive scale of what Sculpture Milwaukee has accomplished over the last seven years. Maybe in the process of experiencing these ebbs and flows of new artworks cropping up annually, we’ve become accustomed to the playful interventions like Geoffrey Hendricks’ Sky/Stairs #2 (Milwaukee), a vinyl installation of what appears as painted summer clouds on sand-colored steps leading up from Lincoln Memorial to the plaza outside of Betty Brinn Children's Museum. But something about having these representatives of great artists of our time standing on the sidewalk beside us in Milwaukee just feels right. Ours is an arts city that we are co-creating, and we get to revel in the unfolding.


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