In 1984, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center launched its first exhibition of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein's (1910–1983) work and currently cares for over 200 individual works by the Milwaukee artist. Von Bruenchenhein's work is garnering newfound attention and his work is included in exhibitions around the world.
Taking an unprecedented, sweeping view of Von Bruenchenhein’s extensive oeuvre, this exhibition cast a contemporary lens on his paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and poetry. Michelle Grabner, Brett Littman, Lisa Stone, and Arts Center Curator Karen Patterson addressed pivotal moments in Von Bruenchenhein’s career—including architecture, botany, invention, and love—in this exhibition and in a catalogue released in the fall of 2017.
HIGH WALKWAY CONNECTS TWO TOWERS
"In 1977, Von Bruenchenhein commenced his foray into fantastic architecture by devising a technique to apply paint in a way that allowed him to "construct" his towers: he dipped the edges—the wavy crosssection layers—of corrugated cardboard in paint and printed long, slender patterns on enameled sheets of corrugated cardboard. The resulting masses of upright forms display a lacy grid design that emulates building blocks, a pleasing solution for creating the illusion of the complexes of his new architectural age."
Curator, Roger Brown Study Collection
Lisa Stone is curator at the Roger Brown Study Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For over thirty years, she has stewarded preservation planning and site preservation of art environments while writing widely on the discipline. Interested especially in the history of art sites in the Midwest, Stone’s response to the work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein included researching and writing about his sculptures.
"Von Bruenchenhein's interest in botany was greatly influenced by his stepmother, who not only painted floral still lifes but also penned treatises on the theory of evolution and reincarnation. He later worked at a flower shop and built a greenhouse on his property for cacti and other exotic plants. This desire to synthesize the organic (botany, chaos, natural geometry) with the rational (mathematics, structure, and image) can be seen as the creative "engine" that drives all of his compositions and sculptures."
Executive Director, The Drawing Center
Brett Littman is executive director at The Drawing Center. He has lectured and written numerous catalogue essays and articles on art and design. In 2011, he curated and wrote the exhibition catalogue Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Inovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher at the American Folk Art Museum. For the Arts Center’s Mythologies: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Littman focused on the artist’s drawing and poetry.
THE DANGER WE FACE
"Von Bruenchenhein's H-bomb series and his demonfaced cloud paintings emerged out of the endgame dichotomies that shaped 1950s Cold War culture. With great confidence, Von Bruenchenhein gave enchanting visual form to disorientating postwar vertigo, letting his imagination fill in the unknown and the invisible effects of the Anthropocene with poetry, painting, photography, and sculpture. From his small home in Milwaukee, Von Bruenchenhein's mid-twentieth-century worldview was fantastical and global, but his aesthetic was idiosyncratic and local, revealing a truth more pronounced."
Artist and curator
Michelle Grabner is an artist, independent curator, and writer based in Milwaukee, WI. Internationally renowned for her work in drawing, painting, video, and sculpture, she is currently chair of the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as well as a senior critic at Yale University in the department of painting and printmaking. Grabner has long taught the work of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. For this exhibition, she engaged with new research and writing about Von Bruenchenhein’s paintings.
"The photographs of Marie are much more than a photographer posing a model for the camera. As husband and wife, Eugene and Marie orchestrated hundreds of these sessions together in the first two decades of marriage. More than just portraits, these were photographic events in which they experimented with backdrops, poses, props, personas, and expressions. Not only do the photographs display a deep commitment to the media itself, they also suggest a specific way of being seen and of seeing each other."
Curator, John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Karen Patterson is senior curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Her primary focus is the Arts Center’s premier collection of folk art, self-taught art, and artist environments. She incorporates these works into curatorial projects that explore a variety of contemporary themes. She also works with a range of artists, artworks, and commissioned site-specific pieces. In addition to curating the 2017 exhibitions series, The Road Less Traveled, her recent curatorial projects include Ebony G. Patterson: Dead Treez, Ray Yoshida’s Museum of Extraordinary Values, and This Must Be The Place, an exhibition series exploring the relationship between artists and their formative places. Karen completed her BA in folklore studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, and her Masters of Art Administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where her focus was the home collection of Chicago artist Ray Yoshida. Prior to joining JMKAC, she developed interpretive programs for house museums and heritage sites in Canada and the US and co-founded a 12-hour public art festival, Nocturne: Art at Night, in Nova Scotia.
"Skeptics will balk at the idea of Von Bruenchenhein having a spirit guide, and there is a chance that he was speaking metaphorically. But there can be no denying his unique genius, which extended beyond his innovative artistic output into startlingly insightful philosophical musings. His curiosity seemed boundless; he spun fantastical tales about the origins of the earth, developed a theory of evolution, mused poetically about natural parallels across vast shifts in scale."
Writer and photographer
Chris Wiley is a writer, critic, and photographer who contributes widely to contemporary art magazines including Frieze and Kaleidoscope. Wiley served as curatorial advisor and head catalog writer for The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2015, where several of Von Bruenchenhein’s photographic prints were exhibited.
Take a walk through this gallery and explore MYTHOLOGIES in 360°.
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Mythologies accompanies an exhibition that engages in a pivotal discussion about Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s extensive body of work, the people and contexts that spurred his imagination, and his creative legacy. From the 1930s until his death in 1983, Von Bruenchenhein was a prolific artist, producing paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and poetry in his small Milwaukee home.
Dig deeper into conference sessions, view panelist bios and abstracts, read session descriptions, and continue the conversation in session forums by visiting The Road Less Traveled conference portal.
Through this web portal, you will be able to share new ideas and broaden the collective knowledge and appreciation of this unique style of art making that was the focus of a yearlong series of exhibitions at the Arts Center.Learn More
This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., Herzfeld Foundation and Sargento Foods Inc. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.
The Road Less Traveled 50th anniversary program was conceived by Amy Horst, deputy director for programming. The exhibitions series was organized and curated by Arts Center Curator Karen Patterson. Special thanks to Emily Schlemowitz, assistant curator, for the curation of Driftless: Nick Engelbert & Ernest Hüpeden and Folk & Fable: Levi Fisher Ames & Albert Zahn, and Amy Chaloupka, guest curator of The World in a Garden: Nek Chand and Volumes: Stella Waitzkin.