By Livia Peterson
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Portrait of Milwaukee exhibit debuts on Friday, September 6, 2019 and closes on Sunday, March 1, 2020. On view in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts. I discuss the exhibit with Ariel and why it is important to learn about Milwaukee’s history.
The exhibit feature photographs of people, movements, businesses, and neighborhoods that have shaped today’s Milwaukee. Ultimately, it explores what it means to be a Milwaukeean and more. The photographs are assembled from the Milwaukee Art Museum collection, the Milwaukee Public Library’s Historic Photo Archives, the Harley-Davidson Museum collection, and Milwaukee’s notable newspapers Journal and Sentinel archives.
Livia Peterson: Describe when you fell in love with photography and art history.
Ariel Pate: My stepdad is an artist, so growing up I always thought I wanted to be an artist - instead, I discovered that researching artworks and facilitating people’s experience with art really clicked with me. Photography intrigues me - it has the ability to create empathy between viewer and subject, which is what makes it so powerful.
Livia Peterson: What inspired you to curate the exhibit?
Ms. Pate: I wanted to create an exhibit that showcases a strength of the Museum’s collection and also take a look at our city. That strength is a collection of photographs donated in memory of Edward Farber, a Milwaukeean who invented the portable electronic flash. Also, the last historic photo show we did of Milwaukee was in 1996, so it seemed like it was time to visit our city as the subject.
Livia Peterson: Why display Milwaukee history now?
Ms. Pate: Many people seem to agree that Milwaukee is at a turning point right now, with the Democratic National Convention next year, all the development downtown, and our recent sports successes. I think there’s no better time to look back at the 20th century, which is really when Milwaukee came of age - to see that we were facing many of the same challenges then, and to understand what led us to this point.
Livia Peterson: Describe a curatorial challenge in preparing the exhibit.
Ms. Pate: One of the challenges was choosing which stories to tell about Milwaukee - I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the same ones we always hear, or if it was, that they offered something new. Also, we have some great images in the Museum’s collection, but I felt that to give a fuller portrait of the city, we needed to cast a broader net. Thankfully, I was able to turn to some local lenders, including the Milwaukee Public Library’s Historic Photo Archives and the Harley-Davidson Museum, to round out the show.
Livia Peterson: Describe your logic when selecting images/photographs for an exhibition, including Portrait of Milwaukee.
Ms. Pate: In choosing photographs for exhibition, I always try to choose prints that are well made and support the overall idea of the show. With Portrait of Milwaukee, I wanted to make sure there were a variety of subjects, stories, and neighborhoods included - though it is by no means the definitive portrait of our city!
Livia Peterson: What do you hope people take away from the exhibit?
Ms. Pate: I hope Portrait of Milwaukee inspires visitors’ curiosity about the people, places, and movements of Milwaukee that make it such a great, complicated city.
Thank you for the incredible discussion, Ariel!