Sculpture Milwaukee No. 5: There Is This We

Paula Crown, JOKESTER, 2018



A crushed 10-foot-tall red solo cup, a stack of coolers, and acoustic drums may seem like the remnants of a giant’s tailgate—in Milwaukee, WI these larger-than-life sculptures are part of there is there is this We, Sculpture Milwaukee’s fifth run, guest curated by Michelle Grabner and Theaster Gates. 

Grabner is a Milwaukee-based artist, writer, and curator who was recently named a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. Gates, a Chicago-based artist and curator and professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and the College, is known for his work with urban spaces.


Kara Hamilton


This year, Gates and Grabner’s initiative galvanized working artists and the community. In just under six months, the exhibition gained more than half a dozen new works, including Plein Air Super Catcher, a premier sandcast work by Brad Kahlhamer; the first large-scale sculpture by Jason Pickleman, Hand Heart; and work made of locally sourced cream city brick by Kara Hamilton, the Curtain Wall. Facilitating these (often-experimental) processes required a great deal of flexibility, problem solving, and quick thinking by both curatorial and exhibitions teams, according to Bianca Bova, Sculpture Milwaukee’s Associate Curator. 

“We worked with not just the artists, but a range of commercial fabricators, stone masons, and foundries (along with our dedicated team of installers at Methods & Materials) closely and collaboratively to realize these works,” she said. 

Students and community members also participated in some installations. In July, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Architecture and Urban Planning students assisted with artist Matthias Neumann’s wood sculptures in his series “Basics 51.” 

“Sculpture Milwaukee understands the power that artists have, and the power that art has to potentially help give new form to the city,” says Gates. “To reshape the conversations that are happening socially by not just having one or two artist commissions in a downtown but really having a brief that brings in artists from all over, and who have a relevant voice, to be present in Milwaukee – I think that this is a transformation. It’s really the way a radical city should work.”


Curators Theaster Gates and Michelle Grabner


Grabner mentions the ‘poetics of perseverance’ as the driving factor in selecting the works. As poet Gwendolyn Brooks poignantly conveys in her poem An Aspect of Love, Alive in the Ice and Fire, “In a package of minutes there is this We. / How beautiful.” The exhibition’s title reminds us about the elusive thing we call community. “[It] reflects the collective power of the works included and honors a belief in social change through the provocations of the artistic imagination,” says Grabner.  Sculpture Milwaukee’s fifth edition looks at sculptures and public art as social commentary on what’s left behind, and how we can continue building a radical city.   


Matthias Neumann


‘there is this We’: Sculpture Milwaukee 2021 investigates global issues and shared urban spaces using public art. It is free and open to the public until fall 2022 •  sculpturemilwaukee.com