Friday, July 8, 2011

Forget Memory--A Trip to Sheboygan's Kohler Arts Center, and Inspirtation from Alzheimers (and Hey, a Plug for Alice LaPlante's Talk on Wednesday, July 13 at Boswell).

Last month I was excited to welcome my sister Merrill and her husband to Milwaukee.  Merrill visits periodically, but Gus had never been to our fair city.  It was a hot spell, and they'd already worn themselves out walking around Chicago.  On top of that, they warned me that they don't like to see movies on vacation (so no fabulous Oriental Theatre or incredibly-convenient-to-Boswell Downer Theatre) and that they were burned out on museums.  And even if they weren't, the Milwaukee Art Museum was between major exhibits--the Summer of China was not opening for another week. Oh, and they don't like big crowds, so no festivals, street or ethnic or music.

Of course we spent a good amount of time at the bookstore.  I had scheduled to interesting events during their stay, Danielle Sosin's The Long-Shining Waters and Arthur Plotnik's Better than Great.  Plotnik was a particular hit with Gus, a wordsmith himself, and they wound up having a very enjoyable conversation at the bookstore, and another at County Clare, where everyone had wound up staying.

Our downtown dining week experience was not so great.  My suspicion is that originally the idea was for restaurants to create a particularly good deal to entice customers, who would come back later at regular prices.  Then they realized that very few people came back, but that they could still make money off the crowds looking for a deal.  It turned out our $10 lunch was worth no more than $10, and the sandwiches were pre-made enough that I couldn't take the mayo off.  Instead, I spent a couple of dollars more and had a sandwich to my own liking.  No dessert this way, but them's the breaks.  We wound up having a particularly nice dinner at INdustri Cafe; I suspect the crowds were still chasing amazing downtown deals, leaving the restaurant to us and a few others who didn't hear the siren song. 

But the highlight of our trip was by far our visit to Sheboygan and Kohler, Wisconsin.  It's hard to admit that I'd never before been to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.  Renowned for their innovative exhibitions in a unique setting, I'd been wanting to go for years, but for some reason, something always got in the way, even though I'd been to Kohler several times.

You can't help but walk around the building before you enter.  It's such an exciting space, a mix of new and old, with even the gardens inspiring your creative juices.  Oh, and the other reason we walked around the building was because of some road construction. We wound up parking two blocks away, on the opposite side of the entrance.

Then we immediately headed to the legendary bathrooms. We all exited with our mouths agape.  And since it wasn't busy, we made sure the rooms were empty and then we took a peek in the opposite gender's rest room. Hope we don't get in trouble with that; I've talked to other visitors and heard that everyone does it.

But the main event was the exhibit, Hidden Places: Memory in the Arts. It's divided into four parts, Holding Memory, Shared Memory, Forget Memory, and From Memory. I'm a huge fan of Gregory Blackstock, whose book Blackstock's Collection was one of my favorite books of 2006. They have a very large collection of Blackstock works, which document anything from bird breeds to varieties of boats to the buses of a particular college league. I also really loved William Powhida's "Some People I've Met from Memory (that I Care to Remember)", a freeform grid of people from Powhida's life, linked by location and inked more darkly, the more vivid the memory, all with a Roz-Chast-like style.

The "Forget Memory" section was a true eye opener.  Walking through Deborah Aschheim's installation of other-worldly brain synapses that resonated back to the artist's caring for her mother and immediately spurred thoughts about my own connections to dementia in friends and family. It was wonderful to see works from local artists such as Anne Basting and Paul Cebar as well.

And I immediately thought (how could I not?) of Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind, her novel I've been touting that's told through the eyes of a woman with Alzheimers.  Like many of these works, LaPlante turned her caregiving (her mom) into art.  I am sure the folks at the Kohler would absolutely love this book.  If they are a little exhausted by my various phone calls and emails, it's for their own good, right?

As you know, it's hard to get photos from art exhibits, so I'm posting this without anything from the museum.  If they send me a couple of jpgs to use, I will add them to the post.

I was chatting with Jodie at Grove Atlantic, panicked about where all the reviews were. I forget that when I deal with indie presses, the reviews are clustered around pub date, not on-sale date. Once again, I jumped the gun. It turns out that LaPlante is getting the love I was expecting.

Here's a great excerpt from Glenn Altschuler in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"The debut novel of Alice LaPlante, a teacher of creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford, Turn of Mind is an artful, ambitious and arresting attempt to capture the thoughts and feelings, by turns confused, conspiratorial, canny and clear, of a person in the throes of mental illness. And by using Dr. White as her (riveting, revealing and eminently unreliable) narrator, LaPlante reminds all of us, passionately, that no matter what the state of our health, reality can be elusive and subjective."

Read the rest of the review here.  I'll save the rest for our email newsletter.  And don't forget, LaPlante is discussing and reading from Turn of Mind next Wednesday, July 13, at 7 pm, at Boswell.

Our day wasn't over yet.  We walked a few blocks to Field to Fork, Trattoria Stefano's local-focused breakfast and lunch place.  I didn't do too much research beforehand but Stefano had been in Boswell several weeks before, asking me about sourcing books for his restaurant, and I recalled talking about this place.  It was great!

Afterwards we went over to the Kohler Design Center. Honestly, the place usually wows visitors, but after seeing the toilets at the Koher Arts Center, these bathroom installations were just ok. Plus they had discontinued several styles that were still on display, including some on the Great Wall of Fixtures. It was sort of like me doing a display of books and saying that a third of them were unavailable.  Hey, I think I do that all the time in our curio case. 

That memory is finished. And now, it's time for me to make some more, as I read from Samuel Park's This Burns my Heart, which Sarah Waters called, "a delicate yet powerful story of love, loss, and endurance."  The novel is coming out next Tuesday, July 12.  I'm trying to work with a few different groups on this one.  Wish me luck!

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