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Milwaukee Art Museum acquires major work by London-based Contemporary artist Isaac Julien
Isaac Julien, The Leopard (Western Union: Small Boats Series No. 7), 2007. Fujitran in lightbox, 120 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Isaac Julien, Metro Pictures, New York and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.
MILWAUKEE, WIS.- The Milwaukee Art Museum has acquired a video work by London-based Contemporary artist Isaac Julien. Western Union: Small Boats (2007) juxtaposes the grandeur of the Sicilian Palazzo Gangi (made famous by Luchino Visconti’s 1963 cinematic masterpiece The Leopard) with present-day sea voyages from Africa to the Mediterranean.

Western Union: Small Boats is part of Julien’s “Expeditions” trilogy, now on view as part of the Museum’s Currents series, which highlights the work of Contemporary artists.

As with all the works in “Expeditions,” Western Union is presented on three separated projection screens, physically indicating the fragmented narratives of the work.

“We are delighted to have acquired Western Union: Small Boats into our permanent collection and are honored to be the first to present these three works sequentially,” said Brady Roberts, chief curator for the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Julien’s masterful filmmaking and control of the installation environment create an experience that combines the formality of a gallery with an enveloping cinema theater.”

As part of Currents, the “Expeditions” trilogy (True North, Fantôme Afrique, Western Union: Small Boats) is being presented together, sequentially, for the first time.

True North (2004) is a meditative work loosely inspired by the story of the African American explorer Matthew Henson, who accompanied Robert Peary as one of the first people to reach the North Pole. Fantôme Afrique (2005) punctuates a tour through urban Ouagadougou, the center for cinema in Africa, and the arid spaces of rural Burkina Faso, with archival footage from early colonial expeditions and key moments in African history.

“His multi-screen installations display rich narrative imageries of architecture and landscapes that reference issues in global politics, race, and migration,” said Roberts. “Isaac Julien’s video installations combine mesmerizing images linked across screens with compelling audio tracks that are immediately engaging yet conceptually layered.”

Isaac Julien (b. 1960) first came to prominence with his dramatic documentary Looking for Langston (1989), in which he explored the life of poet Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance as a parallel to his own identity as a gay black artist.

Isaac Julien’s “Expeditions” is on view through February 17, 2013 in the Contemporary Galleries at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The acquisition of Western Union: Small Boats is funded by the Contemporary Art Society, the Ralph and Cora Oberndorfer Family Trust, and by exchange. Programming for this exhibition is generously sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Johnson and Pabst LGBT Humanity Fund, the Contemporary Art Society, and the African American Art Alliance.

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