Milwaukee, Wisconsin certainly lives up to its moniker, ‘Art City’. World-class events like Gallery Night and Day and institutions such as the Milwaukee Art Museum have earned it a prominent spot in the eyes of art aficionados around the globe, too. Here’s our cultural guide to the 10 best contemporary art galleries in Milwaukee.
David Barnett Gallery | Courtesy of David Barnett Gallery
Established in 1966 when its founder and namesake was a 19-year-old fine arts and art history student, the David Barnett Gallery has grown into the largest art gallery in Milwaukee and amassed international recognition. Alongside pieces by Barnett himself, which frequently grace the gallery’s walls, visitors will find a potpourri of artwork ranging from work by European and American masters, to ethnographic art from Africa, Indonesia and Oceania, to pieces by Wisconsin artists trying to break into the city’s renowned arts scene. In its nearly 50 years of existence, it has hosted one-man shows by artistic icons like Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali, Milton Avery and Pablo Picasso, and featured works by Rembrant, Roy Lichtenstein and James A.M. Whistler.
The 27-year-old Dean Jensen Gallery is a reflection of its founder and director’s time as an integral part of the Milwaukee arts scene: Clocking years as a Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design professor and art critic at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dean Jensen has fine-tuned his knowledge of the art world and brought the finest to his gallery space. While the gallery is often adorned with pieces by blue-chip artists like Chuck Close, Kiki Smith and Ed Paschkem as well as ‘outsider artists’ like French drawer and painter Gerard Sendrey, Wisconisn artists are never neglected: Kyle Fitzpatrick, a Milwaukee-born painter who often incorporates organic materials into his work; painter Nancy Mladenoff, who works with oil paints and spray paint, an uncommon duo; and Milwaukee native Jon Schueler, who painted expressive watercolor pieces, are just some of the many locals who have contributed to the gallery’s popular collections.
Finding original pieces for a home or business can be a daunting task for many aspiring art aficionados, but at Gallery 505 they’ll receive personal advice to connect them with artists who capture their aesthetic vision and connect with their tastes. The warm, inviting gallery believes ‘selecting a painting… should always be an exciting journey’, and their wide selection of paintings, pastel drawings, leather goods and glass art makes choosing a piece just that—thought-provoking, engaging and rewarding. The gallery currently has the works of nearly 70 artists on display, among them the bold landscapes of painter Mark Berens, the figurative etchings of Serge Firer and the mystical, supple glass bowls and vases of David Thai.
This minimalist building on a street corner in downtown Milwaukee doesn’t look like much from the outside, but a step through its doors reveals some of the finest contemporary art in the state. The Green Gallery pushes the city’s art scene to its limits with innovative, experimental exhibits and shows featuring world-renowned artists. Artists who have exhibited at the Green Gallery in the past include multi-media artist and Milwaukee native David Robbins, who worked with Andy Warhol in the 1980s, and Margaret Lee, whose elegant drawings have been featured in New York Magazine, The New Yorker and The New York Times. The Green Gallery itself has been a regular at the New Art Dealers’ Alliance (NADA), an art fair known for hosting the world’s youngest and strongest contemporary art galleries.
Wisconsinite and Midwestern artists take center stage at the Tory Folliard Gallery. Situated in a warehouse with multiple exhibition rooms, the gallery is a museum-quality space with museum-quality artwork. Major exhibits in the past have included Summer in Wisconsin, a show filled with local artists’ pieces dedicated to the most glorious time of the year in the state; This and That, a set of hyper-realistic landscape oil paintings by Wisconsinite Cathy Martin; and What Could It Be?, a collection of Wisconsinite Bill Reid’s vibrant metal animal sculptures. The gallery also presents regular exhibits at art fairs in Chicago, New York and Palm Beach, essentially acting as the middleman to bring national and international recognition to up-and-coming Wisconsin artists.
The artistic merits of jewellery and utilitarian pieces are often overlooked—but not so at the Katie Gingrass Gallery. The gallery prides itself on showcasing functional art like handmade trinkets, charms and glassware alongside more ‘traditional’ forms of art, like paintings, pastels and lithographs. The diverse selection of art has made it a one-stop shop for Midwestern art lovers. In the past, the gallery has featured prominent artists like Maria Baggetta and Joel Hunnicutt in a mixed-media exhibit focused on life’s movement and form entitled Gesture Show and the impressionist paintings of Wisconsinite Tom Nachreiner. The gallery is also a regular participant in the city’s Gallery Night and Day, an exceptional event held four times per year in which galleries in downtown Milwaukee open their doors for extended hours so art enthusiasts can explore their exhibits and speak with artists.
Looks like it's closedHours or services may be impacted due to Covid-19
The portrait may be one of the most popular forms of photography today—just look at the pomp surrounding profile pictures on Facebook, as one example. The Portrait Society Gallery is dedicated to the distinctive genre of portraiture, exploring modern usages as well as its historical roots and looking at ‘the concepts and ideas of making art about identity, presence, social interaction and community’, as its mission statements says. ‘[The portrait] is…a transactional exchange between two or more human beings. It is the only art form that depends on this kind of intimacy.’ Stop by for its ongoing project, Fop and Hounds, a monthly discussion led by a person and their pooch, whose breed and personality is paired with wine. Exhibits in the past have included Natural History: Barbara Ciurej & Lindsay Lochman, a series of self-portraits taken on the artists’ local farm, and a show by Milwaukeean Mike Ringo White, who creates collages from refuse found on Lake Michigan’s beaches.