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Renovated gallery provides first-class home for UWM Art Collection

Linda Brazeau, director of the UWM Art Collection, talks about some of the artwork in the newly renovated and expanded Emile H. Mathis Gallery. At right is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Landscape” (circa 1917). Next to it is “Landscape with Circles,” a 1975 lithograph by Alexander Calder donated by Mathis. (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

UWM treasure at last has a suitably prominent home, thanks to a gift from a donor and art collector, the late Emile H. Mathis.

The UWM Art Collection and its steward, the Department of Art History, celebrated the opening of a new exhibition space, the Emile H. Mathis Gallery, with a public opening on Dec. 14.

The Emile H. Mathis Gallery is a state-ofthe-art 2,400 square feet exhibition space, named in honor of patron Emile H. Mathis, an art connoisseur, collector and gallery owner. The renovated and expanded gallery marks a new chapter for the UWM Art Collection, providing additional exhibition and storage space to display and house the expanding permanent art collection.

“We are immensely proud to showcase the university’s extensive art collection in such a beautiful space,” said Dave Clark, interim dean of the College of Letters & Science. “The Emile H. Mathis Gallery is not only an excellent teaching tool for our students, but also a great community resource for all of Milwaukee. Emile’s gift will enrich the university and the city for years to come.”

Linda Brazeau, director of the collection, said the renovation more than triples the display space of the gallery.

“The additional space gives us the ability to better showcase the collection,” Brazeau said. “The gallery is also now more accessible, which raises the profile of the collection, something Emile Mathis insisted upon.”

The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, “Legacies: ReVisioning the UWM Art Collection,” showcases artworks of varied media celebrating the collection’s richness and breadth. The exhibition honors the patrons whose gifts of art form the UWM Art Collection.

Prominent works of art from the collection on exhibit include:

• Edgar Degas, “Dancer,” c. 1880
• Rembrandt van Rijn, “Self Portrait in Velvet Cap with Plume,” 1638
• Pablo Picasso, “Still Life with Caged Owl,” 1947
• Georges Braque, “Still Life with Music,” 1962
• Joan Miró, “Woman and Bird in the Night,” 1944

Other notable featured artists include Pierre Auguste Renoir, Robert Rauschenberg, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jim Dine, Christo, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

The newly-renovated Emile H. Mathis Gallery boasts expanded space to house and showcase the UWM Art Collection. Prominent works from the collection are currently on display for the gallery’s inaugural exhibit. Some of the works include (top) Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Self Portrait in Velvet Cap with Plume” (1638).

Mathis’ gifts to the university go well beyond the gallery. Upon his death in 2012, he bequeathed more than 600 pieces of African art and more than 1,700 prints to the UWM Art Collection. The collection of prints, which spans 500 years, includes etchings by Rembrandt, Whistler, and others. The collection of African art, which includes 20th century masks and sculptures, represents cultures from western, central and northern Africa.

“When Emile showed me the list of art he intended to donate, I couldn’t believe the artists’ names on the list,” Brazeau recalled.

It was Mathis’ intention that the university would use his prized collection for teaching and display for years. Brazeau, whose brief acquaintance with Mathis developed into a close friendship, said she was gratified to see his vision realized.

“I would like to believe he’d be happy with the way this has turned out,” Brazeau said.

Mathis was born in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1946. He moved to Racine in 1964. He studied fine arts at UW-Superior, and after teaching in Sheboygan, returned to Racine in 1970. He started the Mathis Fine Art Gallery in 1972, and gained a reputation as an art historian, art collector, dealer, curator, community activist and philanthropist.

In addition to his contributions to the UWM Art Collection and the gallery space, Mathis established the Emile H. Mathis Endowment Fund, which will support the UWM Art Collection’s collected prints in perpetuity.

By Greg Walz-Chojnacki, University Relations