Renovated gallery provides first-class home for UWM Art Collection

A woman gestures toward a drawing on the wall of a gallery.

A UWM treasure will at last have 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, will celebrate the opening of a new exhibition space, the Emile H. Mathis Gallery, with a public opening on Dec. 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Mitchell Hall, Room 170.

The Emile H. Mathis Gallery is a state-of-the-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 UWM’s College of Letters & Science, which houses the Art History department. “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,” will showcase artworks of varied media celebrating the collection’s richness, depth and breadth. The exhibition also serves to honor the generous patrons whose gifts of art form the UWM Art Collection. A multi-themed presentation invites viewers to explore the diversity of the collection as it reflects art donors’ broad collecting interests.

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

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.

A private preview of the opening show, hosted by Clark and UWM Chancellor Mark Mone, will be held on Dec. 11 for Emile’s friends and family, donors and other Friends of Art History.

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