Students help build artwork for Sculpture Milwaukee

Under the shadow of the Wisconsin Center, the electric buzz of power drills cuts through the pounding bass of a car radio and tires screeching against asphalt on Wisconsin Avenue. On the sidewalk, Matthias Neumann’s geometric masterpiece takes shape as two UWM grad students layer, stack and weave together pale, untreated pine boards.

Shaun Griffith and Kelsey Dettmann from UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning assisted Neumann to bring his design for Sculpture Milwaukee to life.

“It’s very different to see a design on paper than to make it in real life,” Griffith said. “It’s a great experience.”

Rising off a pine platform, the sculpture is a wooden optical illusion, drawing the eye into a maze of layered boards. Boards poke out along the sides of a pine ribcage border to create staircases, which ascend and descend the length of the sculpture to meet in the middle.

Architecturally inspired artwork

New York-based Neumann’s architecturally inspired work made him the perfect partner for Griffith and Dettman, said UWM Department of Architecture Chair Mo Zell. Both students participated in a design/build seminar during the spring semester where they helped build mobile furniture for the Mobile Design Box.

Griffith would do a project like this again if given the opportunity, he said. He and Dettmann were recommended by one of their professors to be partnered with Neumann.

This is the first time School of Architecture and Urban Planning has partnered with Sculpture Milwaukee to create hands-on opportunities for students.

“We’re excited to have this build opportunity for our students,” Zell said. “We look forward to more opportunities for our students when they return in the fall. It will be inspiring for them to visit Wisconsin Avenue to see the work.”

18-month exhibit

Neumann’s work, located on the sidewalk along 510 W. Wisconsin Avenue, is a part of an 18-month, open-air art exhibition throughout downtown Milwaukee. Founded in 2017, Sculpture Milwaukee is a nonprofit that brings in national artists to display their works as an effort to revitalize the city.

Nationally acclaimed artists Theaster Gates and Michelle Grabner served as Sculpture Milwaukee’s 2021 guest curators. Gates and Grabner selected the 16 artists, including Neumann, who would be featured in the exhibition.

The research and projects conducted by faculty and students in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning mirror the work of Sculpture Milwaukee. The shared interest made the partnership between the two groups possible, Zell said.

The School of Architecture and Urban Planning hopes to continue working with Sculpture Milwaukee in the future, Zell said. The school is also looking for other avenues for students to engage with the greater Milwaukee community and while gaining hands-on experience.

“Our students have always played a role in designing Milwaukee’s built environment,” Zell said. “It’s increasingly important that we engage with local neighborhoods and communities to make that happen, and that means being involved with the community, listening to their concerns and ideas, and incorporating these in lots of different ways.”

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