United States

12 Exhibitions Not to Miss in Wisconsin this Summer

by Paul Joseph  |  Published May 28, 2021

Wisconsin’s cultural scene has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, with the state now home to numerous exceptional museums – many of which are hosting some great exhibitions this summer.

(Photo: Milwaukee Art Museum)

Sharing coastlines with two Great Lakes – Michigan and Superior – it’s perhaps little surprise that the midwestern state of Wisconsin has helped inspirate numerous artists down the years. If you’re visiting the region this summer and would like to catch an exhibition during your stay, we’ve picked out 10 of the best taking place in Wisconsin over the coming months.

Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820–1920

The first major exhibition to explore the widespread influence of Spanish art and culture on American painting, this extensive display of works by prominent US artists contains art spanning both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It features numerous distinguished painters such as Mary Cassatt, Robert Henri and John Singer Sargent, who traveled to Spain for training and to study the old masters at the Prado Museum in Madrid. More than 100 paintings, photographs and prints are organised to emphasise migration, tourism and travel in nineteenth-century Spain, as well as themes such as romance, architecture, gardens and landscapes. The exhibition also features a mobile app with audio descriptions in English and Spanish for several of the works.

Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 North Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee / 11 June – 3 October 2021


Organised around the release of photojournalist Christopher Winter’s latest book “Ironboat,” this new temporary exhibition contains a powerful visual record of the trend-setting Great Lakes bulk carriers Wilfred Sykes and the Manitowoc-built Edward L. Ryerson. The exhibit follows the two vessels as they travel through the western Great Lakes. The stunning photographs of the Skyes and Ryerson allow visitors to see the boats in an artistic light.  Christopher Winters works at Discovery World museum in Milwaukee as the staff photographer and his work has been displayed in museums throughout the area.

Wisconsin Maritime Museum, 75 Maritime Drive, Manitowoc / Through late Fall

(Photo: Wisconsin Maritime Museum)

Signals and Signs: Railroad Safety

This one-year temporary exhibit features historical signals, signs, and other artifacts that chronicle the evolution of railroad safety down the years and the stories that have propelled it. Operational equipment complete with moving parts and lights serve to showcase the technological developments that have driven railroad safety while educating visitors on how vital these changes have been to public health. A complementary component to the exhibit includes a permanent outdoor display of signals donated by CN from the railroad’s Shawano Junction in Neenah, Wisconsin, featuring four signal heads, six signal stands, five railroad bungalows, and two crossing gates.

National Railroad Museum, 2285 South Broadway, Green Bay / Through 22 January 2022

(Photo: National Railroad Museum)

The Art of Paper

Explore the world of paper through exhibits, interactive activities, hands-on interpretive displays, and a opportunity to make your own piece of paper at the Paper Discovery Center in the city of Appleton this September. During two-hour ticketed sessions you’ll discover why the region is known as the “Paper Valley” while creating your own hand-made sheet of paper and learning about the science behind paper-making. Following your time in the paper lab you’ll spend time watching a stage performance (with audience participation) based on science or create in our “Outside the Box” area.

Paper Discovery Center, 425 West Water Street, Appleton/ Through September 2021

Suzanne Caporael: The Nature of Things

Showcasing nearly seventy artworks spanning three decades, this exhibition demonstrates the unique talents of American artist Suzanne Caporael who has gained widespread acclaim for her ability to use the natural world as an inspiration for her paintings and related prints. Presented thematically rather than chronologically, the exhibition is split into five main sections: color and chemical structure; flora and fauna; water and ice; the night sky; and perception and memory. While the artist’s compositions may at first appear abstract, they are in fact steeped in close observation of her surroundings and motivated by a deep inquisitiveness.

Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Avenue, Madison / Through 12 September

(Photo: Chazen Museum of Art)

Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition

Chronicling Nelson Mandela’s epic story of heroic struggle, forgiveness, and compassion, the US debut of this global-touring exhibition takes visitors on a personal journey through the life of the world’s most iconic freedom-fighter and political leader. Designed to educate, entertain, and inspire, the immersive and interactive exhibition features previously unseen film and photos, along with more than 150 historical artifacts and personal effects. Through a series of immersive zones, the narrative takes visitors on a journey through Mandela’s remarkable life and provides fresh insight into the people, places, and events that formed his character and the challenges he faced.

Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 West Wells Street, Milwaukee/ Through 1 August 2021

Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes

Organised by the New-York Historical Society, this exhibition highlights more than 100 pairs of shoes from iconic designer Stuart Weitzman’s extensive private collection, assembled over three decades with his wife Jane Gershon Weitzman. Through the exhibition visitors can explore how shoes have transcended their utilitarian purpose to become representations of culture – coveted as objects of desire, designed with artistic consideration, and expressing complicated meanings of femininity, power, and aspiration for women and men alike.

Paine Art Center and Gardens, 1410 Algoma Boulevard, Oshkosh / 26 June – 10 October 2021

(Photo: Paine Art Center and Gardens)

America’s Electrical National Treasure

Celebrating Hearthstone Historic House’s importsnt role in the arc of technological, historic, architectural, and artistic progress, this self-guided exhibition features some of the museum’s priceless collection of original fixtures, including some of the oldest remaining examples still in use today. The story of the exhibition dates back to 1882, when electricity was still in its infancy and only three residences in America were known to have had electric lighting when Hearthstone joined this illustrious group. Of these residences, only Hearthstone was on a central Edison system and, only Hearthstone survives today. Perhaps more remarkably, it still contains its original light fixtures and light switches from 1882, made by the manufacturing firm of Bergmann & Co., which included none other than Thomas Edison as a partner.

Hearthstone Historic House Museum, 625 West Prospect Avenue, Appleton / Through 30 September 2021

(Photo: Hearthstone Historic House Museum)

Marvelous Mirth Making Machines

Debuting this summer, the exhibition features several iconic clown vehicles that delivered silly surprises and happy hilarity for nearly a century. The journey began with the documentation of three generations of Jack Cook’s family’s circus history. Without a fourth generation to carry on the family tradition, Jack decided his grandfather’s 1913 Model T “Funny Ford” should be preserved at Circus World. His grandfather George’s legendary routine was the first to feature a car that drove itself, spit fire and water, and backfired all on its own – with the car and classic routine that went with it influencing professional circus clowns for decades. Last fall, Jack returned to Circus World with the fabled vehicle and meticulously restored his family’s legacy, before donating the vehicle along with original wardrobe, props, patent documents, photographs, and the musical accompaniment for his grandfather’s act, with the “Funny Ford” serving as the centerpiece of the exhibition

Circus World Museum, 550 Water Street, Baraboo / From 1 June 2021

(Photo: Circus World Museum)

Alien Invasion: (Un)Familiar Forms in Contemporary Art

This captivating exhibition features objects and images from the Racine Art Museum’s collection that are both fantastical and familiar. The contemporary artists whose works are featured – many of whom use the natural world as inspiration – do not shy away from the over-sized, dramatic, or intriguing. They understand the value of things that are rooted in the real yet are rendered mysterious with an artist’s manipulation. Most of these artists do not use the word alien to describe their interests or their work but they talk about friction and tension, usually in organic forms.

Racine Art Museum, 441 Main Street, Racine/ 21 July 2021 – 22 January 2022

(Photo: Jon Bolton)

artWORK by the League of Milwaukee Artists 

In collaboration with The League of Milwaukee Artists, this exhibition at the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s prestigious museum comprises over 50 works by more than 30 local artists, each of whom have been given the opportunity to create new works – all with a working or industrial theme – specifically for this display. League members readily accepted the challenge and have been busy creating paintings, sculptures, photos and prints for inclusion, resulting in what promises to be a fascinating and diverse exhibition, all serving to showcase their significant talents.

MSOE Grohmann Museum, 1000 North Broadway, Milwaukee / Through 22 August 2021

(Photo: The Grohmann Museum)

Claiming Space: A Century of Visionary Women

As part of the Museum of Wisconsin Art’s 60th birthday celebrations, this exhibition spans the breadth of artistic media to honor the household names, anonymous artisans, and contemporary collectives who enrich Wisconsin’s cultural scene. With its use of everything from dolls and basketry to abstract painting and sculpture, it serve to raise timely questions about the representation of women – both on the canvas and in the art world as a whole – for the purpose of promoting  a broader appreciation of female artists and to inspire the next generation.

Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend / 24 July – 3 October 2021