Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection, an original exhibition of modern self-taught art, opens to the public at the Milwaukee Art Museum today. The exhibit features more than 200 pieces and includes many European and American artists.
Former Milwaukee businessman and art collector Anthony Petullo recently gave a large portion of his personal collection to the museum.
“When I started I was a bit of an eclectic collector,” Petullo said. “I collected a little of this and a little of that but all the while I was looking for my niche. When I saw the work of the self-taught artists I knew that was it.”
Self-taught artists are artists not educationally trained, and according to Petullo, generally do not change or copy style from others throughout their careers.
“Many of these artists, for lack of a better term, are regular everyday people,” Petullo said. “They didn’t have a lot of money, many of them were very poor, some of them dealt with mental health issues and many didn’t even start working in art until very late in life.”
The exhibition features drawings, paintings, and objects by leading artists, including Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, Bill Traylor, Adolf Wölfli, Anna Zemankova, and Carlo Zinelli, among others.
“Accidental Genius showcases an exceptional collection of eclectic modern self-taught art from creators driven by impulse, vision, and necessity, without regard for acclaim, popularity, or profit,” said Margaret Andera, adjunct curator of the exhibit.
The artists’ personal stories and motivations for the art are as compelling as the art itself, Andera said.
Petullo’s gift to the Museum makes the Milwaukee Art Museum one of the most important museum’s in regards to its collection of modern self-taught art, Petullo said. Petullo gifted more than 300 works to the museum.
“The gift of the Petullo Collection establishes the Milwaukee Art Museum as a leading American institution for the work of untrained creators, and comes at a crucial turning point in the history of the genre,” said Keegan. “The Museum’s commitment to the work of self-taught artists began as early as 1951 with the gift of two paintings by Wisconsin artist Anna Louisa Miller, and expanded through the Hall Collection and the Flagg Collection. With the Museum’s acquisition of the world-class Petullo Collection, its holdings now encompass a more broadly inclusive representation of this genre, and we are challenged to understand this work on a new level.”
Petullo built his collection over a span of three decades. Objects from the Petullo Collection have been on display throughout the country, including a six-stop museum exhibition, and various objects have been loaned to museums and galleries around the world.
“I am grateful that I have had the fortune to share these incredible objects with so many, and I am honored that they will continue to be enjoyed at the Milwaukee Art Museum,” Petullo said.
Petullo is a Milwaukee entrepreneur and author, and a longtime member of the Museum’s Board of Directors and the Museum’s Exhibitions Committee. He is also a member of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee and has received multiple awards for his community service and charitable contributions.
The Museum will hold a 12-hour preview celebration for members today from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The exhibit will open tomorrow, Feb. 10 to the public and exhibition lecture with Petullo will be held at 1:30 p.m.
For more on the collection watch the video interview with Petullo here.
BizTimes Media is also giving away four pairs of tickets to Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection today. Like BizTimes Media on Facebook to find out how to win.