The Parachute Project breathes new life into the Grand Avenue Mall
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Once a bustling urban shopping mall, the Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee have mimicked the demise of many retail stores in the area. Empty storefronts are now the rule instead of the exception, and although the city of Milwaukee has attempted to encourage new businesses, many storefronts remain vacant. Tonight, however, with a little help from The Parachute Project and the exhibition Herr Seagull And His Global Dustbreath, the uninhabited spaces of Grand Avenue will be teaming with pedestrian traffic.
The Parachute Project is a Milwaukee-based mobile art gallery that specializes in creating exhibitions in spaces around the city that have fallen to disuse. Created by Makeal Flammini, Ella Dwyer, and Jes Myszka in 2010, the Project’s mission is to encourage people to visit spaces that have been marginalized during the economic downturn, and to engage Milwaukee’s community as a way to reestablish vibrancy and strengthen its neighborhoods.
“Most people in Milwaukee know what the Grand Avenue once was, and what it represented,” explains Parachute Project coordinator Makeal Flammini. “I imagine there are many people who have memories of how fancy and special the mall seemed. Of course, now it just looms in the center of the city, mentally blocked out of existence. I like the idea of bringing attention to something so apparent in the everyday landscape and somehow so forgotten.”
Herr Seagull And His Global Dustbreath will be presented in a series of empty storefronts located in the Plankinton Arcade, and will showcase paintings, drawings, and installations from Milwaukee artist Colin Matthes and German artist Kati Heck. Working on an individual and collaborative basis, Matthes and Heck will exhibit an accumulation of references and unfinished stories. “It looks at our shared (American and German) national histories and gets it all wrong,” says Matthes. “It tells bits of stories about our world today. These stories are filled with pigeons, turkeys, and questionable characters.”
The Parachute Project was offered a network of seven empty spaces in the largely vacant second level of the Plankinton building above TJ Maxx. After Heck and her husband arrived in Milwaukee, the group settled on three storefronts: a small jewelry shop, a men’s tie shop, and a large former Lane Bryant store. Those locations divide the exhibition into a room-sized installation, a display of oversized light boxes, and a room that resembles a traditional gallery space, respectively. Most of the work has been made specifically for these spaces, created in the last 10 days. Even more poignant for the Shops of Grand Avenue location, some of the work deals with themes of capitalism and economic collapse.
Matthes further explains: “The Grand Avenue Mall is a downtown symbol of wealth moving from the city to the suburbs, and for me represents a failing, or at least a struggling, economy. As in a lot of my work, I like working with what is left behind—in this case, a huge chunk of a mall. One way the Parachute Project work inspires me is this ‘work with what you’ve got’ element.”
The exhibition will open on the second floor of the Plankinton Building on Friday, August 16 from 5-11 p.m.