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She Bends

Jan 19 - March 23
At Var Gallery on 5th

Curated by artist and neon bender herself, Meryl Pataky, She Bends: Women in Neon, is an exhibition of female identifying neon benders from around the globe. With an emphasis on craft, artistry and the hand-made, these artist work start to finish with neon to bring their concepts to life. Hailed as “revolutionary” by Juxtapose, She Bends has since shown in numerous cities around the US. Along with being a traveling exhibition, She Bends provides workshops, financial assistance and mentorship to promising artists looking to take up the craft.

This is Var Wests biggest show yet in both numbers (25 artists) and prestige. She Bends is brining several pioneers in both the trade and visual arts forefront including Meryl Pataky herself.


Exhibiting artists go as follows:


Sarah Blood, Brooke Barttelbort, Dani Bonnet, Robin Clason, Eve De Haan, Teresa Escobar, Ali Feeney, Emma-Kate Hart, Eve Hoyt, Marjorie Inman, Danielle James, Kacie Lees, Stephanie Sara Lifshutz, Hannah Mace, Leticia Maldonado, Lily Reeves, Montgomery, Andrea Oleniczak, Amy Palms, Meryl Pataky, Linda Sue Price, Olivia Steele, Megan Stelljes, Harriet Schwarzrock


The artist exhibiting address a variety of topics from social constructs, language to current events. The pulsating electricity, the brilliant hues and the nostalgic evocations will transform the walls of VarWest as glass tubes are hand bent to write phrases, create abstract shapes and weave through sculptural installation. Each bender transcends the tradition of the commercial neon sign while masterfully maintaining the delicate craft and science of neon, an art that dates back to the 1850’s. The women exhibiting are causing a resurgence in the medium. They are reclaiming and improving the craft all while creating space for themselves and others to make as artists.

"I wanted to make it about females in a male-dominated industry making work themselves,” Meryl states, “I don’t want to see people who appropriate the medium because it’s trendy. I want women who bend, who actually work with this medium with their own two hands aside from just designing it. There’s so much more to neon that just design."

Meryl Pataky is an Oakland-based sculptor, and curator of SHE BENDS, whose own multidisciplinary approach combines neon with a variety of unexpected materials in a style described as “dystopian” and “anti-neon”. Meryl is originally from South Florida, and moved to San Francisco in 2002 to attend the Academy of Art University. She fell in love with the tactile nature of sculpture and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture.


Landscape, New Development

Nov 10 - Jan 12
At Var Gallery on 5th

Var West will be exhibiting a solo show by Chicago based artist Ian Sonsyadek. The exhibit, “Landscape, New Development” will feature a series of paintings that investigate the constructed landscape and the dichotomy of nature vs. the man-made. With collage like elements, his paintings are a modern critique of urban development and a nod to our historical notion of landscape painting.


Ian’s personal history, being born in Ukraine, living in urban centers such as Milwaukee for undergrad and ending up in Chicago, gives him an awareness of not only the constructed landscape, but of the implications that developing urban environments have on the migrations of people and culture. Currently, Ian works as a real-estate agent, staying engaged with his subject of interest. The building, navigating, and processes of the assembled structure mimics the activity of his art making, and vice versa.


Ian states, “I have been focusing on the parallel between how neighborhoods come to be as they are and the piecemeal process with which I make my paintings. In my view, both things are based in the ideas of collage. Neighborhoods shift and transition over time, houses get built and destroyed and built again, cultures and ethnicities migrate, spots of nature are dropped in, the landscape of the city changes.”


The paintings, peculiar in their infrastructure, are meticulous topographies of color and texture. Both built and broken, his work resembles moments of the sprawling metropolis, the ongoing re-development of its neighborhoods, the push and pull of occupancy and eviction. There is an uncanniness that feels both empty and decorated, a critique that is lighthearted yet “requisite of further investigation into one’s environment and what its inevitable changes are indicative of.”


Ian Sonsyadek is a 2012 graduate of MIAD. He has continued to hone his craft and develop his concepts while exhibiting work. Currently residing in Chicago, Ian works as an artist, real-estate broker, and teaches part time at Marwen, a nonprofit serving young people from the under resourced communities of Chicago.


Brian is a multi-disciplinary artist who utilizes everything from painting and drawing to sculptural assemblage, photography, and digital animation to contend with a disjointed body-in space complex. A contemporary spin on Dada and Surrealism, Brian utilizes material, color and spatial relationships to evoke a kind of agitated humor that is as sophisticated as it is vulnerable. Think Francis Bacon’s ‘space- frames’- linear rectangular constructs morphing into highly abstracted interiors. In staying true to the surrealist roots, Brian takes a dive into the subconscious pulling the dreamy, the vulgar and the sexy to manipulate bodily-esque forms into brute decor.

Brian says this about his work:

“The process of making is like that of meditation. Moments of deep thought followed by times of frantic making, being completely in the moment; responding to what the piece is telling me. This rhythmic process of looking, cutting, placing, sifting, marking, pausing and replacing is what drives me to create.”


The show features several large constructed reliefs made of wood, tile, fabric, paint and other miscellaneous items that fit intuitively with the non-sensical family of shapes. Also exhibited is a row of wall mounted sculptures, L-shaped rooms that feature a lonely configuration that takes on the personal of self exploration. The novel hybridity of form in room resemble a fragmented memory, haptic human intimates, and chafed skin. Even Brian’s digital collages, also in the show, are a one person orgy in space, sometimes with a couch, sometimes with tiny stages, wallpaper, or what-ever else is around. Indeed, much of Brian’s work takes an absurd look at the spaces humans inhabit and the ways in which we fill these spaces; with our presence, our objects and our kinks. Brian Schneider graduated Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2014 with a BFA in Drawing. He continues to work out of his studio at Var Gallery located Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Structuring Bodies, Structuring Places

July 14 - Sept 22
At Var Gallery on 5th


The To-Do List

Feb 2 - April 28
At Var Gallery on 5th

Illustrating the obligations to space and self, The To-Do List confronts notions of domestic life through impractical exaggeration and dysfunction. 

"While the necessities of chores are sometimes presented as endeavors undertaken as a team, their never-ending aspect is also noted. A broom is crafted from carved wood, curling into a bend toward the bristles, which are woven into a similarly infinite shape. We have all been there, when the cleaning rituals are revealed for the endless things they are. Berry’s sculptures turn them into moments that are elegant and expressive, not dour in the least, but poetically insistent and resigned."


Kneevers, Kat. "A 'To-Do List' at the New Var West Gallery" Shepard Express 27 March 2018,

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Jan 5 - Feb 3
At Var Gallery on 2nd

The Art+Tech Exhibition focuses on the cross section of fine art and creative experimentation with modern technology. Opening reception will include a featured performance by Kevin Schlei at 7:30pm. Come see multimedia screenings, kinetic sculptures, computer programed prints and drawings, and interactive art!

Featured artists include: Morehshin Allahyari, Bryan Cera, Jessica Ganger, Alycia Griesi, Fred Kaems, Scott Kildall, Pete Prodoehl, Maksym Prykhodko, Kevin Schlei, Nathaniel Stern, Adam Wertel, David Witzling


Curated by:
Becky Yoshikane
Cristina Ossers

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“Space Is A Place” challenges conventional traditions of how space is depicted on a two-dimensional plane. The works presented fragment, flatten, and skew space upon the two-dimensional surfaces. Space can be interpreted as a geographic location, the distance between two objects, deep/shallow, or a relationship between positive and negative elements. The formation of space on a two-dimensional plane becomes malleable, subject to the artist’s will. This malleability exposes the physicality of space and how dependent we are on accurate and stable depictions of space. The work presented acts as a site where relationships are communicated but the viewer is called upon to create meaning of the metaphor, symbolism, and organization presented. In this meaning-making exchange the viewer deciphers and applies meaning to the spaces portrayed based on recognizability and recognition. Ultimately, it’s this engagement, the give and take, the parsing of information, that defines and gives form to the ambiguity of space.

Curated by:
Jared Patton Plock

Featured Artists include:
Tom Berenz • Alex Herzog • Thad Kellstadt • Zina Mussmann • Sara Willadsen


Space is a Place

Feb 10 - X X
At Var Gallery on 2nd

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Objects of Desire

July 6 - Aug 4
At Var Gallery on 2nd


For the first time Var is highlighting the makers of Milwaukee in the exhibition “Objects of Desire”. What makes this exhibition so exciting is pushing the boundaries of function into art, or imbuing art into the form of functionality. The makers chosen to exhibit work oscillate between identities; that of being a skilled craftsman and maker, and being a designer and artist. Regardless of identity; maker, artists, craftsman, ect., they all have one thing in common: a love for material and a craft for construction.

Milwaukee-based furniture makers Jordan Waraksa & Cora Waraksa blend form and function with music in their wooden horn speaker called “THE BELLAPHONE”. The acoustic object is shaped in a way that amplifies the sound coming from the horn driver and woofers that are hidden at the base. Purposefully made with Fumed Oak, the sound permeates a rare and unique warmth. Blending mediums that can be seen and heard creates an experience you can also feel. The two say about their work:

“When chosen tools do more than create, they inspire, they sing – a Fiddle and Hammer.”

Janelle Gramling, in collaboration with Matthew Gramling, move beyond function with one of the only wall pieces in the show. Geometric shapes of clay are systematically interwoven with fibers. These sharp forms emerge from the organic element of wood, mimicking nature's curvatures with crystalline sharp edges. She writes in her statement, “Each piece is designed in an interesting play between my calculated engineering within gravity’s constraint and my intuitive, expressive impulses. Themes of ecology, balance, and interconnectedness is spoken through the ways in which strands of fiber weave their way though geometric forms in clay and wrap around forms in wood.”

This exhibition is a unique opportunity to move beyond the “art vs. craft” debate. See the power inherent in identifying as a maker; a person who utilizes craft as a means to make our lives and our dependence on objects more accessible, beautiful, and meaningful.

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On August 11th Var is pleased to present Jerry, an exhibition honoring the figure model, friend and pleasantly unpretentious muse, Jerry. The passing of Jerry this past October sent a quiet yet profound wave of sorrow throughout the greater Milwaukee community. To encapsulate his impact on the generations of artists; Var has asked those who knew Jerry, either personally or professionally, to showcase art that hosts Jerry as its subject. In keeping with the spirit of Jerry’s impact on the institutions and the many studio critiques that followed; paintings, drawings, sculptures, and all other works submitted with be hung salon style. Below are some quotes from artists who’ve known Jerry-

“He is missed. His kind spirit will be remembered. His gentle and classy talent was a true gift to all of us.”
- artists and teacher Rebecca Venn

“He could hold a pose like a rock. He was never conceited in his demeanor. He was reliable, creative, on time and respectful of the various levels of student. As a teacher I know I could totally depend on him. A virtue that is so important because the model was the most important aspect of the class.”
- artists and teacher Rebecca Venn

“As anyone who studied in Milwaukee, I knew Jerry as a dedicated model...and a very good one. He held his pose and was genuinely interested in seeing the results of each session. Jerry would walk around the room after a drawing session to see what the artists did. The drawings I am exhibiting are from 1997-98 or so. I think this is a testament to the longevity of his dedication to serving the art community. “
-artist Keith C Nelson

“Jerry had such an impact of the greater Milwaukee creative community. You would be hard pressed to say his name to a group of artists and not have them recognize him. His memory will live on forever through the work of generations of artist that had the opportunity to work with him. ”
- artist and gallery owner Josh Hintz

Our gratitude to the countless hours Jerry has dedicated to artists and art institutions will live on through the various artistic voices and perspectives that developed in part to Jerry’s presence. Var intends for all proceeds, funds and donations to go towards Jerry’s family or a donation of choice.

Jerome M. Kutcheid

Aug 11 - x x
At Var Gallery on 2nd


Body: A Non-Figurative Exhibition

Sept 15 - x x
At Var Gallery on 2nd

Join us for the opening September 15th at Var Gallery to discuss ideas relating to identity and the intricacies of identity as it relates to our body.

The body is a concept difficult to categorize. Its identity is often too elusive and expansive for its own skin. The body moves, becomes, and transcends its own figure. Whether we like it or not, the body we inhabit is all we have to experience this world. For this exhibit, each artist has a simple prompt; to create work that exemplifies what it is like being you, in your own body that is both shaping and shaped by the world.

There are a myriad of ways to exist in the world and as such, each artist explores this prompt differently. Some are more literal while others are abstract; some are metaphorical, gestural, conceptual, or material. The artists for this exhibit are deliberately picked by the curators Nykoli Koslow and Jerrod Johnson for the ability to express their own identities and to speak for themselves in their own visual language.

The exhibiting artists are as follows:

Audrey Jeřábek, Erich the Maker, CK Ledesma, Cristina Ossers, Aaron Boyd, Ellery Kemner, Nava Waxman, Josh Hintz, Vaughan Larsen, David Najib Kasir, Brian Schneider, Eric Hancock

The intention for this exhibit is to grant ourselves the much-needed space to write our identities by hand; to speak for ourselves in our own words. It is a thoroughfare into transparency and vulnerability and taking chances out in the open. It is an opportunity to meet each other half way and ask, “what is it like to be you?” The exhibition is also an opportunity to be brave enough to admit that we may not immediately know the answer.


As commonly used, the word trace includes meanings related to track, path, or mark. If someone disappears without a trace, he is thought to be unsearchable. If my smile reveals a trace of irony, it may (or may not) contradict whatever provoked it. So far so good. In theory, trace is a bit more complicated, referring to the absent part of a sign’s presence, a mark left by absence. In other words, the trace lies at the intersection of that which is and is not visible or present. The trace is a sign left by the absent thing, after it has vanished. In this sense, trace contains an element of the ghostly, and that is partly what this exhibits hopes to explore. Every present, in order to express itself as present, bears the trace of an absent which defines it. And that is to say the present, as a visible sign, is haunted. The exhibition will bring Milwaukee-and Iowa-based artists who work in 2D, 3D, as well as in time-based, mixed media, who will explore this theme—the presence of absence—in various works.

The artists include: Jamal Currie (WI), George Jones (WI), Julie VonDerVellen (WI), Rina Yoon (WI), Emily Drummer (IA), Jeff Porter (IA), Jim Snitzer (IA)

Trace Exhibition

Oct 19 - x x
At Var Gallery on 2nd

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