Joseph Friebert: A Life in Art 

August 11–October 7, 2018 Upcoming Exhibitions
Image for Joseph Friebert, Back Alley, Oil on Masonite, 1939, Gift of the Kohler Foundation Inc.Joseph Friebert, Back Alley, Oil on Masonite, 1939, Gift of the Kohler Foundation Inc.
Called one of Wisconsin’s greatest “living treasures” by the late James Auer, Milwaukee Journal art critic, Joseph Friebert (1908–2002) enjoyed a long and distinguished career, becoming one of the state’s leading artists and a beloved and influential teacher.

Friebert’s art reflects an overriding concern for the human condition. The figures in his often dimly lit Social Realist compositions of the late 1930s and 1940s—whether behind bars, in line-ups, picking coal, or walking city streets—seem stoic and melancholy. To enhance the pensive mood of his work, Friebert developed a form of “indirect painting,” adopting Old Master techniques involving the layering of pigments and glazes. This brooding quality is also found in his land- and cityscapes of the period.

In 2015–16, the Kohler Foundation and Friebert’s family presented the Museum of Wisconsin Art with sixty-seven works—paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints—from all periods of his life. Joining numerous works already in the collection, the donation establishes MOWA as the largest repository of Fribert’s oeuvre. Celebrating the artist and the gift, Joseph Friebert: A Life in Art will include almost fifty examples from our collection, as well as important loans.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Friebert switched to a semi-abstract style, breaking urban forms—buildings, skyscrapers, churches and synagogues, walls—into blocks of glowing, dusky colors. Concurrently, he produced symbolic figural compositions to express his dismay at the political and social ills of the Cold War period.

From the mid-1960s until the end of his life, Friebert worked exclusively in a lush figurative manner, employing masterful, loose brushwork and a brighter palette. He continued to engage with his preferred themes: refugees and the persecuted, city scenes and landscapes, families and groups in interiors and exteriors. He never stopped drawing, a subject he taught throughout his years at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

During his lifetime, Friebert showed extensively throughout the Midwest, including in numerous juried group exhibitions at which he frequently won prizes, and in one-person displays at museums and galleries. His art hung in shows at major museums across the United States and in 1956 was featured in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Friebert’s work can be found in over forty museums across the country. MOWA is the museum of record with more than 100 paintings and works on paper. The exhibition celebrates the artist and this incredible collection.


Opening Party 
Saturday, August 18 | 2:00–5:00
Experience Joseph Friebert's artwork and enjoy art making in the studio, live music, light bites, and a cash bar.

Joseph Friebert: Painter and Parent 
Saturday, August 25 | 2:00–3:00
Joseph Friebert’s life and career will be the focus of a talk by his daughter, Susan Friebert Rossen. Formerly the publisher at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Detroit Institute of Arts, Rossen will combine personal insights with her art-historical and museum background to provide a full view of her father and his art.
Free with Membership | Walk-ins Welcome

Meet the Author 
Saturday, September 8 | 2:00–4:00
Enjoy casual conversations with Susan Rossen, daughter of the late Joseph Friebert.

Talk with Bob Cozzolino 
Saturday, September 15 | 2:00–3:00
Join Robert Cozzolino, Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, as he explores Joseph Friebert’s work, how it connects to American modernism, and its deviation from Wisconsin art of his time. 
Free with Membership | Walk-ins Welcome

Enjoy the Book 
Available August 11 | MOWA Shop
The Joseph Friebert: A Life in Art exhibition will be accompanied by a 100-page, full-color catalogue with essays by his daughters.