Wisconsin is synonymous with polka music; the polka is, after all, the state dance. As Polish, Slovenian, Czech, and German immigrants settled here in the second half of the nineteenth century, they brought their musical heritage with them, giving polka deep roots in the state. In recent years, a major new immigrant community, Wisconsin’s Latinos, have brought their version of
the polka to our fertile ground as well.
At first glance, a show about polka might seem an odd choice for a fine art museum. While polka is often seen as old fashioned and belonging to folk traditions, the last fifty years or so have seen the boundaries between high and low culture soften. Definitions of what is meaningful, relevant, and cool have broadened.
Dick Blau’s photographs belie the stereotype of polka as “corny” and “dated” and instead offer a vibrant, living glimpse into the everyday of this exuberant form. The photographs in Polka Heartland transcend documentary, reverberating with the same “loudness” and “sensuality” as his subjects. Huge and unframed, these pictures are meant to surround and absorb you, to recreate a feeling, call to mind a sound, and make you want to dance.
Photography is generally understood to embody the silence and stillness of the past. With the remarkable, filmic images he has made for Polka Heartland, Blau’s pictures live in the past and present at the very same time, and you, dear viewer, are invited to the party!