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About the Exhibition

Antell reminds us of laughter in the face of longing and loss


July 16–October 9

MOWA | West Bend

Tom Antell’s paintings delve into cartoon imagery and dark humor, playing out absurd, colorful allegories on the blasted agrarian landscapes of corporate farms and colonized fields. Antell is Ojibwe, a member of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota.

A pair of hapless, sad sack sailors encounter the New World, careering across sea, sky, and land. They are colonizers, unwitting witnesses to clear-cut forests and the advent of unwanted technology and progress. The sightless figures are disturbing and clownish, eliciting uncomfortable empathy and laughter. But they are agents of chaos nonetheless, sowing confusion and destruction on everything they touch.

Antell manipulates traditional symbols of American exceptionalism and bounty. The cornucopia, or “horn of plenty,” evokes the peaceable kingdom of American mythology, the emblem of a Happy Thanksgiving. In Antell’s depiction, this Seussian object becomes a dunce’s cap, a tornado, or offerings more dismal—despair and darkness on the horizon’s edge.

Generational trauma related to disease and illness also emerge in Antell’s paintings, inscribed on the skin in works containing figures. Antell compares the legacy of the AIDS epidemic that has affected his personal community and life with the new reality of the Covid pandemic. Lesions, sores, and calligraphic depictions of viral organisms betray an anxiety that sits abstractly on the very surface of characters in Antell’s universe. One could also see these marks as cumulative, evoking whippings, wounds from battle, a thousand cuts Native people have endured.

Though his themes and imagery express his deeply held indigeneity, Antell reminds us of the universal experience of longing and loss, and of laughter in the face of longing and loss. Strange Lands is the first exhibition of Antell’s career and guest curated by Rafael Francisco Salas.



See more work by Antell along with artists Sky Hopinka and Chris Cornelius at the museum’s downtown Milwaukee satellite, MOWA | DTN, beginning October 7, 2022 as they interrogate essential conflicts surrounding Native American identity.

Support for 2022 exhibitions
generously provided by

James and Karen Hyde

RDK Foundation

Thomas J. Rolfs Family Foundation