Tenth Street Gallery hiding in plain sight

The Tenth Street Gallery is in the lobby of In Tandem Theatre, a combination designed to attract like-minded audiences. Photo courtesy of Miranda Levy.

In the children’s book series “Where’s Waldo?”, readers are challenged to find the red-and-white striped sweater-wearer among a detailed, two-page crowd of people. To some, the art scene on campus may seem about this easy to find.

But, just like Waldo, if you look closely, you can find art right under your nose — or, at least, under the red Calvary Church.

Located on the corner of 10th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, the lower level of Calvary Church is home to both the Tenth Street Art Gallery and In Tandem Theatre. Jane Flieller, managing director and co-founder of both organizations, said they have been there for about nine years as a combination of visual and performing arts.

“We’re trying to attract like audiences. If you like visual art, there’s a good chance you like performing art,” Flieller said.

Miranda Levy, curator of the Tenth Street Gallery, said she tries to select artwork for the gallery that matches the plays being performed at the theater.

Right now, for example, In Tandem Theatre is presenting “Art of Murder,” a murder mystery play in which an artist, his wife, their art dealer and their maid actively plot to kill each other.

When looking for artwork to complement this theme, Levy said she decided to select the work of local artist Melissa Wagner-Lawler, since its textile aspects and cutouts hint at a “murderous” undertone. The resulting show, “Accident,” is Wagner-Lawler’s first solo exhibition.

Wagner-Lawler said the exhibition was inspired by years of work using the color red.

“I worked with (the color) throughout the years, incorporating it into different concepts and ideas until it progressed into blood splatters,” Wagner-Lawler said.

She said she was also inspired by the CBS police drama series “Cold Case,” which focuses on long-unsolved murders.

“These accident and murder scenes are gross,” she said. “We don’t want to look at them, yet we’re still morbidly curious.”

Wagner-Lawler said “Accident” is her exploration of these grotesque murders and her attempt to make them more accessible and decorative.

She said the Tenth Street Gallery is a fitting venue for her work because the audience coming to see “Art of Murder” at the theater is already comfortable enough to see a play that involves murder, making them more open to her work.

“Not that it’s too provocative or grotesque,” Wagner-Lawler said, “but the ideas it surfaces can make some people uncomfortable, so this venue was perfect for showing my full (range) of work.”

She said she thinks the gallery is intimate, welcoming and less dismissive than a white wall gallery, where everything is so pristine that the audience could feel slightly removed from the work.

“Here you can view the work up close. … It makes for a fully entertaining experience,” Wagner-Lawler said.

Levy said putting the photos up close is exactly what Wagner-Lawler’s art needs because of its “attraction-to-repulsion quality.” When you first look at the work, you can tell it’s supposed to be fragmented body pieces, and the redness of the work instills a sense of anxiety. But as you get up close, Levy said, a different picture emerges.

“When you go close to it and see all the handiwork and detail … it almost becomes an obsessive-compulsive ordeal that I think is absolutely beautiful,” Levy said.

Just another argument to take a closer look at everything — including the art that might be hiding under your nose.

“Accident” runs through Nov. 9 at the Tenth Street Gallery, concurrent with In Tandem Theatre’s “Art of Murder,” which runs through Nov. 7. “Accident” is free to the public Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tickets for “Art of Murder” can be purchased at 414-271-1371 or online at intandemtheatre.org.