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Villa Incognito: Latent Narratives in the Permanent Collection

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March 31, 2021 – March 06, 2022

The Villa Terrace is not only a home, but also a fantasy. Based on an Italian Renaissance villa, the mansion’s architectural style, decorative ornament, and objects d’art are a carefully orchestrated masquerade in which Milwaukee’s urban environment fades into the distance and artfully framed views transform Lake Michigan into the Mediterranean Sea. This exhibition examines the mansion and a group of objects from the Villa Terrace collection, showing how various forms of imitation, synthesis, and symbolism are at work, and how these strategies work to create an idealized environment.

Among the objects in the Villa Terrace collection can be found reproductions, faux finishes, 20th century copies of 17th century objects, miniature housewares for children, reassemblies, and numerous objects with overlapping cultural influences. The motivations behind creating and collecting these objects include evoking history or luxury – to fooling the eye. Many are also examples of appropriated design influences from other cultures. Appreciating the collection from multiple vantage points can reveal information hidden in the complex narrative these objects embody, and larger questions about American culture – its complex economies, global influences, and belief that any dream is possible.