PostHeaderIcon Milwaukee Unveils New “Bones”

Editor’s Note: This news event and happy occasion marks the 100th post I have written for ArtsandAbout.com. I started this project almost six years ago and have derived great enjoyment sharing my thoughts on Chicago’s cultural scene and beyond. I plan to continue and hope you come along for the ride.

The Milwaukee Art Museum held a press preview on November 13 that rolled out the results of a 6-year, $34 million renovation project that added new exhibition spaces, rehung the

MAM view

New space with Lake Michigan view

the collection and will, according to its news release, “transform the visitor experience”. For the first time in my memory, the museum now has three buildings that are seamlessly connected and allow visitors to navigate its North to South floor-through galleries uninterruped.

The space has been reconfigured and updated. And the impact is startling. No longer is the iconic Santiago Calatrava structure hogging the spotlight over Eero Saarinen’s 1957 War Memorial Center and the 1975 addition by David Kahler. The space and its collection now feel like a unified, organic whole. The three are now one 21st Century museum.

Gallery 10

Gallery 10
Rehung salon style

Museum director, Daniel Keegan, put it very well when he said, “What began as a desire to preserve the space and Collection grew into a significant expansion that rejuvenates and sets the future course for the entire institution.” The museum opened to the public on November 24 with 30,000 square feet of new gallery space that will enable the museum to display an additional 1,000 works from its collection of 30,000 objects.

As we took a tour with Keegan, there were signs of ongoing construction all around as workers and staff prepared for opening day. Wires could be seen on some floors, ladders and the sound of hammers spoke of installations-in-progress. One critically important feature was missing: wall labels. I found that detail of this once-in-a-lifetime backstage glimpse quite off-putting, seeing many artworks lacking identifying data and commentary, though it made for a highly tantalizing Art trivia contest.

The Newsboy

The Newsboy
Unkown artist 1888

Keegan and the curators were saving the art for the public opening. This preview’s goal was really to unveil the museum’s new “bones.” Museum staff have labored for years with inadequate viewing spaces for the art, galleries appropriated for office expansion, aging infrastructure and three buildings that didn’t properly connect. You could almost hear the proud sighs of relief at a new day’s arrival.

The museum now flows as one unit. Spaces that ended in a wall are gone and no longer does the museum end at the Calatrava wing with once-limited access to the museum’s original footprint in the War Memorial. Credit for this happy ending must go to the architects and space planners,             HGA Architects of Milwaukee.

Sadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill Spinner, 1908 by Lewis W. Hine

Sadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill Spinner, 1908 by Lewis W. Hine

I will be writing about all the new art on display at a later date. For now, there is the museum’s new 10,000 square feet Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, the first-ever dedicated space for light-based media. In addition, the additional 20,000 square feet of gallery space allows for new galleries (like the new Bradley Gallery) to highlight the museum’s renowned collection of folk and self-taught/outsider art as well as the Richard and Emma Flagg collection of Haitian Art.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has given the city an early Christmas present: A bigger, better art showcase. Milwaukee’s residents can be proud of their civic jewel that has been strikingly enhanced.  For more information and a chance to view the results, go to www.mam.org

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