Listen up art and architecture aficionados, the Milwaukee Art Museum has undergone a transformation.
You probably know of its soaring white Quadracci Pavilion with a sculptural, sail-like roof that opens and closes over its prow-shaped Windhover Hall. But you might also remember trying to navigate its darkish, confusing galleries.
It’s time to come back and be surprised. The gorgeous works of traditional European and American works now hang gallery-style on complementary-colored walls. Modern and Contemporary art now have the space in a white cube setting for best viewing.
A new section has now opened the east side of the complex with a long wall of glass that takes advantage of Lake Michigan views and seems to welcome walkers outside to come in and explore. Lounge areas and an additional café and entry now have been added on the east side.
An entire photography and light installation area has taken up residence downstairs in what was a basement. And a thousand works have been added that were recently acquired or haven’t been exhibited for years.
The new addition and the renovated space has brought the entire museum into a visual and experiential mode that more reflects the design of the Quadracci Pavilion, according to Chief Curator Brady Roberts.
“The Quadracci Pavilion in 2001 was a spectacular addition but it stood in contrast to the old section. Now the collection is more unified, more cohesive,” Roberts explained in a recent phone interview.
“The other aspect is we’re now open to the lakefront. The museum is transparent. People can look in and visitors can see people walking by. Before the museum was more closed and appeared forbidding,” Roberts said.
Part of the fun for him and for the curators of each department was having the space to display works as they should be and to add items.
“We brought up items hadn’t been seen in decades,” Roberts said, mentioning a Guy Pene du Bois, a Norman Rockwell and a piece by Taos, NM artist Larry Bell.
However, photography buffs will like that art form’s space. “Photography is one of the most dramatic new elements,” he said. “Previously it was on one wall on the mezzanine level. Now it has 10,000 square feet and can accommodate a video installation. For that you need a black box. We didn’t have that before. Now the lower lever is a black box,” Roberts said.
Tip: wear gym or other comfortable shoes. The museum has more than 300,000 square feet and has increased the permanent display from 1,500 to 2,500 works.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is at 700 N. Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53203.