A Rejuvenated Milwaukee Art Museum

Gallery_FacesBY Michael Casper

The SCENE, and many other media outlets were invited to the preview of the reopening of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the largest visual art institution in Wisconsin and one of the oldest aart museums in the nation. The reopening is the culmination of a 6-year, $34 million project to, as they describe, “transform the visitor experience through dramatically enhanced exhibition and public spaces and bright, flowing galleries.”

And transform they did.

The museum’s director, Daniel Keegan says they’ve ‘turned the museum on it’s head’ with this reconstruction.

“What do I mean by that,” Keegan asked? “Well, what was on the lower level is now on the upper level, what was last in the story has become first in the story. Where the lake entrance was closed, we’ve added a whole new experience in the building and have reopened the lake entrance. Where the former art presentation was pretty much uniform, we have, by design, created a very dynamic and interactive, and ever changing experience within what used to be called the ‘permanent collection’ of art museums. What was once confusing, is now clear.”

Keegan says a dominant west to east ‘flow’ has been created with the renovation.

“The new Milwaukee Art Museum is poised to set the standard for a twenty-first-century museum at the heart of a great city,” Keegan 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. We like to think of it as a giant ‘discovery zone.’ It’s historical, and topical. It’s fun and it’s provocative, it’s defining and it’s questioning. It’s experiential, and it’s also introspective.”

Milwaukee is in the midst of a downtown renaissance, and Keegan believes that what has been created with the museum’s expansion, is something of ‘a revolution.’

“A revolution, indeed,” Keegan said “and as proof, our museum is one of the few in the nation that has a focused and dedicated space for photography, art through the lens, and art about light, boasting over 10,000 square feet of space now called the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts that resides in the lower level.”

gallery_PabstThey’ve also created the Bradley Family Gallery on the second floor of the new east end of the museum.

“That has given us the opportunity to double our changing gallery experience,” Keegan said “for our rotating exhibitions.”
The permanent collection is expected to change more than ever.

“We’ve created rotational galleries within the not-so-permanent collection galleries,” Keegan said. “Over time, those spaces will change with the presentation of art.”

The project is part of a historic public-private partnership with Milwaukee County, which owns the buildings and provided $10 million toward the renovation, with the remaining $24 million raised through the Museum’s Plan for the Future campaign. It’s the first major reimagining of the museum’s extensive collection areas, including the museum’s 1957 Eero Saarinen-designed War Memorial Center and 1975 David Kahler designed addition.

“And thanks to the Kohl’s Art Generation experience, which is again front and center within the galleries,” Keegan said. “This is arguably one of the first projects put in place many years ago in ‘pilot’ form, knowing that we would want to move forward that learning, and hands-on experience front and center within the museum.”

While addressing critical infrastructure upgrades, the renovation creates an intuitive and welcoming visitor experience to showcase the museum’s world-class collection.

“We want museum goers to explore and examine,” Keegan said “wanting it to be socially oriented, but also surprising. We wanted places for people to wonder and to wander, to lose themselves within these spaces.”

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s renovated Collection Galleries and new east entrance now span 150,000 square feet. Within this space, the Museum has installed 2,500 works of art almost 1,000 more than have been on view at one time in the past, from its collection of 30,000 works.


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