Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mini-adventure - Howdy, MAM!

Milwuakee Art Museum - lakeside view
I've passed by the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) at least a dozen times.  Truly, walked right by the exterior as my family participated in the Milwaukee Komen Race for the Cure.  I had a free morning on the way to see my sister and family in the outskirts, so finally made my way inside.  
Surely I could have made the time sooner to see this beautiful piece of architecture.  Much of the time my sister has lived in Milwaukee overlapped with the years I worked at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC).  Museum fatigue was part of the delayed visit, spending Monday - Friday at a museum left me disinclined to spend my free time in one.  It was probably also a little snobbery, what could a little museum in Milwaukee possibly offer that wasn't on display at the AIC?
Shame on me!  The MAM is a delightful museum, and all in the Milwaukee area should plan a visit.  For me, the star of the show is the museum itself, specifically the 2001 Quadracci Pavilion addition designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  Read more on the MAM webpage.  I planned my visit around the scheduled (weather permitting) noon opening and closing of the Burke Brise Soleil.  The "wings" are a 217-foot moveable sunscreen.  The day of my visit was rather cold and windy, so the wings did not open fully.  Or I missed it.  I went out to watch, nothing happened, so I went back in, only to see from the inside the wings were opening and went back outside.  As I said, it was very cold!

Me waiting for the "wings" show.
"Wings" in the closed position (left) and semi-open (right).

 This was my second visit to a small museum in the past few months.  When in Florida earlier this year, I met a friend at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland.  Snobbery over, I'm rather enjoying smaller museums.  They feel more intimate, and are certainly more manageable.  Big museums like the Art Institute have stellar collections, but it is impossible for a day-visitor to see the entire facility.  In that regard, I am grateful for my time at the AIC, as I saw the collection over time.  
MAM has its share of "big names."  Georgia O'Keeffe in particular is well represented, with several galleries devoted to her works.
Chagall, O'Keeffe, Monet


"The Last of the Spartans"

At the time of my visit, the primary special exhibition was "Uncommon Folk:  Traditions in American Art."  As the name implies, it is a collection of American folk works and self-taught artists.  Drawn from the museum's permanent collection, the brochure describes it as "a captivating visual feast."  I enjoyed it for the display of beauty, pride, and care that people take in their "everyday" objects.  We all have our own creativity and artist lurking inside.   
Collage of works in the "Uncommon Folk" exhibit
Another special exhibit was "Flow," a celebration of the upcoming National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts conference (March 19-22).  I found this interesting because of the ceramics classes I have been taking.  A lot of inspiration, ideas, and questions on technique to ask my teacher.  I also found it a good use of a light-filled gallery.  I really enjoyed all the exterior views in the museum, but I know how troublesome sunlight can be for curators and conservationists.  Ceramics are, in general, a more durable art form, and can withstand the harmful effects of sunlight.   
"Flow" exhibition

"Valentine" by Michelle Erickson, part of the "Flow" exhibit
Enjoyments, notes, and miscellaneous:
1)  As I mentioned previously, one of my favorite things about the museum was the view to the lake.  Had it been a sunnier day, this would have been even more enjoyable.
2)  I also enjoyed the ship-like elements.  MAM is perched right on Lake Michigan's western shore, ready to go forth and share art. 
3)  Staff and volunteers super friendly and helpful!  Some volunteers even gave me the tip to be sure to see the garage, as the Calatrava design carries through.  Indeed, it may be the nicest garage I've ever seen. 
4)  Watching the "wings" open and close is free to any and all passing by. 
5)  If you are short on time, or art just isn't your thing, I think if you just wanted to pop in and see Windhover Hall (grand reception hall), no one would hassle you.  It's beautiful.   
6)  The museum was not busy at all, many galleries I had to myself.  I did visit midday on a weekday in February, so that is probably a factor.
7)  Loved seeing all the school groups!  Art and kids are made for each other, it warms my heart to see them together in museums. 
8)  Speaking of kids and art, also on display during my visit was the 2014 Scholastic Art Awards.  There are some truly talented student artists in Wisconsin.
9)  I spent about 3 hours there, including a café sustenance break.  I took a lot of time with photography, and going in and out for the wings.  I'm more of an art glancer than deep ponderer.  In all, I think I could have used maybe 30-60 minutes longer for a first visit. 
10)  Lockers available for 50 cents.  50 cents!  No wait. 
11)  Parking in the north lot was $6 for as long as I wanted. 
12)  The museum has an abundance of much appreciated benches, water fountains, and toilet rooms throughout.        
13)  And there is actually yoga at the museum once a month. 
See you back here soon for another mini-adventure.
Fancy pants garage
Looking out to Lake Michigan
Inside the Burke Brise Soleil

Contemporary galleries
Your correspondent


  1. Beautiful! I'm lucky enough to live close enough to LA to enjoy the museums, but in a smaller town with several small but stellar museums. I credit my enjoyment of museums to my mom. She took us to all different types of museums when we were growing up. Now that I'm grown, I appreciate her efforts to expose us to the arts a lot more.

    1. Helllo! Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment. Kudos to your mom! Enjoy the museums in and around L.A. :)

  2. This is a good reminder about venturing in and not walking past the opportunities on our doorstep. Thanks!

    1. Hello, and thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad I finally went to the MAM, and it has me excited to check out other small museums.

  3. As someone who works in an art-adjacent field, I'm so glad I popped over to your blog to read this! I often get burnt out by my day-to-day blahs that dealing with the business side of a creative organization entails. I live just outside of the City of Baltimore and we have great museums! You're making me want to go explore some of the smaller ones that I've never taken the time to see. My next planned trip is more historical as I'm going to follow the Harriet Tubman Trail on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! When working at a museum, so often I'd dash by everything to get from A to B. Enjoy the Harriet Tubman Trail, and checking out Baltimore's museums.

  4. Thank you for the tour! The design of the building (the wings) was brilliant. I love the concept of the art starting from the outside-in. You could sell this to a magazine.

    1. Hi Nancy! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It is great when an art museum is engaging. It does make for an overall better experience, and I think it also softens the line between "art" and "every day life" a little bit. It would be a lot of fun to go around places and write articles!