The best of them is the Milwaukee Art Museum, an architectural wonder that houses an art collection that has been assembled since the late 1880s. While the museum has had several incarnations, the latest addition designed by architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava is as stunning as the works on display there.
The graceful Quadracci Pavilion is a post-modern sculpture that now defines the museum itself, a chancel that is shaped like a ship, with signature wings and a moveable sunscreen that spans 217 feet. The bride soleil is made up of 72 steel fins, each rising in length from 26 to 105 feet. And the entire structure overlooks the deep blue expanse of Lake Michigan.
This stunning structure isn't the only building that makes up the museum. Along with the 1975 addition of the Kahler Building by David Kahler, the 1957 War Memorial Center, designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and built under the supervision of his son, has been an regional landmark since it first opened. The building is memorable. It's a wonder why most people are still more likely to associate beer with the city instead of its long-lasting love affair with art.
The art inside the Milwaukee Art Museum.
While it hasn't fully caught on as common knowledge, Milwaukee continues to transcend its image as an offshoot of the Chicago art world. In truth, it always has shined as brightly as its southern neighbor, but most people never knew to take a look inside the ensemble originally started by a meat packer.
However, in the international art community, Milwaukee has managed to gain acceptance for its collections of international importance. Enough so that the city has secured some of the most spectacular visiting exhibits, hosting as many as three at a time.
Albertina in Vienna, well known as one of the finest art collections in the world.
And this is only one of three exhibits. The permanent collections are equally grand, and much larger than anyone might expect from a city bordered by a lake on one side and farmland on the other. The permanent collections, which are regularly rotated, include 15th to 20th century European and 17th to 20th century American paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. The museum is also well known for having some of the best American decorative arts, German Expressionism, folk and Haitian art in the nation.
In sum, the Milwaukee Art Museum's collection includes nearly 25,000 works of art that range from historic to modern. Some of the historic works are immediately recognizable for their inclusion in important books on art and history. It requires two full days to adequately see what is on display; and even then, visitors will never see everything.
Ten permanent collections and three visiting exhibits.
Although the entire embodiment of work spills beyond the museum's ten collections, they capture the spirit of what has been preserved here for 125 years. As a mere cursory preview, one of the most important collections includes the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection with its Fauve paintings by George Braues and Maurice de Vlaminck, seminal Expressionist paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Vassily Kandinsky, and magnificent works by Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Of course, importance is relative.
The Marcia and Granvil Specks Collection features prints by masters such as Erich Heckel, Kathe Kollwitz, and Emil Nolde. And the Richard and Erna Flagg Collection of Haitian art includes works by Hector Hyppolite, Castera Bazile, and Wilson Biguad. Along with these, the museum is also home to pre-1900 decorative arts, a collection of more than 100 unique and historically significant objects from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including the best collection of German Renaissance clocks anywhere outside Germany.
In has also painstakingly preserved original works collected from the Layton Art Gallery and Milwaukee Art Institute, which originally formed the city's start in the arts. And, it has an exhaustive collection of American art after 1960 (including Warhol) as well as one of the largest Georgia O'Keeffe collections in the nation.
A bit about Georgia O'Keeffe, the daughter of a Wisconsin farmer.
Sure, O'Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916 but she was first and foremost a Wisconsin native and born in a farmhouse near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. It is her abstract imagery of the 1910s and early 1920s that is considered among her most innovative works.
But later, she would eventually discover northern New Mexico, being the first woman to lay claim to the American Southwest. What is especially unique about the Milwaukee Art Museum's collection is that the paintings and drawings are from both her early years and after she intensified her focus on the American Southwest.
Together, they demonstrate a complete evolution of O'Keeffe as a painter. And without her, later women artists may not have had the foundation to base their movement on in the 1960s. O'Keeffe was easily one of the first women to shrug off what was expected and paint whatever she wanted.
The Milwaukee Art Museum Carves Out 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
The Milwaukee Art Museum truly is a premier destination for art in one of the least likely locales. It also serves as one of several anchors to revitalize Milwaukee's downtown. The museum is still in need of more retail and dining options within walking distance (beyond Coast and Bacchus), especially for breakfast and lunch. The museum does, however, have a small cafe.
Visiting the museum has become one of the best "must do" activities for anyone visiting Milwaukee, even helping to place the city on the national map beyond its annual SummerFest or Milwaukee Brewers games. You can check airfare rates at Fare Buzz with flights up to 60 percent off. For anyone with an interest in O'Keeffe even though her original work is out of reach, Barewalls has an abundance of art work prints, some of which can be ordered on canvas.