Sunday, April 7, 2013

Two Milestone for Wisconsin Art

Celebrate with the MOWA and MAM

By Peggy Sue
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In a grand scale art celebration in Southeastern Wisconsin, two museums reached important milestones this past week. The Museum of Wisconsin Art (now called MOWA), opened its doors this April to four new galleries, a gift shop and expansive, sparkling educational facilities. Their first exhibition “Antifragile; Contemporary Glass” features elite Wisconsin glassmakers transforming the difficult medium, while the ONE gallery presents: Reginald Baylor; Repetitive Patterns” on a balcony overlooking the new entrance lobby, perfectly suitable for staging events.

The fluid museum space housed in a wedge like shape with a point at one end, named "La Pointe," captivates a visitor from the moment one walks in the door, the sublime interior contemporary with design elements incorporating variations on innovative concrete: Whether integrated into the façade and exterior, the flooring or the staircases used by staff and visitors when moving from the first floor to the second.

While the gallery spaces are equally fluid allowing for easily appreciating the art, an exciting and innovative design component is the visible archival storage of the MOWA’s permanent collection. On the second floor, the soaring ceilings allow for a transparent glass wall that invites the visitors to admire the museum’s vast permanent collection, with plenty of space for adding to the collection in the future.

Monumental sliding glass display “walls" may be pulled out and in, from the various places in the room, to change the  permanent collection on view, usually relegated to a museum’s basement. The staff, by literally and  merely sliding the storage walls where the artworks are mounted, can change the “permanent collection exhibition” for the visitor. Even though the paintings are hung salon style, the view from the outside looking in reveals a fascinating surprise for those visiting.

With family days, Spark! programming and innovative pricing for museum admission, the MOWA enters into an era and elevated status as a premiere regional art museum, the centerpiece for the redevelopment of downtown West Bend. As the "best wedgie" in West Bend, the museum presents an effort to change the face of the back storefronts facing the Milwaukee River flowing across the street and in the museum’s site lines.

In the city, the Milwaukee Art Museum, christened “125 Years of Art” this past weekend with a trifecta of exhibitions. These include “!25 Years of the Milwaukee Art Museum,” "Mr. Layton’s Gallery," and “The History of the Layton Art Collection From 1888 to Today.” The three combined exhibitions provide Milwaukee with the unique historical perspective to how the MAM achieved world class status in the 21st century.

The Layton Art Gallery, forerunner to the MAM, opened on April 6, 1888 after the British born Frederick Layton kept a promise he made over dinner to open an art gallery. In the exhibition "The History of the Layton Art Collection," the artworks highlight the transition to the contemporary institution and how the collection developed through the various directors and curators, in part courtesy of a determined avant garde woman named Charlotte Partridge.

Partridge redirected the Layton Art Gallery in the early 20th century after Layton’s death to education, eventually founding the Layton School of Art, and adding modernism to the traditional tastes of the founder. This legacy of education can still be traced through the numerous artists that worked and survived making art in Wisconsin, becoming integral to the Layton School of Art, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, both as prominent artists and excellent educators.  All these artists, either in the past that reaches to the present, provided a rich heritage, and still do, that the MOWA continues to document and move forward to collecting in the future. In part, the MOWA accomplishing this goal by exploring Wisconsin architecture and decorative arts together with the Native American art history prevalent in the state.

In the coming summer months, both institutions plan special events and programming marking with pride these monumental milestones. Art abounds within a 90 mile radius from Milwaukee. Before and when the summer weather finally arrives, plan on taking advantage to enjoy the wonderful art and the Wisconsin landscape.  

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