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Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Museum Opens Renowned American Collections Galleries

Posted on October 29th, 2008

Milwaukee, WI, October 23—The Milwaukee Art Museum celebrates the grand opening of its renowned galleries of American paintings and decorative arts, thanks to an 18-month process largely inspired by the Renaissance display tradition of the so-called cabinet of curiosities or wunderkammer. Six intimate galleries feature curatorial and artistic interventions that surprise, delight, and challenge visitors to develop personal interpretations.
Artist and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Fred Wilson lectures in the Museum’s Lubar Auditorium on the
“Silent Message of the Museum” to mark the occasion.

The galleries engage visitors with radical and significant twists on traditional methods of art-museum presentation: audio tours on iPod Touch handsets provide stylistic background to furniture with period music rather than narration; a “word cloud” of keywords contributed by visitors offers new context to racially charged objects; interactive kiosks explain curious objects after prompting visitors to guess their origins; and Hidden Dimensions brings an anthropological approach typically reserved for non-Western cultures to bear on American objects.

The permanent installation Loca Miraculi: Rooms of Wonder involves a significant artistic intervention by Madison-based artist Martha Glowacki, who lends both works of art and interpretive vision for the space. In addition, Hidden Dimensions features a film by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, and a film by Wisconsin artist Ray Chi welcomes guests to the galleries. Also included in Loca Miraculi is work by artists Mary Dickey and Michelle Erickson, and cabinetmaker Jim Dietz created custom cabinetry.

A collaboration between the curatorial staff of the Chipstone Foundation and the Museum covering approximately 13,000 square feet, the lower-level galleries include both permanent installations and a temporary exhibition space. Works collected since 1888 by important American painters such as Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, and John James Audubon are on view, as are outstanding examples of American decorative arts and furniture from both the Museum’s Collection and Chipstone’s internationally recognized holdings.

“The Museum and Chipstone share deep, rich collections covering 400 years of North American history. One of the guiding principles in our installation is to inspire a modern-day wonder in historic art objects,” notes Chipstone Executive Director and Chief Curator Jonathan Prown. “We’ve decided to reduce the didactic curatorial voice in favor of artistic interventions and transdisciplinary scholarship. The strategy offers a variety of perspectives that better embraces the diversity of both our collections and our audiences.”

The American Collections Galleries are curated by Sarah Fayen and Ethan Lasser, curators at the Chipstone Foundation, and Executive Director and Chief Curator Jonathan Prown. They are designed by
Michael Mikulay, exhibition designer at Chipstone. The American Collections Galleries are supported by the Chipstone Foundation and The Richard C. von Hess Foundation.

A lecture by Fred Wilson
Thursday, October 23, 6:15 p.m.
Free with general admission
Born in the Bronx in 1954, Fred Wilson received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1999 and represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2003. His groundbreaking 1992 exhibition “Mining the Museum” transformed the Baltimore Historical Society’s collection and started a national discussion about the display of history and its objects. Wilson’s lecture is co-sponsored by the American Arts Society and the
Faith and Willard F. Henoch Acquisition and Program Fund of the Layton Art Collection.

A fifty page book available to gallery visitors, the guide offers in-depth information in a form inspired by Renaissance methods of object interpretation. Written by Sarah Fayen with Martha Glowacki, designed by Dan Saal with photographs by Erin Landry and others.

Tuesday, November 4, 1:30 p.m. with curator Sarah Fayen
Tuesday, November 25, 1:30 p.m. with curator Ethan Lasser
Join the curators for fresh and insightful 45-minute tours of the galleries.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a Collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine
“Best Design of 2001.”