Milwaukee Art Museum, art and wilderness

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in an online chat today with the new, incoming director of the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), Daniel Keegan. The format was casual and the event was obviously meant to introduce Mr. Keegan to the Milwaukee community.

Here’s my 2 cents.

Q: Todd Fillingham of Milwaukee – The MAM has a unique relationship to Lake Michigan. Beyond Calatrava’s kinetic, architectural expression of this how do you envision the influence of MAM’s wonderful location in the shaping of future shows and programming?

A: Daniel T. Keegan – Thanks Todd. No question that the total environment of MAM includes its beautiful surroundings, parks and the lake. The Board and staff of the Museum have begun exploration of how the outdoor environment can be further developed as part of the Museum experience. I will pick this up as one of the opportunities ahead.

I thought Mr. Keegan, gave a good answer, especially since he was responding quickly and had many topics to respond to. My question however sought to go deeper than simply expanding the museum experience into the outdoors. I was thinking particularly about how this extraordinary work of architecture is sited within this city.

Orca under sail.

The significance of this location cannot be overlooked. Prior to the Calatrava addition the building designed by Eero Saarinen was and still is momentous not only because of it’s design but also because of it’s site. I do not want to discuss the relationship between architecture and site here, what I do want bring up though is the relationship between a building that houses and displays art, a great building that houses and displays art and this particular location.

The MAM is situated right at the water’s edge. At the edge of a great lake, one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. This juxtaposes an institution dedicated to one of the civilized world’s highest accomplishments with the wild. For Lake Michigan is a wilderness. And yet this is not completely disharmonious, in fact it reflects a relationship between civilization and wilderness that art mediates. Cryptozoic impulses infuse art. Feral energy animates art. “Fear no art” the bumper sticker says, but who among us faces art unprotected, unshielded, undressed?

Art museums also govern much of the relationship society has with art, they create the means by which most people evaluate art, they offer access to art, they influence the creation of new art, they are gate keepers. MAM is at the gateway to the city of Milwaukee. Traveling from the wilderness into the heart of the city travelers must cross this threshold.

2 thoughts on “Milwaukee Art Museum, art and wilderness

  1. Wouldn’t that be awesome if they added an island…a floating exhibit.

    The museum reminds me of the fluke of a whale.

    Whales are special to me because of a dream.

    The design brings harmony with the sailboats. Wind, water, nature. So much to work with.

  2. Kim,

    You are so right.

    There is an island that was added but it is just a bit south and part of a new state park. This whole area is going through a lot of changes in the recent years, it’s actually quite exciting.

    Thanks for your comment.


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