Crate-tivity at the Milwaukee Art Museum

By Suzie Skalmoski

Once hidden in the Milwaukee Art Museum vaults, freshly uncrated works of art fill the renovated museum’s new spaces.

In November 2015, the museum concluded a $34 million renovation and expansion project, which made room for 1,000 additional pieces of art, many in storage for decades.

Storage Process

According to Rachel Vander Weit, a curator of “Uncrated, Unveiled,” the previously uncrated but valuable pieces were stored in special temperature-controlled vaults and racks, which secured their safety and preservation. Other works were stored off-site in protective buildings in Milwaukee and Chicago.

As with collections at other large museums, it is critical that the registrar keeps track of each work of art, whether exhibited, stored or being shared with other museums, Vander Weit said.

The art museum has “security components where the doors are locked and only certain people have access,” she said. “They have a museum database that records all of the current locations of every single object.”

This key task belongs to the registrar, who tracks everything —­ such as where and when a piece moves to a different space — and is ultimately responsible for the safety and preservation of the art.

With so many pieces available for viewing, the museum staff rotates the works of art on display to ensure every piece sees a few rotations every year.

“Something that is susceptible to light exposure, we rotate those out typically every three to six months, just depending on the object and how much exposure it has had in the past,” she said.

In addition, many popular and precious works are requested to be borrowed by other art institutions. The pieces on loan will ultimately make their way back to M.A.M. once finished with the rotation.

Benefits of Renovations

While the new works are certainly one of the highlights of “Uncrated, Unveiled,” the renovations are visually inspiring in their own right. The museum staff has updated parts of the building, creating a new entrance and new spaces for more artwork to be displayed.

It was a three- to five-year process, and the 4,000 square feet used for periodically rotating exhibits adds a whole new dimension to the museum. The additional space will be enhanced in the near future, as the employees of the Milwaukee Art Museum have their hands full with the fresh and improved exhibits.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s renovations add an artistic element to the classic taste and visual experience. In addition to the new works of art, the general structural renovations increase the quality of the experience.

The museum’s accessibility for the public has also improved by adding bathrooms on every level; a new, beautiful entrance; and a coffee and wine bar.

Even though these features have been added, most of the famous works of art. The hand-blown glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, the realistic “Janitor” by Duane Hanson and Alex Katz’s iconic dog painting “Sunny,” are still on display.


Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Friday until 8 p.m.

Open Mondays, Memorial Day-Labor Day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas day

Uncrated Works of Art 

While many works of art in the new “Uncrated, Unveiled” exhibit are significant, three pieces have been most intriguing and fascinating to viewers since the November 2015 reopening. This has not escaped the notice of museum staff, and they recommend a visit to take in the following pieces.

Street Corner 

“Street Corner” (1899) by Robert Henri: While the painting looks like an artist’s rendering of a typical day in the city, the image itself is not one to pass up. The perfect balance, lighting and color are achieved in the scene, adding special character to the piece as it tells a story of an urban day. The realistic colors and action going on in the street describe 1800s city life just as it would be. With the detail added to the buildings and the people, it is a memorable piece because it portrays that idea of what the city actually looked like in that era. This painting illustrates a charm to the old city life, and a viewer should not leave the museum without taking it in.

In Drydock

“In Drydock” (1942) by Georges Braque: The sailboat, the beach, and the subject give this painting a moving quality, as beauty is depicted in thick brush strokes, minimal color and simple lines and shapes. The eye is drawn to the blending of colors as the painting tells a perplexing story of why the subject might be near the sailboat. While it is somewhat simple in its portrayal of the beach, a sailboat and a person, the color and the movement of the piece give an entirely new perspective to simplicity and beauty, as the two join to create a moving and emotional canvas.

High Rise 

“High Rise” (1983-1984) by Claire Zeisler: An immense sculpture made of strong, heavy rope captures your attention as soon as you lay eyes on it. The piece arrests your eyes. The height of the piece adds a completely new dimension to art, as viewers stare at it in awe because of its great size and composition. The piece’s incredibly heavy material contributes to the diversity of the museum, as it is able to stand on its own with an elaborate contrivance.

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