By TALISA LARSON
When you walk in the front doors of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you see liquid
lines, a 200-foot ceiling and marble floors. There are no displays of art in the immediate corridors because the building itself is a masterpiece of architecture, engineering and design.
The Milwaukee Art Museum honors Santiago Calatrava’s creation 10 years after its completion with its current exhibition, “Building a Masterpiece: Santiago Calatrava and the Milwaukee Art Museum.”
MAM was the first building Calatrava, a native of Spain, created in the U.S. He initially created a design for the new entrance, but it progressed into a new building design once the MAM board saw it. Calatrava’s design for the new MAM began to draw international attention in 1997. The masterpiece was completed in October 2001.
On a guided tour, Brady Roberts, MAM’s chief curator, pointed to the fluid
concrete arches and smiled. “Calatrava had individuals in mind – the building is impressive, but on a human scale,” Roberts said. “When you go to major cities…to really enormous corporate buildings and you walk in the lobby, you feel completely dwarfed by the scale of the architecture.”
He continued, “Calatrava achieved something…when you walk into Windover Hall, that is this beautiful soaring space, but you never feel overwhelmed, instead, as you walk towards the lake, it feels very intimate and connected to the landscape…and that’s something quite intentional for Calatrava who as an individual is very focused on others…and it comes across in his architecture.”
Human inspiration is seen in Calatrava’s watercolors of the building in various phases. The Burke Brise Soleil watercolor displays Calatrava’s focus on people. Next to the soleil is the drawing of a human face and beside this face, Calatrava painted a couple with their children looking up at the moveable wings. “The watercolors have a stream-of-consciousness-like quality, as the imagery flows from humans to sails,” Roberts said.
Calatrava’s masterpiece has brought international attention to Milwaukee. “We
get people from all over the country and even the world to come to the museum specifically to see the Quadracci Pavilion and the nice thing is they leave quite impressed that the Milwaukee Art Museum has such a strong identity architecturally and artistically,” Roberts said.
Artistically, MAM’s more than 20,000 holdings, dating from antiquity to the present, is an extensive collection of 19th century and 20th century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, folk art and self-taught art.
This balance of beauty, intellect and congeniality runs throughout this building, and is evident in the staff and administrators.
“We are here for all of Milwaukee and the region,” Roberts said. “We have become internationally known since the Quadracci Pavilion was built ten years ago, but our core audience is Milwaukee, so we work hard to reach out to the community with a variety of programs.”
MAM hosts weekly Learn & Play functions inviting school-age children and families to explore art. There are opportunities to volunteer as a docent or to support the museum’s mission of preservation and education.
Internships are also available at MAM. Katrin Sticha, a graphic design major at Mount Mary College and a native of Chicago, completed her internship at MAM. Sticha first encountered MAM on a seventh grade field trip. As a college student, however, she applied to several places in Chicago for a graphic design internship, but received no response. On a whim she applied to MAM and was accepted.
“I was really nervous,” Sticha said. “It was a very welcoming department and it was a very good learning environment…everyone was very friendly and supportive…I was sad to leave.”
Calatrava’s masterpiece is more than a beautiful building on Milwaukee’s horizon; it is a place of thought, creativity and innovation.
“It really is the philosophy of MAM and certainly the curatorial department, when we’re presenting exhibitions…and the permanent collection, we are thinking about how we are engaging our viewers,” Roberts said. “We are working on a plan to reinstall the collections museum-wide in a few years…and we hope to present the entire collection experience in a totally new way, so you will see that philosophy manifest.”