Like the Guggenheim in New York and the Oakland Museum in California, the building of the Milwaukee Art Museum is a piece of art in itself. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the museum is shaped liked a bird taking flight over the lake. Large metal beams extend from the museum, mimicking wings, and steel cables stretch into tail feathers. The beams descend in the evening, when the museum closes and the bird lands, and reopens each morning.
If the magnificent structure weren’t compelling enough, the collection of the MAM is everything you want out of a small museum - comprehensive but precise with famous work alongside new pieces by great contemporary artists. One of Andy Warhols’ Brillo Boxes next to a Robert Smithson sculpture with Tara Donovan’s Bluffs, a sculpture made in 2009, in the background. Made of thousands of buttons, Bluffs recalls a Dr. Suess dream, a Martian landscape, and New Mexico.
Hidden in the basement, the museum welcomes you to their “Chair Park” where visitors can sample the chairs usually kept behind glass: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Peacock Chair, Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, and many others.
The museum, along with the Chipstone Foundation, also created a permanent installation to display a vast collection of pottery and other objects called “Mrs. M—‘s Cabinet.” The ghostlike projection of the fictional Mrs. M— tells the story of the desire to travel the world for her collection.
The museum also has galleries dedicated exclusively to Folk & Outsider American Art. Many of the objects do not have attribution but are simply “American.” Others were made by Edgar Tolson (a famous wood carver) or John W. Perates. This collection includes unique specimens from the Civil War era like canes that soldiers carved for themselves after the war honoring their fellow soldiers who perished and other events of the war.