In an era when many institutions of higher learning are selling art from their museums' permanent collections to raise cash, the re-opening of the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum is an emphatic and refreshing reminder that art still plays a vital role in education. The building's $14 million expansion, designed by its original architect, Frank Gehry, adds 8,100 square feet of gallery space, virtually doubling exhibition capacity and in turn revitalizing the museum's educational mission.
The current incarnation of the Weisman opened in 1993 and is arguably more famous for what it looks like on the outside than what happens inside. "Gehry chose a gauge of stainless steel that ripples like the reflection of light on the river," says Weisman director Lyndel King. He also incorporated brick, a nod to the dominant architecture on campus. But it's Gehry's swirling silver whimsy that people remember.
The expansion adds significant amounts of both brick and steel, extending the museum's footprint north and east toward the heart of the U of M's East Bank. But this time around, the most striking changes are inside. The expansion adds four new galleries, for a total of eight, plus skylights in many rooms and a new area, the Target Studio for Creative Collaboration, that is specially designed for collaborative work between students, teachers, scholars, and artists. The new galleries feel open and alive in a way the old space did not, bringing the interior on par with the museum's uniquely engaging exterior. Displaying more of the museum's collection is one of the addition's primary goals, so the first exhibition in the new space, Cartography of a Collection, features highlights from the Weisman's 20,000-piece permanent trove. The exhibition traces a line from the early days of Hudson Walker (the Weisman's first director, who built the foundation of the museum's excellent American modernism collection) to the present, emphasizing the evolution of the collection as it was acquired. "In a sense, we are mapping the growth of the collection and putting the work in the context of people and stories," says King.
In addition to artwork from the collection, two of the new galleries will feature rotating exhibitions by artists whose work is inspired by the art in the Weisman or the building itself. One such exhibit is by Sharon Louden, who uses hundreds of thousands of aluminum pieces of varying finishes to "draw" on the gallery walls with streaks of light, a nod to the Weisman's reflective exterior and Gehry's own use of drawing in his work. Louden describes her project as "bringing in the reflections, the gesture, the magic of the facade [of the building] in an obsessive, intimate environment."
That description might apply equally to the new space as a whole. 333 E. River Rd., Mpls., 612-625-9494, wam.umn.edu.