Basically, the major improvement is much better use of space. The two parts of the older building make up large rectangular areas only really broken up by a central stairwell, so, theoretically, one could cram in as many dividing walls to hang things on as one could and still leave space to see the larger pieces. The Art Museum didn’t go that far, but there does seem to be more wall space for hangings, but enough open space to appreciate what is on view. The total number of pieces on exhibit has been increased from 1500 to 2500. Critics have been very complimentary toward the renovation, including a significant article in the New York Times of December 28th. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/arts/design/milwaukee-art-museum-reinvigorates-with-renovations.html?emc=edit_th_20151229&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=23107975&_r=1)
This effect is most noticeable in the lower-level contemporary art area. The very austere high-ceilinged spaces make excellent locations for the frequently large modern paintings and installations. Beyond the familiar Warhol and Lichtenberg pieces that have been mainstays of the collection, there are now many more very interesting pieces on display. (A daunting number of which are titled “Untitled,” which makes me realize that it would be very easy to curate a large exhibit on that theme--.)
The upper level, housing the historical collections, has been broken up into intimate rooms, with wall colors and treatments that support the theme of each room. We were glad to see that a version of the “Layton Gallery,” which seeks to recreate an art exhibit as it would have looked at the time of the Museum’s founder, has been preserved, as have iconic exhibits such as the 19th Century German painting collection.
The Milwaukee Art Museum will never have the size or scope of something like the Art Institute of Chicago, but it has always been a very good museum and now is much improved. Its collection gives a nice overview of the history of Art from ancient to modern which is accessible within a leisurely day.
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