Calatrava in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Art Museum

A weekend conference gave me a brief opportunity to see the Milwaukee Art Museum by Santiago Calatrava.  I had seen photos of the brise soleil but had not studied the complete building or understood its purpose.  Locals seem proud of the structure and and explained to me how it opens and closes to shield the interior from direct sun.  The building is stunning, set against Lake Michigan.  Friday during my visit, the sky was grey and the building was difficult to photograph.  The brise soleil was open like seagulls landing.  As I left on Sunday with the sun shining the brise soleil was folded down against the skylights.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit and see the difference for the interior lighting but Friday , the grand lobby was glorious.

They were showing ‘Late Andy Warhol’ but with the museum closing in one half hour, it didn’t seem worth the admission.  Besides I wanted to enjoy the building.  I had not wanted to like the building nearly so much as I did.  I regard the showy technology that Calatrava wields so beautifully as extravagant and flamboyant and usually prefer the understated, particularly in an art museum but this building is a delight and once you are inside, the art is not overshadowed by the architecture.

I have two distinct visual references from the building.  The first is the submarine from the Captain Nemo submarine (I think from the Disney version) which looked like an art nouveau sea monster rendered in steel.  The second is the soaring TWA terminal of Eero Saarinen.

It was a wonderful day for me in Milwaukee and a good reason to return with a focus on Milwaukee instead of a leadership conference.  The last time I visited Milwaukee was during college to see a friend at Marquette and I was not impressed.  Milwaukee has aged well and still has some kick left.

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