Thoroughly Modernist Museum

By - May 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Ken Morgan

It’s already been selected to receive a 2002 American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.

The Racine Art Museum opens its doors for the first time on May 11, 2003. A terrific example of contemporary architecture, it takes its place in Racine alongside 20th century architectural design landmarks such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece “Wingspread” and the S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Administration Building and Research Tower.

Chicago architects Brininstool + Lynch conceived the new museum building as a “restrained, modern showcase for one of the nation’s foremost collections of contemporary crafts.” The project included the total redesign of an existing building that had been a composite structure of different buildings from various periods, parts of which dated back to the Civil War. To give the building a unified character, Brininstool + Lynch devised what has become the project’s defining feature: a continuous wrapper of translucent acrylic panels. “At night, when the panels are lit from behind,” observes Bruce Pepich, Executive Director and Curator of Collections at RAM, “the museum glows like a lantern, serving as a beacon in downtown Racine.”


RAM will house exhibition spaces for its permanent collection (which will be rotated on a regular, frequent basis to give museum-goers a chance to see as much of it as possible) and temporary, traveling shows, plus a museum store “curated” itself with consideration and flair. An entire floor will be dedicated to the collection, care and preparation of art, an extensive art library and research center, and administrative offices. Outdoor sculpture will be prominently displayed in a courtyard with views to Lake Michigan: this space will be open to the public and will also be used for special events. RAM will continue to play a vital role in arts education through its Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts campus, a short drive from the museum, where community outreach programs and studio art workshops are taught by nationally known artists.


The inaugural exhibition, Introducing RAM: The Building and Collections, will feature more than 150 works of contemporary crafts, many of which will be seen for the first time in the new Karen Johnson Boyd Galleries. Introducing RAM will highlight representative works from the more than 1,600 examples in the museum’s permanent collection. This extraordinary collection has been curated over the past 12 years through gifts from collectors and artists from across the country. “We were extremely fortunate to begin with the gift of a 200-piece collection of ceramics, baskets, and jewelry contributed by collector Karen Johnson Boyd in 1991,” elaborates Pepich.


The show will include works by such prominent leaders in contemporary crafts as ceramists Peter Voulkos, Jack Earl, Kenneth Ferguson, and Richard Shaw; fiber artists John McQueen, Lillian Elliott, Joan Livingstone and Dona Look; sculptors in glass Dan Dailey, Richard Marquis, Joel Philip Myers, and Ginny Ruffner; jewelers Robert W. Ebendorf, Arline Fisch, Harold O’Connor, and Earl Pardon; and wood turners and furniture artists Wendell Castle, Jere Osgood, Edward Moulthrop, and Mark Lindquist.


Using their innovative approach to Modernism, Brininstool + Lynch solved the problem of creating spaces for the display of art in a welcoming environment by combining glass and concrete with “moderating” materials such as rubber and warm ash in the interiors. Throughout the interior, millwork establishes scale, rhythm, and visual warmth while adding functionality.


The RAM building provides the best possible viewing conditions for these exhibitions. At forty-six thousand square feet, the building is Brininstool + Lynch’s first art museum in the United States and will be a significant component of the downtown revitalization of Racine, a classic example of adaptive use of urban space.

The opening of the Racine Art Museum offers almost 10,000 square feet of galleries for permanent and traveling exhibitions. Located at 411 Main Street in Racine; for further info, call 262-898-1045 or visit

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