Jeramey Jannene

Gould Takes Journal Buyout, Rips Grohmann Museum One More Time

By - Dec 22nd, 2007 02:27 am
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Whitney Gould took an early retirement buyout from Journal Communications a little over a month ago.  Her send off column was titled “Retiring, not tiring of quality design.” Ever since moving to Milwaukee three years ago I’ve enjoyed her reporting on issues involving building design.

My views began to disagree with hers when she started to question the restoration of the former check processing center on the corner of Broadway and State St into the Grohmann Museum, a museum dedicated to the showcasing of men (and women) at work throughout time, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

I began to wonder if she cared that the new Grohmann Museum would finally build a book-end for the MSOE campus with the Kern Center, rehab an underused and unattractive building downtown, and build a transition piece from Milwaukee City Hall north to the Kern Center and Park East neighborhood.  Add to that the fact that the financing was entirely provided by Eckhart Grohmann.  In fact Robert & Patricia Kern and Eckhart Grohmann deserve nothing but admiration and applause for their commitment to producing well-rounded engineers in downtown Milwaukee.

To be fair, Whitney Gould does address some of the these facts and does give a fair amount of praise to Grohmann for his contribution.  I do disagree with her on a few things though.

Her appraisal of the building as a cheap impersonation of the style of a bygone era is lacking in insight.  One needs to only walk from City Hall, past the Grohmann Museum, and to the Kern Center to see the bridge the museum forms between the past and present architectural styles.  Unlike many other bland glass buildings in many other cities, Grohmann and the architects at Uihlein Wilson created something distinctly Milwaukee and distinctly MSOE.   The building meshes perfectly with the Kern Center both inside and out thanks to Uihlein Wilson designing both buildings, and forms a southern book end of the MSOE campus on Broadway to match the Kern Center’s north anchor position.  MSOE should be praised for finally developing a physical identity, especially while both Marquette and UWM expand theirs in a much more public fashion.

She, along with other members of the art community, also seem to take offense that no one that works at the museum has true art credentials.  Speaking as someone who has been in the museum many times, the artwork is displayed just as it in any museum and curator John Kopmeier is just as qualified to discuss the content of the collection as anyone with an art degree.

My final point of disagreement with Gould is over her obsession with the Nazi art work in the collection.  She seems to hold this belief that the Nazi-attachment to the artwork is hidden from viewers, it’s not.  It is not outwardly stated that “hey, this painting could contain Nazi slaves”, but if you ask someone they will tell you.  They will also tell you that the paintings featuring Egyptians might contain slaves building pyramids.  That the paintings featuring peasant farmers toiled in fields for a king.

The focus of the collection isn’t on whether workers have been treated humanely throughout time, because clearly they haven’t.  The focus of the collection is to honor the work that they have done, because hard work is honorable.

The labeling of the art work as Nazi art or that it might contain slaves would draw attention to the collection for the wrong reasons.

The Man at Work collection on display at the Grohmann Museum seeks not to glorify slavery or oppression, but to take the viewer on a journey through time to demonstrate the amazing feats of hard working men and women throughout time.

I do think somewhere there should be a pamphlet or plaque to explain this to visitors and I’ve heard from reliable sources that it is coming eventually.  That same source has also confirmed to me that they’re not rushing to get it out there because the Journal Sentinel thinks they should, nor do they have any intention of putting plaques next to the paintings that may contain Nazi artwork.

While I understand Gould’s conclusions at a high level, I wish her article would have done more to recognize the fact that Grohmann transformed a building that would have sat empty for years into a viable asset for the city of Milwaukee.

I’ll miss her column in the Journal Sentinel and hope her sendoff column isn’t the last we hear of her in Milwaukee.


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