Kat Murrell

MOWA moves Wisconsin art forward

The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) opens this weekend in a new building in downtown West Bend. TCD's Kat Murrell has your sneak-preview.

By - Apr 4th, 2013 02:21 am
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The new Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) opens in West Bend this weekend. Photo courtesy MOWA.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art opens this weekend in a shining, sleek new building alongside the Milwaukee River in downtown West Bend. The permanent collection, representing Wisconsin art from its nascent, mid-nineteenth-century days to current artists in the scene, is accompanied by vibrant new exhibitions within the museum’s angled, gleaming walls. Museum director and CEO Laurie Winters says that the museum’s function is to be like “a petrie dish for the cultivation of Wisconsin art.”

The new Museum of Wisconsin Art, designed by HGA (Hammel Green & Abrahamson Inc.) is a marked change from the old building, which had columns and colonial notes, low ceilings and intimate rooms. MOWA (the new moniker of the Museum of Wisconsin Art) has been planned with a distinctive sense of airiness and a flair for crispness. Winters notes that this design style mirrors the museum’s philosophy of transparency  and intentions of modern relevancy.


Work by Beth Lipman is featured in the Antifragile exhibition. Photo courtesy MOWA.

The aesthetics of MOWA will not be unfamiliar to visitors who have spent time in the Santiago Calatrava-designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, or the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. MOWA’s prevailing color palette is one of cool neutral colors, with natural, light-hued tones in the floors, brushed metal fixtures, and an embrace of natural daylight in key places throughout the building, such as atriums or stairwells.

The atmosphere suggests an emphasis on contemporary art, underscored by the present selections on display. The two-story atrium features a new work by Tom Bamberger titled “OK.” It is a digital triptych comprised of some 6,000 images, including original pieces and historical photos, though some are lightly altered to generate new contexts. The images can be read independently, but more interestingly, in respect to the other photographs with which they are paired and opposed.

The first level of MOWA is largely given over to public, educational, and event spaces, including a gift shop which emphasizes locally-made pieces. The ground- floor State Gallery is a sweeping hall alongside the river, featuring changing exhibitions of Wisconsin artists. The second floor is the main area of larger exhibition space. A balcony overlooking the atrium is known as ONE Gallery, where solo exhibitions are showcased. The inaugural installation is Repetitive Patterns by Reginald Baylor, and includes painting, textile, and digital animation.

The opposite end of the second floor is home to the permanent collection, displayed in an expansive gallery of high ceilings and encyclopedic walls showcasing the history of Wisconsin art. Paintings and sculptures are grouped chronologically, but thoughtfully arranged to speak to each other in terms of formal arrangements or subject matter.


Director of Collections & Exhibitions Graeme Reid stands among the glass cornfield created by Michael Meilahn in Antifragile. Photo by the author.

If you’ve ever wondered about the inner workings of an art museum, you’ll love the transparent viewing of the museum’s storage space. Through glass windows and doors you’ll see how artwork is typically held in its “off season,” and in this manner MOWA succeeds in not only showing additional art, but bringing the viewer a little closer to the sense of the museum as a living, changeable organization.

The featured exhibition, Antifragile, is also on the second floor. As Director of Collections & Exhibitions Graeme Reid puts it, “We want visitors to say, I didn’t know you could do that with glass.” The contemporary artists in this exhibition, though they live geographically far apart in Wisconsin and elsewhere, know each other and contribute to the perpetuation of glass innovation. Their sculptures are luminous, surreal, even destructive by turns. This breadth of style and the ways Antifragile seeks to disabuse stereotypes of glass as a static, stodgy medium, echo the aims of MOWA as it seeks to create a vibrantly contemporary, unapologetically forward-thinking space for Wisconsin art.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art is located at 205 Veterans Avenue, West Bend, Wisconsin. The Museum will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, with an official ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Sunday will feature special activities for children and families.

The grand opening on Saturday is a free event. The subsequent regular admission price of $12/adult will automatically include a year-long membership with free, unlimited admission. 

0 thoughts on “MOWA moves Wisconsin art forward”

  1. Anonymous says:

    can it be as ‘corny as Kansas’ as I see Graeme Reid in Antifragile? will those horridly cute musical frogs [anti art] be brought along? Will it be a regional as Grant Wood, Currier and Ives and thomas hartley-bentley, while the world had Kandinski, Picasso and Mondrian.
    I heard the program today on lake effect. the new building the sterile new building is good for some things. but I do remember the low ceiling intimate rooms of the old building with a focused and lit well paintings, carpet on the floor and a couch to sit; comfortable and not ‘new museum’, Of course there a different kinds of art now-a-days, even installation; intimate and museum public. New buildings are exciting and a ‘have to see’ and always a learning experience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Museum of Wisconsin Art’s new building displays artistic flair, significance, and especially confidence right from the first day. New museums like new homes usually need a period of time, months, typically, but sometimes years, before things look right and work properly. Not so here – MOWA is a total success immediately.

    Credit goes to the museum staff, all of them, and to Jim Shields, architect, for great planning and execution. Tom Lidtke, formerly the Executive Director of MOWA, now the Executive Director Emeritus, deserves full credit for creating the Vision of MOWA, with its focus on Wisconsin art, past and present. It is a unique and necessary mission. No other institution in the state flies this Wisconsin banner.

    The Executive Director title has been passed to Laurie Winters, she’s been there for about four months. It’s a great opportunity for her and for all of us.

    West Bend is an easy one-hour drive from Milwaukee, a city with great little restaurants and breweries. Kat Murrell’s excellent article links to MOWA’s website – double-check museum days and hours, etc. The museum is free on its opening day, Saturday, April 6!

  3. Anonymous says:

    John from Judith Ann…near MOWA is a superb park, with a trail running parallel to the Milwaukee River. Along the beautiful route, is a sculpture by MOWA’s Executive Director Emeritus, Tom Lidtke. In the late 80s, I had an exhibition of my paintings at the “old” colonial-style venue, in tandem with scuptor Marian Vieux.Fairly new to his job of reviewing art for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, Tom Strini took pot shots at my work, which yes, was awful! Thanks Tom. I lived to see this glorious community effort come to fruition.

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