June 6, 2006

Milwaukee Art Museum Takes Flight

For the concluding reception of the Americans for the Arts Convention we were hosted at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This spectacular building, designed by Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava, opened in 2001 and it is an architectural marvel. Its beauty has inspired a re-branding of Milwaukee with the city using a profile of the distinctive building’s design for its logo.

Like an awakening bird the building opens each day with its wings unfolding from its axis point that gracefully points out over Lake Michigan. At lunch time the wings open and close “for viewers’ amusement” and then as the museum closes at night the wings fold again as the bird sleeps.

The interior is futuristic, spiritual and romantic. Gazing down the white hallways with their ribs of portholes you feel as though you are in Kubrik’s 2010 spaceship looking out onto a distant planet.

The interior is the body of the bird, arching up from the main hall, like a cathedral of unstained glass. Are we inside a whale gazing up through its transparent ribs as it comes up for air? Or is it the hull of the ship plowing forward onto the lake.

I was already blown away by this accessible city before visiting the museum. Having watched its metaphorical wings open it has become a touchstone for serenity and inspiration.