Museum Buildings

Santiago Calatrava Reflects on Art and Community During 20th Anniversary Visit

For many Milwaukeeans, the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava needs no introduction. As the designer of the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, he is synonymous with the crisp, expansive, and sweeping white building often called “the Calatrava.” In September, we celebrated the building’s 20th anniversary with a visit from the architect—his first since the Quadracci Pavilion’s grand opening.

As part of the celebration, we asked the Museum’s social followers to submit questions for the architect to answer during his visit. Keep reading to see how our conversation reflected on the building’s preservation, its evolution as a symbol, and the vision that informed its design.

Question: How does it feel to be back and met with so much enthusiasm?

Santiago Calatrava: My first reaction was really positive, because the building looks as well as it looked on the first day. It has been very well-maintained. It’s a very uplifting experience to come back and see the building in all its splendor.

It’s like a bow and arrow. The architect is the bow, you know, who propels the arrow ahead through the building. The community embraced it so enthusiastically, and the city has had this extraordinary evolution around the Museum, with the park, the gardens, the lakeshore, and the promenade along the lake. You see the renovation of the War Memorial Center and the David Kahler extension. And I’m seeing also some new buildings around.

Seeing a lot of people visiting the Museum effectively shows the intention all of us had when creating this building. The people have embraced the building because it belongs to them. I think people have read the message we sent through this building. This building is clearly a message, a message of hope, of believing in the coming generation, of faith in the future, and certainly of love to the city and to the visitors. Because this is a gift for them.

Q: What characteristics of Milwaukee inspired you when you were creating this design, and then how did that factor into the overall design?

SC: The people here have charm. They charmed us, my goodness! Extraordinary people…

So, the trustees, as the client, had in mind a significant building. That was the decision. This community, this city, chose a cultural facility, as an emblem, a sign. Milwaukee chose a cultural statement, as an emblem for the city. I understood they wanted to do something exceptional. They encouraged me also to do something special.

And then I knew the area, a little bit of the spirit of the area, through my studies, when studying the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly, and Louis Sullivan. I knew that this area was a firmament of interesting architecture. The whole thing had for me the legendary character of a place with completely unexpected, interesting architecture. In the 20th century, even in the 19th century, very interesting and substantial contemporary architecture had been done. I came here with a lot of expectations, and, of course, a little fear, knowing the place and knowing the significance of what I could do.

Q: Thinking back on the early planning stages, how did you approach designing a building that both served and reflected the Milwaukee community?

SC: As an architect, you are surrounded by two very powerful forces. One is the client and the other is the executor. The client was purely Milwaukee. The client became, for me, the reflection of the society of Milwaukee. I visited Milwaukee more than 48 times, from the beginning of the project to the conclusion of the project. That means I was here almost every month. But looking back, it was worth it to do that. I got related to Milwaukee. I embraced the spirit of the community.

I participated also in the fundraising campaign. I met all kinds of people and all kinds of donors, from those who gave a lot, to those who gave from their heart what they could afford. I am a witness, you see, to the interest of the community in having a beautiful facility, an extraordinary facility. I had to give my very best to these people.

The other force, I will say, was the architect of record. It was my friend and colleague David Kahler, who made an enormous contribution to the quality of the museum. And the people who built it were purely from the area. They put their hands, their knowledge, their expertise into delivering the very best building you can have. But looking back, it was worth it to do that. Indeed, I embraced the spirit of the community.

Q: When you were designing the Burke Brise Soleil, what was the original purpose and what were you hoping to evoke when you included it?

SC: Architecture can be considered, and is for me, an art, not only a technique. Being an architect but being also an engineer, I have a lot of belief in technique. The technique is a vehicle of innovation and renewal. Beyond that, architecture is an art that belongs to the culture of a place.

The brise soleil is a tool that gives shadow. When it is open, it has completely changed, because you have behind you the landscape, you have all these extraordinary surroundings. It’s just like taking two tools that you use every day, like a piece of bread and a glass of wine. With that, you can do something extraordinary in the sense of raising the significance of the bread and wine to a much higher level. And you can also take a regular tool of the everyday, like a brise soleil that controls the light, and elevate its significance through the magic of the landscape and the situation and the presence of this extraordinary nature around us.

When you are approaching the museum from Michigan Avenue, you have a first reference: the di Suvero sculpture. And then behind it is the brise soleil. When the brise soleil is closed it appears like a line behind the sculpture. Once the wings are open, you are embracing the landscape, you are embracing all the birds flying around, all the boats in the lake. And these things happen in architecture.

Plan your visit to experience the wonder of the Museum’s iconic architecture. Explore its world-class collection by revisiting familiar artworks and discovering new favorites. See the exhibitions currently on view, each filled with new scholarship and fresh perspectives. Expand your art knowledge during events and programs for enthusiasts of all ages.

Want to do all of this and more with free Museum admission, added perks, and special discounts? Become a Museum Member! Enjoy all of these perks, strengthen your connection to art, and be a part of the community that helps extend the Museum’s mission to all.

Art Art News

Remembering Isabel Bader

Photo of Isabel Bader and Dr. Alfred Bader by Front Room Studios

We at the Milwaukee Art Museum were deeply saddened to learn of the recent passing of Isabel Bader, a loss that is greatly felt within our Museum family. A longtime patron and friend of the Museum, Isabel was known for her remarkable passion and steadfast commitment to the arts, which had a profound impact on our institution and our community. For decades the Museum has benefited from the boundless generosity and invaluable support of Isabel, her late husband Dr. Alfred Bader, and the Bader Family’s charitable foundation, Bader Philanthropies, Inc.

American Art Collection Contemporary

American Artworks Newly on View

Tie-dyed cloth hanging from the ceiling

True or false: the Museum’s collection galleries always stay the same?

Art Art News

Celebrating Marcelle Polednik: Women of Influence Award Winner

MAM Director Marcele Polednik Receives Women of Influence Award

The Milwaukee Art Museum is thrilled to announce our very own Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director, has been honored with a Milwaukee Business Journal Women of Influence Award for her significant contributions to the arts and our community.

Art Behind the Scenes Collection Reflection Curatorial European

Questions of Provenance: Recent Discoveries: “Wedding Procession in the Tyrol” by Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl

Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl (German, 1827–1888), Wedding Procession in Tyrol (detail), ca. 1866. Oil on canvas. Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.90.

Periodically in the past, the blog has featured a series of posts called “Questions of Provenance,” which discussed issues related to provenance, or the history of ownership of a work of art. Over the next few months, this series will continue with posts highlighting recent research into works in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection. In case you missed it, the first one was published in January.

The last story I shared was about an accidental discovery related to the provenance of the painting Dance Under the Linden Tree (1881) by Ludwig Knaus. Today, I’m going to share a similar surprise discovery, about Wedding Procession in the Tyrol by Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich Riefstahl (German, 1827–1888).

Art Contemporary Education Spotlight Sessions

Spotlight Sessions: “Nobody’s Watching” by Klassik

Man with headphones and a mic standing in front of Untitled Anxious Audience by Rashid Johnson
Local artist Klassik performing in front of Untitled Anxious Audience (detail), 2017, by Rashid Johnson (American, b. 1977). Ceramic tile, soap, and wax. 95 1/2 × 159 × 2 1/2 in. Purchase, with funds from Mark and Debbie Attanasio, Marianne and Sheldon Lubar, Joanne Murphy, the African American Art Alliance, and the Modern and Contemporary Art Deaccession Funds, M2017.60 © Rashid Johnson

The Milwaukee Art Museum is excited to introduce Spotlight Sessions, a virtual series featuring an artist or local luminary interpreting or responding to an artwork in the collection. This series captures the unique perspective an artist brings to either their own or another’s work of art, broadening the experience of a painting, sculpture, or other selected work. Over the next three years, six local and visiting artists will be featured in this series. Viewers will have a range of opportunities to learn about and engage with Spotlight Sessions, including on the website, through social media, and at in-person events.

Art Behind the Scenes Contemporary

A Living Collection: The Contemporary Art Galleries

Three men preparing to hang an abstract work of art
Paul Jenkins (American, 1923 – 2012), Phenomena 831 Broadway, 1963. Acrylic on canvas. 111 × 69 in. (281.94 × 175.26 cm). Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit, M1975.187. © Estate of Paul Jenkins/Licensed by ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

The Museum’s collection of more than 32,000 works of art spans from antiquity to the present and includes gifts and purchases dating from 1888 to today. There are the favorites that everyone looks forward to seeing with each visit, yet works come in and out and are frequently moved about. They rest (in the vault), travel to other institutions, and enter new social circles in the galleries, striking up new conversations. Each work of art has a “life” that makes the collection itself dynamic—one with many stories to share. 

Art Behind the Scenes Collection Reflection Curatorial European

Questions of Provenance: Recent Discoveries: “Dance Under the Linden Tree” by Ludwig Knaus

Gathering of people dancing underneath a large tree
Ludwig Knaus (German, 1829–1910), Dance under the Linden Tree, 1881 (detail). Oil on canvas. Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.31. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.
Gathering of people dancing underneath a large tree
Ludwig Knaus (German, 1829–1910), Dance under the Linden Tree, 1881. Oil on canvas. Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation M1962.31. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.

Periodically in the past, the blog has featured a series of posts called “Questions of Provenance,” which discussed issues related to an artwork’s provenance, or its history of ownership. Over the next few months, this series will continue with monthly posts highlighting recent research that focuses on provenance.

The curatorial staff of the Milwaukee Art Museum are constantly researching the collection. Sometimes we request books and articles through interlibrary loan. Other times, we page through archival files either in person or online. And it’s not unusual to talk to colleagues in the field. But believe it or not, every once in a while, an important discovery is made by accident.

Events Exhibitions

Local Art Making Creates International Connections

People creating art on easels along the lakefront

This summer the Milwaukee Art Museum hosted Lakeside at MAM, an opportunity to enjoy the Museum’s lawn; performances by local musicians, dancers, and poets; yoga; and art making with the Kohl’s Art Studio.

Art Local Artists Membership

Milwaukee Artist Samer Ghani Featured on Member Mug

Samer Ghani standing in Windhover Hall
Samer Ghani stands in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall. Photo by Ryan Reeve.

Samer Ghani, local artist, videographer, photographer, DearMKE Award winner, and “cultural documentarian,” captures stories as they emerge from Milwaukee events: from milestone moments like the Bucks’ victory parade to intimate rock concerts in neighborhood music venues. Ghani draws energy and inspiration for his artistic practice from Milwaukee’s unique spirit, landscape, and people.

Ghani’s love of art sparked more than 20 years ago, when he was a student in a Milwaukee Public Schools 4K art class at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Now, Ghani comes full circle by photographing the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion to commemorate its 20th anniversary. The photograph appears on this year’s Member mug, offered to Members who support the Museum with an early renewal.

Mug featuring an aerial view of the Museum's wings along the lakefront

In a recent interview, Ghani discussed how his connection with the Museum has evolved over the decades.