This is your art museum. And I am delighted and proud to share with you today that we have set course on a direction that allows us to respond to our changing times and makes it possible for you, your friends, family—all people—to see yourselves at the Museum and better understand your world through the art we hold in public trust for you.
The Museum’s staff, board, and volunteers, together with the Museum community, committed more than a year to ask the hard questions, consult with peer institutions, and study today’s evolving landscape to shape this new strategic direction, a framework for the Museum moving forward. We last released what we referred to then as a strategic plan in 2006. This is an exciting moment. Yet I want to be clear: our work does not end here. We now call on your active involvement to ensure we continue to make progress—and do so boldly.
The Museum has taken bold action in the past. Shortly before my arrival, the Museum completed its first-ever major reinstallation of the collection; added a new lakeside entrance for visitors, more places for people to gather, and an additional changing exhibition space; and introduced the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, making Milwaukee a national destination for photography, video, and light-based art. Undoubtedly the most memorable leap, however, came in 2001, with the hiring of Santiago Calatrava to design our iconic building—the United States had yet to see a work by the Spanish architect erected on its soil, let alone one that could move. But not everyone in our community feels welcome within the arms of these steel beams that rise impossibly to great heights. In turn, we will be more intentional in how we invite and welcome the residents of our city, the region, and the world to discover something great, and perhaps to imagine the impossible through the experiences they have with the art and each other here.
A quote by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton summarizes the unique power of art: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” And it is here, at your Milwaukee Art Museum, that we want you to find friends old and new, to find inspiration; to lose yourself in reflection, and to lose yourself with family while finding connection with others and their families—to feel welcome to return again, whenever the mood or moment strikes you, and so that the Museum feels like your place for socializing, for restorative quiet, for robust engagement.
This is your art museum. Our transformation is beginning. I invite you to keep watch and visit often, and tell us what you think. I invite you to join us on this journey.
Marcelle Polednik, PhD Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director
There is never a good time to write about the loss of a friend. And though I knew him for only a short time, Dr. Alfred Bader was a friend to us all in the Milwaukee Art Museum family. News of his passing, on December 23, brought a weighted pause to the celebrations this past holiday season. Articles in the Journal Sentinel and Business Journal cover the biography and accomplishments of Dr. Bader—chemist, businessman, and philanthropist—a man who helped build Milwaukee’s industry and enrich its culture. It is as an avid collector and supporter of art that Dr. Bader will forever be honored at the Museum. First becoming a Member in 1952, he was instrumental to the Museum and, specifically, its European art collection. More than half a century later, his legacy includes the thirty exquisite works he gifted to the Museum and the endowment of the position of Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art—a post currently held by Tanya Paul. Dr. Bader once said that his passion for collecting “began with stamps at 8, drawings at 10, paintings at 20, and rare chemicals at 30.” Our experiences of Baroque art are richer for his inveterate collecting.
Dr. Bader made his first gifts to the Museum in 1961. The European art galleries on level one feature Govaert Flinck’s Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman (1648), a pair of pendant portraits that Dr. Bader and his first wife, Helen Daniels Bader, donated in 1963. The adjacent galleries include other gifts, from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Gaetano Cusati’s luscious Still Life with Fish (ca. 1710) and Antiveduto Gramatica’s quietly moving Saint Dorothy (n.d.). More recently, in 1991, Dr. Bader and his wife, Isabel, gave intriguing works such as Adriaen van Nieulandt the Younger’s Orpheus (n.d.), which once formed the lid of a clavichord or harpsichord—as revealed by the exhibition they guest curated in 1989. In the past few years, the Baders have donated an additional group of paintings, including, in 2018, a Rembrandt School painting of Saint Bartholomew (17th century) that used to hang next to Dr. Bader’s chair in his home.
The exhibition The Detective’s Eye: Investigating the Old Masters (1989), which featured van Nieulandt the Younger’s Orpheus, was one of two that Dr. Bader helped organize here at the Museum. That project, along with the first exhibition he guest curated, The Bible Through Dutch Eyes (1976), is a testament to Dr. Bader’s natural curiosity, his willingness to tirelessly research a challenging painting, and his belief in the fundamental importance of scholarship and connoisseurship. In addition to acting as a guest curator on these projects, Dr. Bader was always a generous lender to Museum exhibitions, from major enterprises such as Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered (2009), to smaller projects such as The Bloemaert Legacy (2014) and From Rembrandt to Parmigianino (2016).
“When I first arrived at the Museum, in 2013,” shares Tanya Paul, “I was honored to be the first Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Alfred was such a monumental figure in the field of Dutch art, and I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility in accepting the position. As my time in Milwaukee progressed, and I grew to know Alfred and Isabel better, they became like family to me, and welcomed me warmly into their home each time I came to visit. As a curator, I will miss his deep art historical knowledge, his ready opinions, and his bottomless curiosity about the art of the Dutch Republic. On a personal level, I will miss his insight, his humor, his gifts as a storyteller, and the kindness he always showed me. The community has suffered an inestimable loss with Alfred’s passing.”
Dr. Bader’s long involvement with the Museum is easily best remembered by Barbara Brown Lee, whose more than fifty-five years in the education department meant she often worked directly with him:
Dr. Bader was a name I’d heard bandied about when I first started at the Museum, in January of 1963. I later discovered that he gave wonderful lectures, and he, of course, loaned some of his works for display in the galleries. At that time, we didn’t have a lot of people that knew about the old masters he had in his collection, so Dr. Bader was our best resource. When he curated The Bible Through Dutch Eyes, in 1976, and The Detective’s Eye, in 1989, that’s when I had the chance to actually work with him, to finally get to know him. We worked around the clock, but we had so much fun, and I learned so much. I have very fond memories of working with him on those shows. Later, when he opened a gallery, he’d call me over there to see his newest finds and talked to me about them. He never tired of art history and the works. My life at the Museum through the years has only been enriched by listening to and learning from patrons like Dr. Bader.
Dr. Bader clearly left an indelible impression on the Museum, its people, and the community. I know I speak for everyone at the Museum in wishing my heartfelt sympathies to his wife, Isabel, his children, David and Daniel, and his other loving relatives and dear friends.
Marcelle Polednik, PhD Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director