Thursday, August 21, 2014

Museum of Wisconsin Art

I think the Museum of Wisconsin Art -formerly known as the West Bend Art Museum- is an exemplar of what a relatively small museum can be. Under its former director, Tom Lidtke, it transformed from a one artist nonentity into the best of its kind. How? Litdke decided that while they would never have the resources to compete with the Milwaukee Art Museum or the Elvehjem Museum of Art (now the Chazen Museum of Art) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the museum could still be the best in the world at something if they focussed tightly enough.

He chose to make the museum the main storehouse of art and archives of Wisconsin artists who worked prior to 1950, the cut off date intended in part to reduce political infighting among living artists.

Lidtke succeeded brilliantly. After roughly 25 years of his guidance, the museum is the place to go for anything to do with Wisconsin art. It is also slowly moving to collect pre-European Wisconsin Indian art, and showing contemporary pieces as well. He spearheaded the new building on the east side of the river, making it more visible than the original, red brick former insurance agency building several blocks away, and going with a contemporary design.

When Tom Lidtke retired as the new building was finished, the museum hired a powerhouse curator from the Milwaukee Art Museum, Laurie Winters. If the membership numbers in this article are accurate, Winters has done quite a job of building on what Lidtke created.

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