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10 reasons to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum

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Story by Nancy A. Herrick

It was in 2001 that the Milwaukee Art Museum’s soaring, white wing-like structure, designed by the famed architect Santiago Calatrava, became the new visual symbol of Milwaukee.

Since then, the museum has been named the “Sexiest Building in the World,” and has served as the backdrop for a Victoria’s Secret commercial, “American Idol” auditions and the 2011 movie “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

As dramatic as the exterior may be, what’s inside the Milwaukee Art Museum is special, too. If you haven’t visited lately, here are 10 reasons to make the short trip north.

1 With more than 20 works by famed artist Georgia O’Keeffe permanently on display, the museum houses what is thought to be the only dedicated O’Keeffe gallery east of Santa Fe. It’s only fitting since she was born in Wisconsin and attended high school in Madison.

2 The Art Museum proves that art comes in all shapes and sizes, with some pieces that are super-sized. For example, Stanley Landsman’s “Infinity Chamber” is a three-dimensional work of art that you can walk into and American artist Robert Gober’s untitled work from 1997 stretches over two floors.

3 As stunning as the Calatrava-designed addition is, the original museum in the War Memorial Building, designed by Finland’s Eero Saarinen, also stands apart architecturally. Built more than 50 years ago, its geometric lines remain modern and abstract even by today’s standards.

4 The new Kohl’s Education Center was designed with kids in mind, and includes high-tech interactive games, special exhibits and an art studio where kids can be inspired to make their own art. “Art Goes to the Movies,” which features animation in Disney/Pixar movies, also is found there through Jan. 6, 2013.

5 Speaking of kids, if they are 12 or younger, they get in free every day. That means it is possible to take children or grandchildren there and introduce them to the world of art in small, manageable doses, bringing them back over and over again. Admission also is free for adults on the first Thursday of every month.

6 The Art Museum has been doing things right for a long time. It will turn 125 years old next year and has more than 30,000 works in its permanent collection. It has what is considered one of the best collections of Haitian art in the world, one of the largest and best collections of work by German Expressionist Gabrielle Munter and is listed as one of the “1,000 Places in North America to Visit Before You Die.”

7 On many Friday nights throughout the year, from 5 to midnight, the museum offers a special art happening called MAM After Dark, with a featured program, access to the galleries, music, food and a cash bar. Another is planned June 22, with the theme to be announced. Past events have featured Irish beer tastings, a celebration of Mardi Gras, Latin Dance lessons, a tongue-in-cheek observance of Festivus and a Swing Night with music and lessons.

8 The Art Museum is never the same place twice because its offerings are ever-changing. An exhibit of the works of self-taught artists, titled “Accidental Genius: Works from the Anthony Petullo Collection,” is featured through May 6.

Upcoming featured exhibits are:

> April 26 through Aug. 5: Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina

> June 1 through Sept. 9: Posters of Paris — Toulouse-Lautrec and his Contemporaries

> Sept. 6 through Jan. 1, 2013: Grete Marks — When Modern Was Degenerate

The Art Museum offers more than the opportunity to look at art. Its calendar of activities is extensive and inclusive, from lectures on current exhibits to Family Sundays, yoga on Saturdays, book salons, story time and sketching in the galleries. There also is a full slate of classes for all ages.

10 When it’s time to relax after taking in the thousands of works of art, you can sit outdoors on the museum’s patio and take advantage of one of the best views of Lake Michigan in the state. If you are around at 10 a.m., noon or 5 p.m., you can see the wings of the Burke Brise Soleil open or close.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is located at 700 N. Art Museum Dr., just north of the the intersection of Michigan St. and Lincoln Memorial Drive, along Milwaukee’s downtown lakefront.

> To get there, take I-94 north to Milwaukee and I-794 East to Exit 1F (middle lane). As you turn left onto Lincoln Memorial Drive you will see the museum. To enter the parking garage, turn right at Michigan Ave. and left at Art Museum Dr. There also is less expensive street parking and additional lots near O’Donnell park off Wisconsin Avenue

> For information, go to or call 414-24-3200.

> Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays. The museum is closed Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.

> Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for students, seniors (65 and older) and members of the military (all with identification), free for children 12 and younger, for Art Museum members and for adults on the first Thursday of the month. Membership levels start at $25 per year for students and $60 for individuals.