The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
What & Where is the Weisman Art Museum (aka: WAM)?
The WAM is an art museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Overlooking the beautiful skyline of downtown Minneapolis and the magnificent Mississippi River, it faces west and perfectly reflects the ever-changing light of the setting sun.
I discovered during my recent Travel Date with a close friend that the WAM is a hidden jewel with a much broader scope than merely that of a university art museum. Its collection covers a very broad, eclectic body of art which includes exceptional work by renowned, international artists. The building itself is a work of art – created by a world-famous architect. A visit to the WAM just to study and appreciate its architecture alone is worth the visit. My hope is that this blog will entice you to get a closer look at this artistic masterpiece!
WAM at the University of Minnesota
Founded in 1930s by the then-president of the university, Lotus Coffman, the museum was originally created as a teaching institution for students. The museum came into its own with its own building unveiled in 1993 with 2011 revisions. Today, it continues to be a major teaching institute as well as a cultural Minneapolis landmark.
The museum is named for Frederick R. Weisman, the Minneapolis-born, Los Angeles-based philanthropist. Well-known for his extensive collection of American modern art, Weisman not only donated money but also all of his extensive art collection to WAM. Free admission for students was his main goal. Luckily for us – and all visitors – this rule still stands. Admission is FREE!
Why is the WAM Significant?
Frank Gehry. No one will argue that the main claim to fame of the WAM is its designer. Frank Gehry. Gehry is internationally renowned as one of the most innovative architects of the late-20th and early 21st centuries.
WAM was his FIRST architecture in the United States!
The original building has four brick-clad, sky-lit galleries standing on top of a parking garage, which are entered from a road along the Mississippi River (see parking lot entry doors in lower left side of photo).
The galleries, store, and offices overlook the Mississippi River and adjacent covered Washington Avenue bridge. They are wrapped in a stainless steel facade of Cubist-like shapes that echo the face of the rough hewn Mississippi River cliff below. Each piece of the metal skin is laid out, and has been compared to pieces of a dressmaker’s pattern.
WAM as seen from the bridge. P.C. Cher B. 8/11/22
Frank Gehry & Postmodern Architecture
WAM – a 3-D Cubist painting!
The WAM stands among a group of unique, world-famous buildings designed by Gehry. These include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) – similar in style to the WAM; the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles, CA); and one of my favorites, the whimsical Dancing House (Prague).
Completed by Gehry in 1993, the Weisman Art Museum remains one of the jewels of the University of Minnesota’s campus. Its fractured facade is fitting for an art institution. I agree with the observation that the exterior looks as though it’s a 3-D Cubist painting!
WAM facade from the south P.C. Cher B. 8/11/22
Love it? Hate it?
I love 3-D (3 dimensional) art and how it plays out in intriguing and interesting architecture! The WAM is intriguing, interesting and inviting!
As an art history professor, I have discussed Gehry’s architecture and studied the WAM with my students. I have come to the conclusion that Gehry’s work is either loved – or hated! There is not much opinion in-between!
Cher on the Washington Ave Bridge over the Mississippi, in front of the WAM. P.C. Michele H. 8/11/22
Gehry’s style is considered deconstructivist, a movement in postmodern architecture where elements of the design appear to be fragmented. As I discovered with my students, some people may find his buildings unsettling. They are often described as chaotic or disjointed.
Gehry is renowned for using ordinary materials such as raw plywood and chain-link fencing in his boldly artistic designs. His use of corrugated metals gives his look an unfinished appearance as seen on WAM. (Tin cans anyone???!!!)
WAM front view, Close up. P.C. Cher B. 8/11/22
Elements of Design in Frank Gehry Architecture
Known for his bold architectural features and unusual shapes, Gehry’s designs transcend the ordinary building and are truly monumental works of art.
Not only does architecture speak historically to the time and culture in which it was created, architecture speaks artistically to the nature and elements of design.
Elements of Design: color, line, shape, texture, perspective, form, pattern, value…. and more… are present in his architecture! With this in mind, the WAM – and the architecture of Gehry in general – speaks volumes!
WAM front view close up. P.C. Cher B. 8/11/22
WAM Architecture: New Amidst the Old
New Amidst the Old
On the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River, overlooking the magnificent Minneapolis skyline, the WAM Deconstructionist facade created by Frank Gehry stands in sharp contrast to the Neo-classic architecture of the U of M campus.
I was a University of Minnesota art student before the WAM was built. I can only image how much I would have enjoyed it!
Cher & View of WAM from the Washington Avenue Bridge
WAM view of the Mississippi & downtown Minneapolis skyline
WAM: Where Neo-classic meets Post-Modern
WAM from All Sides!
WAM Facade facing west, Mississippi River
WAM Main Entrance from U of M campus, facing north
Cher on WAM patio overlooking Mississippi River
This patio is in the space atop the round structure in the middle of the facade.
View of WAM & parking ramp NW entrance from the Washington Avenue Bridge
View of WAM from South, Mississippi River Blvd.
A Look at what you don’t see from the River Front View!
“Behind the Scenes”
I’ve always been fascinated with the “behind the scenes” that the glossy photos in art history books don’t show!
What does that back – or sides – of a sculpture or building look like? What is underneath the shiny, “tin can” facade of Gehry’s WAM? Now we know!
This view looks from the patio outside the campus main entry and overlooks the Mississippi River to the Minneapolis skyline. This is how one would enter the WAM from the U of M campus.
View of WAM from Washington Avenue
This view is from the main campus WAM entry. It runs along Washington Avenue just before it becomes a bridge to cross the river.
View of WAM Entry Patio
This view is from the patio next to the main campus entry. If you look carefully at the bottom edge of the photo – just to right of center – you can see the white arm of a young lady who sits at a table!
View of walkway from campus to WAM Entry
This view is just to the right of the previous one. The patio is on the right and the path to get onto the U of M campus is on the left.
Inside the WAM
Space with a View
When entering the museum, the perception of the space changes completely. It is as if one is inside the studios of some artists. (And you are! These are teaching spaces as well as galleries.)
The space is filled with light, which also comes from windows located on the rooftop.
A welcoming patio amidst the front facade provides a great view of the Mississippi River, Washington Avenue Bridge, and Minneapolis skyline.
View of WAM Patio & Minneapolis skyline
Space & Light
Inside the WAM, the visitor is greeted with high, well-lit, spacious spaces, open galleries and student artists’ studios.
There are permanent pieces along with rotating displays of temporary, rotating exhibits and student work.
Here are a few of my favorites – and a glimpse at the depth and breadth of art in the WAM collections.
WAM Entry with Lichtenstein’s Mural
Lichtenstein & Rosenquist at the WAM
Lichtenstein “World Fair Mural”
There are two WAM paintings that were created for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair. This caught my immediate attention! A trip to this World’s Fair as a youth was my first major trip without my family! There was SO MUCH to see and take in.
The first artwork to greet a visitor, positioned above the front desk, is Roy’s Lichtenstein‘s enormous “World’s Fair Mural.” This one uses his famous Ben-Day dots and comic-book imagery. It has been said that “on a dark night, when the interior is lit, one can see her radiant and glowing smile all the way from Northrop Auditorium, at the far north end of the campus Mall”…like a “giant human living inside of the building and the front door is her window frame.” Wow! What beautiful imagery!
Lichtenstein “World Fair Mural”
I found it confusing that the title “World’s Fair Mural” was given to the painting this woman in the window by Roy Lichtenstein and the collage-type painting by James Rosenquist. Both were done for the NY 1964 Fair… I welcome feedback! When I discover the answer…I’ll post it!
Rosenquist “World Fair Mural”
This giant mural painting by Pop Artist James Rosenquist, commanded immediate attention! Note the scale of the painting to the person in the aqua shirt standing in the lower right of photo!
The various objects pictured in the composition were all signs of the times. The reference to consumerism, technology, patriotism, and space explorations all dominated the 1960s, the times in which I spent my youth.
This painting has an additional layer of interest in that Rosenquist was once a student at the University of Minnesota. He gleaned inspiration and many motifs from the small Minnesota town in which he grew up – Atwater – and his father’s gas station.
“World Fair Mural”
COVID, Clouds & George Floyd at the WAM
“COVID-19 Labor Camp Report”
This captivating temporary exhibit was fascinating and should immediately resonate with anyone who lived through the pandemic. It is a daily pictorial diary of the artist’s response to its impact on him and his life.
The WAM wall plaque next to the work shared this insight into its origins.
“On March 24, 2020, Mpls-based artist Piotr Szyhalski, embarked on a daily drawing practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it unfolded in real time. What began as a way for the artist to share observations of life in lockdown and reflect on the pain caused by the pandemic, soon became an exercise in chronicling his thoughts and feelings, reconciling them with the changes being wrought in the world. It consists of 225 drawings created over eight months, with new drawings posted daily on Instagram, a witness to the unfolding crisis and a record of time both labored and lost.”
“Cloud Bringing Light”
The subject and monumental size (note scale by proximity to floor and wall plaque) resonate with me. It reminds me of the onset of a summer storm in the Midwest. In fact, as I write this, we are watching weather radar with potential tornado!
The WAM plaque description of “foreboding atmosphere invoke a profound sense of dread. . . transforming a lush, sun-drenched day…” seems appropriate!
Interestingly, the genre of landscape painting has historically been both exalted and problematic in American art history. This one, devoid of humans, raises “timely questions of power, influence and scale.”
Art for George Floyd?
I expected to see a lot of abstract art such as this at the WAM. But in this painting, what the artist, Rico Garson, wanted to represent intrigued me. Being a resident of Minneapolis, I lived through the George Floyd incident he describes in Real Time. The artist explains that the piece “addresses and honors young people of the Twin Cities whose social protest after the police killing of George Floyd sparked an international uprising and awakening.” His desire is to promote “visual conversation with contemporary viewers, asking them to contemplate the energy of his art and consider what it means today.”
WAM Gallery Art
Rico Garson is known for his bright geometrical art as shown here and in the gallery photo. He creates vivid, representational mixed-media pieces, created to deeply connect to social justice and politics. His use of minimalist abstraction, bright reds, oranges and greens are meant to incorporate power and energy toward change and transformation. He creates dynamic movement with overlapping and inverted shapes and lines.
Surprises at WAM
Surprise: Standing Glass Fish
My first surprise met me immediately upon entry to the WAM. Before me stood the grandiose, giant glass fish that had gone missing after the 2015 redo of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden! Where did it go? Mystery solved!
It is fitting that this sculptural masterpiece by Frank Gehry should grace the lobby of one of his iconic works of architecture – but it was a fun surprise!
Why a Fish sculpture? Gehry created the fish as “a fond remembrance of the giant carp that his Jewish grandmother would leave swimming in the bathtub each week before her preparation of Friday-night gefilte fish.” (WAM wall plaque)
The Fish Story…
In 1986, this 22 foot glass sculpture was first constructed in the lobby of the Walker Art center, Mpls, MN.
In 1988, it was painstakingly disassembled and transported across the street to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden under the Cowles Conservatory. This is where I first saw it and where it fondly remains in my memory.
In 2015, the Sculpture Garden was renovated and Standing Glass Fish was relocated to WAM.
(More on the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on my separate blog)
Surprise: Traditional Korean Furniture
My second surprise came when I rounded a corner to discover a display of traditional Korean furniture! With my perception of the WAM as primarily very contemporary art, imagine my surprise!
The variety and breadth of the WAM collection of traditional Korean Furniture is “unmatched in the United States, – and is perhaps unrivaled outside Asia.” The extensive collection was amassed by Dr. Edward Reynolds Wright when he lived in Korea. He bequeathed it to the WAM in 1988.
Details at the WAM website. P.C. Cher B 8/11/22
Capturing Change: Special Exhibit
Capturing Change: Rome & NYC
“Capturing Change” was a special WAM exhibit that caught my attention both for the subject and the quality of the work.
First, I love New York City – and Rome!
Second, I love history and looking at pictorial records of my favorite places to visit – like New York City and Rome! I love to compare what they look like today compared to in the past. This exhibit did just that. I selected a couple that were especially representational.
Etchings by Piranesi
Photos & Etchings
This special exhibit looked at the photographs of Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) and the etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778).
Both frequently juxtaposed the old and the new. The goal of both was to preserve a record for future generations. They were successful!
Photos by Abbott
Rome: Arch of Septimius Severus
Juxtaposing the old and new, the Arch of Septimius Severus stands half buried as seen in 1759. For centuries, the earth has accumulated around it, forming a new ground level. When I visited it in the 21st century, this earth had been dug out so we can now see it as it was created 2,000 years ago! The 17th century church on the right was built at the new level and can be visited today. Piranesi’s etching symbolically contrasts the sunken moments of the Roman empire with the reign of the Catholic Church.
New York City: The El
Having lived in New York City in the 1970s, and visiting in the early 21st century, I witnessed major changes in the city during the end of the 20th century. Photos of NYC as seen over time fascinate me. Not as dramatic as the millennia of Rome’s history, the decades of NYC history also have a story to tell. Sadly, just days after Abbott took this photograph in 1938, it would be torn down. The 6th Avenue elevated rail line, in service for 50 years, would be switched to an underground subway system. Abbott’s artistic eye can be seen in the comparison of the station’s quaint wood gables, built in 1888, to the steel girders of the railway.
Rome: Sunken Columns
Piranesi carefully rendered the reliefs above these sunken columns to preserve them for future generations. His work helped to develop the field of Roman archaeology. (Interestingly he often misidentified the sites he studied! Opps! This monument was not to the god Jupiter, as Piranesi believed. Rather it was a temple to the emperor Vespasian!)
New York: Hotel on Park Avenue
This is one of my favorite photos in the exhibit. The contrasting values of light and dark – and lines – are exquisite! “Abbott carefully composed this image to contrast ornate spiral balconies with the sleek lines of a recently completed skyscraper. The Murry Hill Hotel’s decorative wrought iron appears an elaborate relic of a bygone era when shown with the ordered efficiency of modern architecture.” (WAM plaque)
Georgia O’Keeffe at the WAM
One of the things I was most excited to see while at the WAM was its art by and of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). As with all museum visits, one must prepare to be disappointment if your “favorite” piece is not on display. Such was the case at this visit. Sadly, none of the four were on display. However, I believe that a blog on the WAM is not complete without noting and sharing these four works.
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my favorite artists; I especially love her larger-than-life flowers. I call them a “bee’s eye view!” The WAM has one of her most famous ones, “Oriental Poppies” and another one that I like even more, “Oak Leaves, Pink & Grey.”
Oriental Poppies – by Georgia O’Keeffe
Oak Leaves, Pink & Grey – by Georgia O’Keeffe
Because I love her use of pinks and gray tones in this painting, I look forward to seeing it in person – on another visit!.
Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe – by Alfred Stieglitz
I also enjoy the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), O’Keeffe’s husband, and Arnold Newman (1918-2006). I was delighted, upon WAM website research, that two of my favorite photos of O’Keeffe by these two photographers are owned by the WAM!
Georgia O’Keeffe, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico – by Arnold Newman
O’Keeffe was originally from Wisconsin and lived much of her life in NYC where she met her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. The last years were spent in New Mexico where she was inspired by its natural beauty. Ghost Ranch, her home and studio in NM, are on my bucket list of places to visit!
Long on my Bucket List of museums of visit, the WAM was a fun visit. Even with the absence of any O’Keeffe works, the architecture alone was worth the time and effort. One thing about the Art of Architecture is that it cannot be “put in storage” or given “on loan to another museum!” It remains where it is. My inquiries about what it looked like inside, outside and within were answered! And it was fun to share this Travel Date with a wonderful, long time friend and fellow appreciator of art.
I look forward to your comments on this blog. Have you visited WAM? Another Gehry architecture? O’Keeffe? New York World’s Fair? I’d love to hear your story! Your “likes” and “comments” encourage me with future posts! Thanks in advance. ~Cher B.
- University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Main Campus
- 333 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55445. It is at the intersection of the East River Road and Washington Avenue.
- Parking in ramp below: See website for current U of M parking rates
- Admission cost: FREE
- Allow a couple of hours to enjoy the exhibits, take a walk across the Washington Avenue Bridge for the best view of the architectural design as well as great view of Minneapolis skyline.
- No food or drink options on-site. Lots of fun dining options around the U of M campus
- Museum Shop has some nice options for browsing or purchase
- wam.umn.edu/about/ source of information