It was over a cold February weekend that my travel buddy and I decided to take a short overnight trip to Milwaukee, about 2 hours north of Chicago. Our main objective was to tour the Milwaukee Art Museum. It's 25,000 pieces include one of the world's largest collections of works by the iconic American artist Georgia O'Keeffe.
Milwaukee may be larger that many people think. With a population of close to 600,000 it is certainly larger than I thought. Like many cities of this size without a strong tourism industry, there are only a fairly small number of hotels to choose from. We selected a historic hotel in the downtown area. The impressive proportions and grand period decor of the hotel's lobby belied the spare, modest room which awaited us upstairs. The view from the window was of the parking lot and unprepossessing convention center across the street. As this was to be a short stay we overlooked the inadequacies and settled in.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has, as it's signature structure, the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. Resembling a giant crane, the "wings" on the structure are adjusted twice each day to regulate sunlight inside the pavilion. Crossing the bridge leading to the museum and entering the glass pavilion, we were informed that the wings were just minutes away from being adjusted. We were further informed that the best vantage point to see this was from the bridge we had crossed a short time before. Considering the frigid conditions outside we opted to watch from the interior as the wings slowly lowered above the glass paned ceiling over our heads.
A special exhibition of sculptures by the impressionist artist Degas was on view during our visit. Having a longstanding, personal affection for both impressionism and dance, Degas has always been a favorite of mine. Being more familiar with his paintings, there are several in the holdings of Chicago's Art Institute, than his sculptures I found this exhibit fresh and interesting. His sculptures are stark, their strong angles highlighting the human body involved in the physical art of dancing. With their softer lines, a hallmark of impressionism, his female figures attired in tutus and pointe slippers, their hair caught up in tight chignons, his paintings convey a more romantic view of dance.
We moved on the the museum's permanent collection. We passed a canvas of rows of brightly colored squares by the modern artist Hans Hoffman. On one platform an 18th century highboy was juxtaposed with a chest crafted by one of the Memphis movement designers of the 1980s. We entered the gallery containing the Georgia O'Keeffe collection. The collection, justifiably, is housed in it's own space. Arranged chronologically, it allows the viewer the rare chance to experience the progression of an artist's work and vision. I felt a sense of reverence and privilege being allowed to share this room with the work of this important and original artist. I cherish moments such as these, like wonderful music or excellent theatre, they seem to renew and refresh a portion of my soul.
With some time left before we would need to begin our return trip to Chicago, we decided to make a brief stop at the Pabst mansion, the lavish home built by the famous beer brewer. Standing just outside the grand house is a gazebo, used by the family as a summer house. Originally the centerpiece of the Pabst exhibit and Beer Garden at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, the beer magnate became so enamored with it that after the fair closed he had it dismantled, shipped to Milwaukee and reconstructed. The last house tour of the day had already begun so we contented ourselves with browsing in the gift shop and peeking in through long glass paned doors to catch a glimpse of the ornate, almost overdecorated room on the other side.
Feeling that our trip to Milwaukee was complete, we returned to the car and began the drive back to Chicago. After one final stop at the "Cheese Checkpoint" at the border, we crossed over to Illinois and headed home.