Chazen 1.JPG

A transparent walkway serves as an architects' “signature” as it bridges galleries in a mezzanine of the expanded Chazen Museum of Art. 


When supporters of the Chazen Museum of Art set out to nearly double the building's size with a $43 million addition, a key goal was to seamlessly unite the museum's existing structure with a new building via a bridge.

Now, the aim is to build a stronger bridge from UW-Madison's vastly expanded home for art to the larger Madison community. 

The Chazen opens its doors at noon Saturday to celebrate its enhanced presence on University Avenue with an open house, entertainment and tours of the 86,000-square-foot addition. The ribbon-cutting that kicks things off, symbolically, will feature both the university's chancellor and the city's mayor.

"We're trying to send the message that yes, this is an educational tool for students and faculty to use," said Russell Panczenko, the museum's director. "But it's also the kind of place, like a public library, where you can wander around and find things that interest you. Just let your mind wander. Hence the (museum's promotional) phrase, 'What will inspire you today?'" 

Highly visible in the heart of Madison on University Avenue near Park Street, the Chazen addition was designed by Boston-based Machado + Silvetti Architects. Its limestone and copper-clad facade connects it aesthetically and historically to the Chazen's existing building. 

The pedestrian corridor between the two buildings, framed overhead by a skywalk that is actually gallery space with a stunning south-facing view of Lake Mendota, may someday host outdoor events such as public concerts.

"I think it's going to change the flow patterns as you walk through campus," said Tom Loeser, chairman of the university's art department, whose office is housed in the nearby — and oft-disparaged — Humanities Building. 

"To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of the Humanities Building," Loeser said. "But I think the new Chazen, the old Chazen and the Humanities Building now have this amazing sequence of three forms along University Avenue. (The Chazen addition) makes a much more coherent architectural composition now." 

'I'm in a very happy situation'

A $25 million gift from Simona and Jerome Chazen, for whom the museum is named, sparked the expansion; other donations followed. 

The finished product features a soaring, two-story glass lobby with a limestone "carpet" that links the interior to the stone walkways outside, a 160-seat auditorium for films and lectures, and even a very classy break room for the museum's tour guides. 

But the highlight is the new 22,500 square feet of exhibition space, providing room for touring shows and allowing the museum to pull many works out of storage. 

Some pieces are displayed in elegant customized glass cases designed in Italy or mounted on moveable partitions made in Austria. Walls are painted in rich earth colors such as "stucco greige," rather than a more conventional gallery white. 

"I'm in a very happy situation," Panczenko said. "Even though we've more than doubled our museum gallery space, there's no empty space out there. It's full, and that's a good position for us to be in. 

"As financial times get more difficult, more and more museums are focusing on exhibitions coming out of their own holdings. But you've got to have pretty rich holdings."

Museum construction boomed in the years 1993 to 2006, although openings have tapered off, said Dewey Blanton, spokesman for the American Association of Museums.

Many projects recently completed had their fundraising start prior to 2005, such as the 8,000-square-foot addition dedicated Oct. 1 at the University of Minnesota's Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, said Lyndel King, the Weisman's director and an AAM board member. 

"I think we've always had strong university museums in Midwestern, big-state universities," King said, "because we have a population of students that don't necessarily come with going to a museum as part of their everyday experience. 

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"I grew up in a rural Midwestern state and didn't go to an art museum until I was in college, and I think that's the case for a lot of students." 

One of the joys of installing exhibits in the new building — a process that has taken months — has been seeing pieces come alive in the new space, said museum preparator Steve Johanowicz.

A glazed earthenware Chinese "Spirit Wall" from 1567, for example, "used to live in the lower level down by the art classrooms in our current building," he said. "It was always kind of hiding and it never had good exhibition light. We were finally able to integrate that into our new Asian gallery with the proper light. That has really been a treat."

Skywalk leads to Modernism

The museum's existing building, designed by Henry Weese in 1968, will continue to house galleries that trace the history of art from Greco-Roman times to the 19th century. 

The skywalk to the new building leads to Modernism, starting with a gallery of works by names such as Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, David Smith and Christo from a collection valued at $30 million from the estate of the late Terese and Alvin S. Lane. 

Other late-20th-century greats such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Hockney and Gerhard Richter will be featured in a four-month show of paintings from the private collection of UW alums Jerome and Simona Chazen.

The couple's large financial gift in 2005 was sparked in part by a statement by then-Chancellor John Wiley that a renewed art museum would signal "recognition of the commitment that the university has to the arts," Jerome Chazen recalled this week from his New York office. 

"Our hope — and I have to include my wife in this — was to build a university museum that would be as good or better than any university art museum in the country, and that would serve the Madison community and hopefully also tourists with not only interesting things from the collection of the museum, but the ability for the museum to do interesting and special temporary shows," said Chazen, who will attend Saturday's opening.

"We want Madison to feel they have a museum like that, I guess a little like the Milwaukee Art Museum." 

20th-century art

In recent years the Chazen also has worked to develop "a first-rate collection of 20th-century art," said Panczenko, in part because older works are rare and prohibitively expensive, while newer art is what alums have tended to collect and donate.

The museum's opening will feature a high-profile exhibition of works by the famed abstract painter Sean Scully. 

Stephen Fleischman, director of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which moved into its own new 51,500-square-foot-building at 227 State St. in 2006, said he is "extremely excited" about the Chazen addition and thinks the new facility will enhance the art scene in Madison. 

"It's one of those all-boats-rise-with-the-tide situations," he said. "My feeling is, the more people that see artwork, the greater the interest, the more people look, and the better they become at using their eyes. It only expands the audience."

On Thursday, UW-Madison students will be given the first tours of the museum by volunteer student guides. The guides — at Panczenko's insistence — are not necessarily trained in art but were told to point out artworks that, for any reason, speak to them personally. 

"I don't think art is just a frivolous entertainment," he said. "I think art(works) are products of human creativity that reflect the personality, the time, the culture — and if you think about that, you can get a very deep insight that's different from what you get in a book. For me, building a collection and making it accessible not just to students, but to anyone who wants to see it, is terribly important." 

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