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Weisman Art Museum to open doors, show off new galleries

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Weisman expansion
Preparator Joel Schwarz touches up a wall in the Woodhouse Family Gallery at the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011. The Woodhouse Family Gallery is one of four new gallery and studio spaces at the Weisman. The expanded museum is re-opening to the public on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Tin Can Castle reopens this weekend.

Closed a year ago for expansion, The Weisman Art Museum, the almost abstract metal-clad icon of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus is readying to throw open its doors to the public.

Lyndel King is one happy museum director.

"I have been the director here for 30 years," she said. "This is the best moment. I'm not sure it's better than the moment when we opened this building, but it's pretty darn close. It's pretty darn close."

Lyndel King, Weisman director
Weisman Art Museum director Lyndel King said the new spaces added to the museum are designed to be serene and are not chaotic.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

King was on the original design team for the Weisman, which opened in 1993. Standing in one of the new galleries, she said even then they knew they were going to have to expand at some point. It was just a matter of when.

"This just about doubles our exhibition space," King said. "It doesn't double the entire space of the museum, by any means, but it just about doubles the space we have for exhibiting art and for doing programs."

The Weisman's architect, Frank Gehry will attend a gala celebration of the reopening on Saturday. The WAMdemonium open house for the public will be on Sunday. 

A mind-bending building, the Weisman's sculpted exterior, with curved and jutting metal walls suggests an irregular, maybe even cramped interior. The galleries inside are conventionally shaped and spacious  — large to the point where one wonders how they fit inside. The expansion, which has pushed out the back of the building, heightens that sensation. 

The museum needs the space, King said. The museum has been around in various incarnations at the university since the 1930s, and now it can display its treasures.

Frank Gehry's design
Architect Frank Gehry designed the new additions at the Weisman Art Museum to blend with his original building on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"Our collection is about 20,000 objects," King said. "That's one of the purposes of this new space, is to bring our collection out. Bring our collection out of the vault and let people see what wonderful objects we have."   

The inaugural displays in the new galleries feature the many pieces collected and donated in during periods of the Weisman's history, King said. There are examples of American modernist art collected in the 1930s, as well as Korean furniture. 

There are paintings by Georgia O'Keefe, and a work by hyper-realist sculptor Duane Hanson, who created a creepily life-size model of the museum's namesake Fredrick Weisman talking on the phone. 

The Weisman has a large collection of ceramics, and King was able to call on celebrated Minnesota potter Warren Mackenzie to curate the first show. 

Mackenzie selected items based on form and function rather than history, and the display of ancient Greek pieces alongside ultra-modern creations is an intriguing arrangement.

Cleaning new space
John Allen sweeps the newly added Leo & Doris Hodroff Gallery at the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Pride of place is given to a collection of pots made 1,000 years ago by the Membris people from what is now New Mexico. They were excavated in the 1920s by a team from the university and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

"They look so contemporary," King said. "The designs are just totally contemporary."

The Weisman is perfect for a campus building, King said. It's hard not to have an opinion about its looks, and in King's opinion, it's good to be provocative in a place of learning.

The museum's Target Studio for Creative Collaboration will be used for hands-on design projects. The first is a display of finalists of a competition to design the plaza outside the museum entrance.

King sees many potential patrons in the students who pass by the museum on their way to classes.

Ceramics display
Ceramics are displayed in the newly added Leo & Doris Hodroff Gallery at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"We have 20,000 people a day walking past the museum. It's the busiest pedestrian place in the Twin Cities," King said.

"That's why we put 'free' in big letters on our front doors, because we want people to drop in."

Remarkable about the expansion is the reunion of the original design team, including Gehry himself. Such an architectural reunion is almost unheard of, but King said it couldn't be any other way.

"We knew we had to go back to Frank, because the building is like a work of art," she said. "I mean we consider it a piece in our collection."  

To do anything else, King said, would be like asking a sculptor to alter someone else's work.

The Weisman was the first museum Gehry designed from scratch. His later museum designs, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Experience Music Project in Seattle, got a lot more attention. But King is OK with that. 

"We are the Baby Bilbao," she said. "We like to say we taught Frank everything he knows about designing museums."