Friday, November 4, 2011


When Rick gets frustrated with life here in the Midwest he's apt to refer to Madison as a provincial backwater, but not this past Thursday evening. Friends he'd met through the Boston Store had invited us to a private party sponsored by the local rotary club at the new addition to the Chazen Museum of Art. Madison's International Rotary Club, as it turns out, is no ordinary rotary club. Of the 34,000 clubs worldwide Madison ranks fifth in membership. On top of their amazing philanthropic work, their motto is Service above Self, they hold regular meetings with world-renowned guest speakers. We were excited to just be going out. It was a balmy October night. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees making a brown scratchy blanket on the sidewalks. The Chazen stands on the east end of campus at the University of Wisconsin.
The original part of the museum, designed by Harry Weese, opened as the Elvehjem Museum of Art in 1970. Most non-Scandinavians had a tough time wrapping their lips around that one so the museum's new name, The Chazen Museum of Art, may help spread the buzz and get this museum some of the praise it really deserves. That's right. This museum is definitely not provincial backwater.
Even before you walk inside the exterior puts forth a perfect blending of Mr. Weese's prominent horizontal lines and use of limestone and copper surfaces. As an added design feature, the logo for the museum is an iconic reduction of the capitalized letters to a circle, square and triangle. It's simplicity works perfectly with the primary forms and classical proportions of the buildings exterior designed by architects Machado + Silvetti.
A pedestrian walkway hugs one side of the building protecting a spectacular view from University Avenue to the lapping waves of Lake Mendota. From inside a wall of glass lights the arriving evening sky. The glass wall is clothed in a curtain that is more art than drapery, designed by Petra Blaisse of Inside Outside. During the day the textile artwork is wound around a track like the inside of a conch shell. At night it's unfurled showing its thrilling but complicated fractal inspired design. It's an absolutely mesmerizing element to the three-story lobby. The other side of the lobby is dominated by a stone staircase reminiscent of the staircase at the National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington DC designed by I.M. Pei.. It's the power of light and shadow and the way they define shape and space.
The interior galleries back off from emphasizing the architecture and provide a world-class backdrop for an impressive 2D and 3D art collection.
A golden glass bridge leads like a drawbridge over a moat into the main gallery. It almost works as a dare.

You need to commit to enter the castle of art, all 90,000 square feet of new display space for a collection of 20,000 items including Motherwells, Hockneys, Lichtensteins, Calders and Nevelsons. Once inside the second floor galleries there are these little alcoves where architecture takes over with lavender walls and a view of the Madison street scene outside that made us feel as if maybe we were back in New York.
The connecting bridge to the original section of the museum crosses over the pedestrian walkway connecting University Avenue to lake Mendota. We crossed the bridge at that moment of the night when the sky turns to Maxfield Parrish blue. The lighting on the sculpture pedestals on the connecting bridge matched the magic of the view.
The result of the evening - we bought memberships.


Place Saint-Sulpice, Paris, 1947
Photograph by Edouard Boubat
In the permanent collection at The Chazen Museum of Art

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