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A model of the Weisman.

The 11,000-square-foot Frank Gehry-designed expansion will add three new wings to the U's Weisman Art Museum.

Expansion in the wings

By Jodi Auvin

March 13, 2007

As if its perch overlooking the Mississippi wasn't lofty enough, the Weisman Art Museum enjoys another, even more elevated position in the art world: Its building is as much an objet d'art as the art it houses. The offbeat and imaginative stainless steel structure opened to international acclaim in 1993 and continues to astonish. In fact, a public-opinion poll in an online edition of the Wall Street Journal in February listed the Weisman as one of the 150 most popular buildings in America.

"Our building sets the tone for what we do," said Lyndel King, longtime director of the Weisman. "It conveys a sense of informality and eccentricity, and we think about that when we plan our programs." Frank Gehry, the renowned architect who designed the facility, is about to give King and her staff even more to ponder. At a celebration/news conference on March 13, the museum announced plans for an 11,000-square-foot Gehry-designed expansion, which will add three new wings to the iconic building.

A model and drawings of Gehry's vision for the new spaces were on display at the gathering, and President Bob Bruininks gave the opening remarks. "A thriving artistic community is key to the University's relevance and its reputation for excellence," said Bruininks. "Attaining our goal of becoming one of the top public research universities in the world requires not only achievements in medicine, technology and engineering, but also, equally, the creative works of our scholars, artists, dancers, actors and musicians...."

"A thriving artistic community is key to the University's relevance and its reputation for excellence," said Bruininks.

A total of $4 million is left to be raised in the capital campaign for the expansion, but that effort will be helped along, Bruininks announced today, by a $2 million fund provided by the University to match cash gifts.

Best in show The three wings will serve three distinct purposes. One wing, funded by $2 million from Target, is dedicated to creative collaboration. "Individual genius is important but collaboration is the wave of the future," said King. "The Target Studio for Creative Collaboration will bring together the best and brightest of artists and faculty, including experts from disciplines not traditionally associated with the arts, such as science and engineering. The hope is to create new ideas and make the process obvious to visitors. We don't know what the outcomes will be, but that's the point."

Another wing will house the Weisman's extensive permanent collection of American modernist paintings and Asian, European, American and Native American ceramics. The museum owns more than 20,000 pieces but can display only 100 at a time. A comparison of 15 benchmark university museums shows that the Weisman is first in attendance, fifth in collection size and last in gallery space. This new wing will allow some works to be on continuous display, giving students the chance to develop deep relationships with works of art that only comes, said King, "from seeing the same work of art over and over."

Growth funds

* $11.5 million capital campaign will make the Weisman Art Museum an even more important part of Transforming the U-the name the University has given its process of bringing the U into the top tier of research universities.

* $10 million of those funds will pay for the construction of three new wings-a total of 11,000 square feet of additional public space.

* The remaining $1.5 million will be used to enhance artistic and educational programs.

* Expansion is slated to open in 2009, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the "Little Gallery," the predecessor of the Weisman created in 1934 by then-University president Lotus Coffman and housed in a single room on the top floor of Northrop Auditorium.

The wing will also house a new, groundbreaking collection of photography. "The idea is to collect images made in our century for scientific purposes that are worthy of being in a museum," said King. "We're still establishing criteria for this but the new space will give us a venue." The third wing will house a small caf? with dramatic river views and, possibly, interactive art at every table.

Gehry, now in his 70s, has completed a preliminary design. He is using new computer generated technology unavailable when he drew up the original Weisman plans. This allows him to create more flowing, organic curves which will complement the more geometric forms of the present building.

"The original facility and the expansion will look like they're designed by the same person yet it won't be seamless," stated King. "The expansion reflects Gehry's latest thinking and use of technology. But the design absolutely enforces the museum's mission: Art is in the middle of our lives. You don't have to like it, but you can't ignore it. So pay attention."

Jodi Auvin is a writer based in Minneapolis