“Contention Everywhere” Sparks Architect’s Departure from Milwaukee Art Museum Expansion

Proposed rendering of Milwaukee Art Museum expansion including a new lakefront entrance. Photo: Courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum

Prominent Milwaukee architect Jim Shields walked away from a contract to design a new building for the Milwaukee Art Museum—a $15-million project that includes a 17,000-square-foot addition with a new lakefront entrance—because of conflict with museum management as well as its exhibition designer. According to a story in the Journal Sentinel Online, “there was contention everywhere all along the way,” according to museum director Dan Keegan. “You have probably been at some of these process where someone says A and the other one says B,” Keegan told the paper.

Shields left the project in February, but, surprisingly, his firm, HGA Architects and Engineers, is still the architecture firm of record on the project, albeit with a new lead architect, David Lang. Shields reportedly clashed with David Russick, the museum’s exhibition designer, who is described as having “a flamboyant approach” to the expansion. The story quotes an anonymous architect who says Russick “had a lot of ideas and the museum listened to them over Jim’s.”

On a related note, provocative artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Bouchet took on the complex, sometimes contradictory nature of innovative museum architecture with a massive mural installation that wrapped the façade of a Bilbao building and showed Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao as an upside-down battleship. Their idea was to protest that museums are often, from their point of view, “inconsiderate” and don’t take into consideration artists or the exhibition of artworks, favoring grand architectural statements.

The Guggenheim Bilbao deemed the mural “offensive” and a representative there sent an email to Marlborough Chelsea, in New York, which represents Bouchet (McCarthy is represented by Hauser & Wirth), claiming that the image of the Guggenheim Bilbao is a registered trademark under Spanish Law and that the artists are breaking the law by using “without authorization” an image of the Gehry-designed museum. When the artists learned last Friday that there was an order to remove the mural and that the owners of the building, at 31 Calle Via Gran, planned to comply, they organized a team on their own to remove the mural, so as to avoid damage, and had the work shipped back to Germany, where they currently have a joint show at the Portikus art center in Frankfurt.

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