Dissonance in Milwaukee

I went for a run in Milwaukee the other day. Along Lake Michigan’s shore the Milwaukee Art Museum stands out, suggesting itself as a symbolic anchor of the city skyline. It seems to me like the boldest declaration of a post-20th century reinvention of Milwaukee as a great midwestern city. The Art Museum’s “wings” appear to “flap” over the course of each day. It’s a fanciful and striking structure both from afar and close up.

As you come upon the museum however, you find a startling and depressing piece of public art: a literal wreck.


I thought about searching online for the story of this wreck, if there is one. But I realized it doesn’t really matter. Whatever it’s supposed to represent, it’s just a wreck. I have hope that it’s meant to speak to something like the need to prevent auto accidents. Maybe even that’s wishful thinking.

In any event, is this the best the Milwaukee Art Museum has to offer? There will always be a higher number of people visiting the courtyard of the museum and enjoying the shorefront like I was than there will be actual visitors admitted inside the museum. And with that in mind, this is what was chosen as the most prized and most visible piece of art the museum has to display:


In its own way, it’s perfectly symbolic of so much of the artistic sensibility of our time: a grand and boastful exterior that–whatever it contains in its interior–makes no attempt to compliment the beauty of its surroundings or console the common person.