October 16, 2011

Cranbrook Academy Art Museum: History, Renovation and Expansion

Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

(The next post is dedicaced to the Cranbrook Art Museum reopening exhibition)


Founded by newspaper magnate George Gough Booth and his wife Ellen Scripps Booth, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum represent an ongoing educational experiment that the whole Cranbrook Educational Community embodies—"an original and radical plan to integrate all the arts in a perfect ensemble," according to Museum Director Gregory Wittkopp.

Cranbrook Academy of Art has been described as "America's Bauhaus," in recognition of the singular impact the school – one of the nation's leading graduate schools of art, architecture, and design – has as a place of artistic creation. Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Ralph Rapson, and Eero Saarinen created mid-century modernism at Cranbrook. Michael and Katherine McCoy started Product Semantics at the school. Daniel Libeskind, Jun Kaneko, Hani Rashid, Nick Cave, Richard De Vore, Tony Matelli, Niels Diffrient, Ed Fella, John Glick, Duane Hanson, Jack Lenor Larsen, and Lorraine Wild all studied or taught at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Today, the Academy graduates more than 70 young artists and designers each year. The school's faculty of ten Artists-in-Residence are award-winning practitioners in their fields with work exhibited at some the world's most distinguished venues, including the Venice Biennale, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, The American Academy of Arts, and many others.

Reed Kroloff, Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, says, "People may not realize it, but Cranbrook art and design is everywhere. Whether you're sitting in an Eames office chair or riding in a new subway car in New York City, you are experiencing design by Cranbrook graduates [Antenna Design, which created the most recent subway cars, is co-directed by Masamichi Udagawa, a Cranbrook graduate]. The impact of this school on American life is ongoing and profound."

The Art Museum represents the culmination of Booth's plan. The Museum's collection of art and objects includes sculpture, paintings, models and drawings, ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, and metalwork, and it is renowned for its variety – with the decorative, applied and fine arts all represented–its depth, and its unrivaled quality. Among the many treasures owned by Cranbrook Art Museum are works by Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Bridget Riley, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Maija Grotell, Peter Voulkos, Eliel, Eero, Loja and Pipsan Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, Marianne Strengell, Marshall Fredericks, Carl Milles, Arthur Neville Kirk, Paul Manship, and William Morris.


Designed originally by Eliel and Eero Saarinen (with later buildings by Steven Holl, Lake/Flato, Rafael Moneo, Peter Rose, and Tod Williams and Billie Tsien), Cranbrook is a National Historic Landmark, located on 320 acres of rolling, wooded landscape approximately 18 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. And, on a campus famous for its architecture, Cranbrook Art Museum is considered one of Eliel Saarinen's masterpieces.

The complete renovation and expansion accomplishes two things, according to Museum Director Wittkopp. "On a fundamental level, we are making a commitment to the infrastructure of the museum by raising Saarinen's masterwork to the standards of 21st-century museum practice, in terms of mechanical systems, lighting, communications, and other technology," he says. "But Cranbrook is, ultimately, a community where art and life are inextricably linked, and we believe that a museum and its collections are important only if they can continue to inspire new generations of artists." To that end, and in keeping with Cranbrook's tradition as a center of educational innovation, the new Collections Wing creates a model that is unprecedented: a museum whose collections in their entirety are visible and accessible. "The Academy has always seen the collection as a critical component of our pedagogy," explains Kroloff. "So we decided early on to create a very different kind of environment for viewing it. Instead of seeing only the fraction of the collection that most museums offer, our students, faculty, and visitors will have access to all 6,000 objects in a way that's never been possible before. Cranbrook Art Museum and its collections will be an integrated teaching environment like no other."

In order to accommodate this program, the building project encompassed two primary aspects: renovating and restoring the original Saarinen museum, and adding the 20,000-square-foot Collections Wing, where much of the collection will be displayed. Creating a conservation environment within the existing building required substantial improvements to achieve current standards for lighting, temperature, and humidity. Restoration of the Saarinen building also included a new roof, windows, and brick repair, as well as the disassembly and rebuilding of the building's famed plazas and ceremonial exterior stairs, which will now include a snow melting system that eliminates the need for destructive winter salting. An original Saarinen-designed coffered gallery lighting system (believed to be the first of its kind, and the forerunner of Eero Saarinen's revolutionary integrated lighting systems at the nearby General Motors Technical Center) was also restored.

The new Collections Wing is located to the northeast of the historic Saarinen museum and houses the new, visible collections spaces, a woodshop, photography studio, loading dock, and a 10'x15' freight elevator to facilitate the transport of artworks within the building. A seminar/conference space is intended for focused instruction regarding the collection. The SmithGroup was the architect for both the restoration and the new building.

The $22 million-project at Cranbrook Art Museum was funded by Cranbrook Educational Community as one of several important restoration projects made possible by a recently completed $181 million Comprehensive Fundraising Campaign. Of this total, the Academy of Art and Art Museum raised nearly $46 million in annual and endowed support for programming, financial aid, faculty support, and new equipment. The $10 million lead gift to the Campaign was received from Maxine and Stuart Frankel and family.

After the two-year construction project Cranbrook Art Museum will reopen on 11-11-11.

Cranbrook Academy of Art
Website: www.cranbrookart.edu

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