Cranbrook Art Museum to reopen after $22M makeover

By Jeff Karoub

Associated Press

BLOOMFIELD HILLS (AP) -- No hidden treasures. That was the primary goal during a two-year, $22 million restoration and expansion of the Cranbrook Art Museum aimed at enlivening the collection and inspiring new artists.

The contemporary art museum north of Detroit plans to reopen today after a complete renovation of its building, designed by famed architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen, on the 320-acre campus of the century-old Cranbrook Educational Community. A new Collections Wing makes more accessible the museum's permanent collection of about 6,000 works of art, architecture and design, including rarely seen works by Ray Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

"We're trying to make visible what is normally invisible within the museum," said museum director Gregory Wittkopp. "This is about storing and preserving a great collection. However, then how do you layer onto that an educational mission? There's a reason why other institutions in the world ... don't really want to go in this direction.

"We, being at the heart of an educational community here, decided, 'Let's look at that challenge. Is there a way we can do both?'" he said.

How that design challenge became a tangible reality is apparent when visitors move from the lower level of the museum through a sliding, curved, stainless steel door -- a nod to the Saarinens' special attention to thresholds and creating no two doors alike -- into the Collections Wing and its glassed-in vaults.

The new 20,000-square-foot wing includes rooms for storing ceramics and studying prints. Just outside the print study room is a Seminar Room where instructors from Cranbrook's K-12 private school, its Institute of Science and its Academy of Art can teach with objects or bring small groups into the vaults for closer examination.

Still, "the most sacred of sacred places," Wittkopp said, is the main vault on the three-level wing's top level. It contains the museum's collection of furniture design focusing on chairs by Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames and others, and the museum's painting collection on custom-designed vertical racks. By pulling out two sliding racks, for example, he said "all of our works from the Op-Art movement can be accessible for conversation."

One of the most exciting examples for Wittkopp is the new pull-out rack for a rare, four-paneled modular painting by Roy Lichtenstein. In the decade or so since the painting was donated, he said it's been on display in a gallery twice, but now it's available for viewing on a rack that also includes a portrait of soccer legend Pele by Lichtenstein's friend Andy Warhol.

The Andy Warhol Foundation also donated 150 of the artist's photographs to Cranbrook, which are easily accessible on shelves in the print study room. They were given with the stipulation that a substantial part of the collection must be on display every 10 years -- common language in contracts that Cranbrook Art Museum officials say becomes much easier to honor with the expansion.

Museum officials envision developing programs that will take place in the vaults.

"In most museums, 95 percent of collections are never seen," said Reed Kroloff, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum.

Underscoring the museum's mission to curate and educate, its first post-renovation exhibition is called, "No Object is an Island: New Dialogues with the Cranbrook Collection." It pairs the work of 50 contemporary artists and designers with 50 pieces from Cranbrook's permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century design. One pairing inspired by the natural world: a "soundsuit" by Chicago-based artist Nick Cave and a tapestry by Arts and Crafts master May Morris.

"Most museums bring out 100 of their best works and call it a day," Wittkopp said. "What we wanted to do was show our collection is most valuable when it's continuing to inspire a new generation of artists."

The renovation was one of several projects made possible by a recently completed $181 million fundraising campaign. The Academy of Art and Art Museum raised about $46 million of the total for various purposes.

The museum is part of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, a community of artists-in-residence and graduate students founded by newspaper magnate George Gough Booth and his wife Ellen Scripps Booth.

Published: Fri, Nov 11, 2011