BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH. -- On Nov. 11, the Cranbrook Art Museum opened its doors to the public after two years of renovations.
Every piece in Cranbrook's collection is now accessible to the public, and pieces are stored in such a way that they resonate with each other even sitting in orderly rows on shelves. But what really makes Cranbrook advanced in the "open storage movement" is that the collections wing is designed with several teaching areas, including a seminar room that was specifically designed to hold the maximum class size in Detroit Public Schools.
"I do not know if any other museum in the nation has designed their most sacred vault as a space you can teach in," said Greg Wittkopp, director of the museum.
An institution both for southeast Michigan and the Arts and Crafts movement, the Cranbrook Art Museum was founded by Henry Booth and designed by the Finnish midcentury modernist architect Eliel Saarinen, opening in its current building in 1942.
But its now 6,000-work collection outgrew the available exhibition space, which couldn't hold more than 100 pieces. Many pieces have only been on display once or twice in the last decade.
The museum raised $22 million for an innovative 20,000 sq. ft. Collection Wing designed to work in harmony with Saarinen's building. The Collection Wing is designed with space for the continuously expanding collection, with 25 to 30 percent growth anticipated in the next 25 years.
Wittkopp was inspired by the Schaulager, an extensive private contemporary art collection in Basel, Switzerland where each room contains all the acquired works from a single year. Each piece is displayed exactly as it was intended to be seen by the artists, including individual screening rooms for video and film works.
Wittkopp wanted to take the Schaulager's innovative combination of storage and museum and apply it to his public teaching institution.
With multiple classroom settings, the Collection Wing will be an invaluable resource for researchers, students at the Cranbrook Art Academy and Cranbrook students at lower levels.
The museum is currently searching for an Education Curator, so the full extent of educational programs has yet to be realized. "We haven’t added on the staff we need quickly enough," Wittkopp said.
But several educational ideas are in development. Wittkopp and the museum are working with Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School to develop lessons for a Memoir in 20th Century Literature class to be held every two weeks in the Collections Wing. A pilot version is being created for a class at Cranbrook, with plans to export it to other schools in the metro Detroit area.
The museum also received a Masco Corporation grant to develop a program that will use a collection of Detroit-based material with third graders from the city of Detroit. It is being designed to meet educational benchmarks and be integrated into their regional history lesson plans. The museum is in the process of raising money for buses to bring Detroit students to the museum, a program planned to start in the spring of 2012.
Cranbrook Art Museum kicked off its reopening with the exhibition "No Object is an Island: New Dialogues with the Cranbrook Collection," co-curated by Wittkopp and Sarah Margolis-Pineo, the museum’s Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow.
"I can honestly say that I'm enthusiastic about each and every object in the show," Wittkopp said. "Each piece in the show is a killer object."
"No Object is an Island" features 50 pieces from the collection paired with 50 contemporary art pieces, many created specifically for the show, and includes work from Cranbrook Academy of Art professors. The works are arranged to play off each other and grouped in six thematic categories: Craft, Site, Comfort, Resistance, Process, and Fiction.
"We wanted to do a show that demonstrated the exceptional quality of the collection by showing a selection of it," said Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art. "But more importantly for us, we wanted to be able to demonstrate how the collection becomes even more powerful when it's put in the context of continuing to make art and design, continuing to inspire new generations."
Check out some of Wittkopp's favorite pieces in the Cranbrook permanent collection below.
No Object is an Island runs through March 25, 2012. To celebrate the opening, Cranbrook has had ongoing events and tours of the Collection Wing for the first 11 days, ending on Monday, Nov. 21 with Closing Dialogue: Cranbrook Academy of Art's Ten Artists-in-Residence at 5 p.m.
The Three Perfumes by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh is watercolor on velum. "It has a very translucent quality to it, the watercolor itself. You really feel like you are seeing through it to the surface beyond," Wittkop said. "What's thrilling about this piece is to be able to document the career of this remarkable artist who is often lost in the shadows of her better known husband [Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh]." The Three Perfumes hasn't been on view at Cranbrook since 2004. It is now stored in the Stoner Print Study Room. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, English, 1864-1933 1912, Watercolor and pencil on vellum Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Gift of George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth Photographer: R. H. Hensleigh
Eliel Saarinen, who designed the Cranbrook Art Museum, was an "unmatched architectural draftsman," Wittkopp said. "He deftly straddled both the positions of modernist and traditionalist." "He would start in the upper left-hand corner and work across and down the drawing, and when he got to the lower right-hand corner the drawing would be done." Eliel Saarinen, Finnish, 1873-1950 1923, pencil on tracing paper Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Photographer: R. H. Hensleigh
John Coplans's self portrait is included in No Object is an Island, paired with a piece by Liz Cohen, the head of the photography department at Cranbrook Art Academy. Wittkopp said he loved "the way his back becomes this perfect square... it feels more like a block of stone rather than the human body." John Coplans, American, 1920-2003 1984, silver gelatin print mounted on board, 6/6 Partial and promised gift of Burt Aaron Photographer: Editha Mesina
"To me it has the sublime quality of looking at a really major 19th century Hudson River School painting," Wittkopp said about Frank Stella's work. This is one of the works from the Rose Shuey collection, which Cranbrook acquired in 2000. Shuey donated her entire collection of postwar European and American sculpture and painting. The piece was purchased in 1971 in New York City and shipped to Rose Shuey and her husband John. They never removed it from the crate, and the first time she saw it was in 2001 when it was uncrated at Cranbrook. Frank Stella, American, born 1936 1969, Acrylic and fluorescent acrylic on canvas Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Gift of Rose M. Shuey, from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey
"I'm in awe of how Bridget Riley creates such visually compelling works. Depending on your mood, depending on the light, they're more or less active," Wittkopp said. Riley created Shih-Li after she saw an exhibition of Chinese scroll paintings. This piece is one of two from the Shuey collection. Riley had a major retrospective of her work at Cranbrook in 2005. Shih-Li is paired with a piece from James Turrell in No Object is an Island in the Fiction category. "Riley would say her painting only exists in the mind's eye," Wittkopp said. The painting occurs somewhere betwen the eye and the canvas and creates something that really isn't there on the wall." Bridget Riley, English, born 1931 1975, Acrylic on linen Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Gift of Rose M. Shuey, from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey
The lower level of the Collections Wing is simple and sleek. It was designed by SmithGroup of Detroit.