Major milestones in the museum’s history include significant contributions from Frederick R. Weisman and Frank O. Gehry. Frederick R. Weisman, a Minneapolis native, entrepreneur, and noted philanthropist, provided generous financial gifts and other support to the museum. Internationally acclaimed architect Frank O. Gehry designed the museum’s glimmering residence along the Mississippi River. Home to the museum since 1993, this important architectural achievement has become a landmark for the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
WAM is the realization of a dream first articulated by University President Lotus Coffman in 1934. Setting aside some unused rooms in the newly completed Northrop Auditorium, Coffman noted, “There is a need for new values to sustain the morale of individuals in the days ahead. The arts are a source for such values and I want this university to play a leading part in instilling them.”
The museum presents and interprets works of art, offering exhibitions that place art within relevant cultural, social and historical contexts. Several major exhibitions are offered each year, as well as organized letters, symposia, tours and special events focused upon educational themes. In its 70-year history, the museum has worked with more than fifty departments, presenting the ideas of a great university in multi-disciplinary and widely collaborative projects. The museum’s active touring program serves the cultural/educational needs of rural communities primarily in the Upper Midwest, as well as national and international audiences.
The construction of an 8,100 square-foot expansion, designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, was completed in 2011. Gehry is also responsible for the original design of this landmark facility. The museum reopened to the public on October 2, 2011, and nearly doubled the size of the galleries for collections and enhanced its role as a cultural resource for the University, students, Minnesota, and the state’s many visitors. The museum engaged Minneapolis-based HGA Architects and Engineers as the local architects for the project and JE Dunn Construction as contractors.
Frederick R. Weisman
Noted California philanthropist, art patron, and entrepreneur Frederick R. Weisman provided the pivotal gift of $3 million, which gave the University of Minnesota Art Museum a new home. The Frank Gehry-designed museum opened on November 21, 1993 and bears Weisman’s name.
The Minneapolis native, a son of the businessman William Weisman, moved to Los Angeles with his mother Mary at the age of six. Weisman returned to the University of Minnesota to study and later attended UCLA. Through a series of successful business ventures, Weisman became involved with a small canning company, Val-Vita, which later merged with Hunt Brothers Packing Company to become Hunt Foods. By the age of 31, Weisman had become the company president.
As Weisman’s business enterprise grew, so did his interest in art and philanthropy. Long recognized as one of America’s foremost collectors of contemporary art, Weisman was an ardent supporter of new and emerging artists. Through the Frederick R. Weisman Philanthropic Program, he provided valuable support to the field of visual arts, as well as to social services and health care. He was a trustee of a number of national and international art institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the American Center in Paris.
Frederick R. Weisman died at his Los Angeles home on September 11, 1994 after a long illness.