The University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum (WAM) will temporarily close its galleries and in-person shopping at the WAM Shop to allow for maintenance inside the building over the summer. The museum will be closed to the public beginning Monday, May 17, with plans to reopen in fall 2021, upon completion of scheduled maintenance.
Earlier this year, University of Minnesota facilities management staff conducted a forensic study of the museum’s Frank Gehry-designed building—a structure which is now nearly 30 years old. To ensure the continued safety of staff, visitors, and the valuable artworks housed at the museum, the study determined that maintenance is necessary to replace the fire protection system throughout the building to meet current code standards. The University of Minnesota has contracted JE Dunn Construction to complete the project.
In place of an indoor exhibition, WAM will mount an outdoor public art installation on the exterior of the building, which will be on view throughout the summer months. This installation, Just Yesterday, will open in mid-May. The installation will feature an eye-catching poster campaign that uses a pop culture lens to call attention to systemic, persistent racism from the recent past to the present. A press announcement with details and press images for this outdoor installation will be released in the coming days.
In addition, during the building’s temporary closure, visitors will continue to have access to virtual visits, events, and online resources, as well as outdoor programs and public art throughout the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. WAM Shop operations will shift to the museum’s new online store while the building is closed to the public. Visitors are also welcome to take advantage of the free audio tours available on the museum’s new CloudGuide app, which focus on the museum’s permanent collection works and, in the coming weeks, a new audio tour through WAM’s public art on campus.
“Closing the museum again this year is difficult, particularly when the solace and inspiration of art is so sorely needed,” said Weisman Interim Director, Karen Hanson. “But careful stewardship of the beloved building which is home to the Weisman is necessary to ensure that the vital resources of the museum continue to be protected, so they remain available for generations to come. We look forward to welcoming everyone back into the building in the fall.”
Update on the national search for the Weisman Art Museum’s new Director: Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson recently announced the posting of the position description for the search, which aims to identify a visionary leader for this teaching museum at the University of Minnesota.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the Weisman Art Museum closing for maintenance?
A building study was commissioned in 2020, after a major roof replacement project at the museum. This full-facility assessment included all major systems and assemblies. Age, condition, and remaining useful life of each component was identified, including strategies to extend the service life and/or when replacement would be required.
To properly assess the overall performance of the facility, the Infrastructure Study, conducted by Miller Dunwiddie, included review of current museum operating standards, security operations and systems, program support areas, lighting systems, heating and cooling requirements, and improved technology systems. It was determined, through the study, that the fire-protection system should be replaced.
The Weisman is an architecturally significant building with very specialized systems for climate and security. The University of Minnesota is committed to keeping this building in its original condition.
When do you anticipate the work will be completed and the museum reopened to visitors?
WAM anticipates that most of the work in the galleries will be completed this fall, so that we can open our doors when students return to campus. Repair work will begin in the museum’s main gallery spaces this summer, and progress from one side of the museum facility to the other. WAM administrative offices, the Riverview, Shepherd, and Seminar rooms will be closed in the fall as maintenance work transitions from the main galleries to those spaces.
What is the concern with WAM’s fire protection system, and what will the contractors do to repair it?
The fire-protection system piping in the original (1994) portion of the museum is at the end of its life and in need of full replacement. Replacing the outdated piping will bring the museum’s systems up to current code standards. Additional repair to the fire-protection system pipes is also needed in the newer addition to the museum facility (constructed in 2010) and in the parking garage.
WAM is also assessing other facility upgrades that could be completed alongside this work repairing the fire-protection system pipes, potentially including: lighting improvements, sound system and security system upgrades, floor refinishing, and gallery wall replacement.
How will the artwork be protected while maintenance work is in progress?
WAM staff will move almost all of the artwork out of the galleries where work is underway. Five artworks will be protected in place, because they are too fragile or difficult to move: the Gehry glass fish, the Rosenquist and Lichtenstein murals, Pedicord Apartments, and the River of Iron.
Why is it important to handle this maintenance work all at once, closing the building over the summer months?
Work will be done throughout the entire museum in phases. WAM staff decided on a full closure during the summer so that work could be completed more quickly, with a goal of reopening the museum galleries to visitors this fall.