What is the Weisman Art Museum?
The Weisman Art Museum (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 Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota creates art experiences that spark discovery, critical thinking, and transformation, linking the University and the community. Since its origin in 1934, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum has been a teaching museum for the University of Minnesota. Today, education remains central to the museum’s mission to make the arts accessible to the University and public communities.
History and Architecture
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.
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.
Who was 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.
Mimbres Cultural Materials at the University
University of Minnesota to repatriate Mimbres objects to descendent tribes
“Today’s repatriation determination is another milestone for our institution and our Tribal partners,” Board Chair Ken Powell said after the resolution was approved. “This is an opportunity to reaffirm the mission of the University of Minnesota. While the law maps out the decisions to be made, it is the moral and ethical calling of our land grant university that inspires and guides us, demanding that we act justly by repatriating that which was never ours. We cannot undo our past. We can accept responsibility for it. That means more than acknowledgements and apologies. Today, the University is exhibiting the values of what it means to be a land grant institution by authorizing the repatriation of the Mimbres objects to their rightful home with their Native peoples.”
The Board’s action authorizes University leadership to advance the ongoing consultation with the appropriate Tribal Nations of the Southwest and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) regarding repatriation. The University is committed to working to complete these necessary conversations with care and coordinate next steps with the Tribal Nations involved. Ultimately, the University will return the Mimbres objects it holds, consistent with the many Tribal consultations that have taken place, research into the ancestral lineage of the objects and any additional obligations the University may have under NAGPRA.
The remains of Mimbres ancestors associated with the objects previously held at the Weisman Art Museum currently reside at Hamline University’s Osteology Repository under an agreement with MIAC. The University intends to coordinate with MIAC on a process to repatriate these remains.
Press queries should be directed to Jake Ricker, Director of Public Relations, University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Reach him by phone at 612-625-7134, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated March 2022
WAM in the Media
- Atlas Obscura: “Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum: 20,000 pieces in a Frank Gehry-designed building”
- Evening Standard: “12 of the World’s Coolest Museums, from Tel Aviv to Mexico City”
- Fodor’s Travel: “The Best Frank Gehry Buildings in the World”
- Minneapolis Star Tribune: “25 Years of the Weisman Art Museum”
- USA Today: “51 Amazing University and College Buildings Across the USA”
- Chicago Magazine: “10 Art Museums to Visit in the Midwest”
An Archival Project Of The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
From October 2010 to October 2011, The Weisman Art Museum was closed to the public in order to complete a $14 million expansion project, to include four new galleries to showcase the permanent collection, and an additional gallery space, the Target Studio for Creative Collaboration. Behind closed doors, WAM has been working on another “building” project that doesn’t require hard hats, tool belts or the qualifications to operate heavy machinery, but that does require a keen eye to detail, patience for repetition, and an organizational fortitude – the construction of the WAM Archives. Read about the WAM Files project here
WAM Exhibition staff and archivists from the University Archives have collaborated to process over 200 boxes of archival material transferred to the Archives from WAM in a series of accessions that occurred between 1997 and 2011. The material, which begins in the 1930’s when WAM was first known as the University Gallery and guided by director, Ruth Lawrence, also covers the restructuring and adjustment to the title of University Art Museum, and additionally records the planning and correspondence related to the museum’s move from a few rooms in Northrup Auditorium, to the internationally known Frank Gehry designed Weisman, under the leadership of current director Lyndel King, in the 1990’s. Exhibits mounted, programs held, and activities pursued within this time span are represented within the boxes stored within the caverns of the University Archives in Andersen Library. This project will document, preserve, and make accessible the unique institutional history of the University of Minnesota’s art museum.
After completion of this first component, WAM will fine-tune administrative policies and develop a guide for records management practices to ensure that materials created in the production of exhibits and other programs, events, and administrative processes currently stored at WAM, are transferred regularly to the University Archives to be made accessible for all interested parties in the history of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota.