Weisman officials proud of museum’s odd structure

by Stacy Jo

As one of the University’s most recognizable structures, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is also one of the most widely discussed buildings on campus.
And that’s the way museum officials like it.
In celebration of the building’s uniqueness, officials kicked off the museum’s fifth anniversary with a faculty and staff reception Friday.
Donning museum-shaped party hats and munching on a wide array of refreshments, several hundred faculty, staff and spouses toured the museum and discussed the impact the odd structure has had on campus since its opening in November 1993.
Gene Mason, professor of philosophy, said the building’s construction provoked more interest and discussion than any other in his 40 years of teaching at the University.
“At this university, we have very few distinguished buildings,” Mason said. “I thought it was wonderful.”
Hal Miller, former dean of University College, discussed the lighter side of the building’s appearance.
“When my daughter first saw it, she said, ‘Dad, that building needs ironing,'” Miller said.
This ongoing debate about the building’s design delights museum officials.
Lyndel King, Weisman museum director, said the museum rouses discussion about not only the structure, but art itself. She said she views the building as a primary piece of the museum’s collection.
“We wanted a building that made a strong statement, and a building that made a strong statement about art,” King said. “We told the architect, ‘We don’t want you to build just another brick lump.'”
Before the Weisman was built, the University’s art collection was housed in unused space on the third floor of Northrop Auditorium in the then-named University Art Museum.
Although this space was always intended to be temporary, the Northrop space housed the collection for 59 years.
Built by architect Frank Gehry, the Weisman museum was funded entirely with private donations from more than 400 individuals, corporations and fund-raising entities. The structure came to fruition through monetary assistance from a diverse group of donors.
A $4 million donation — the largest the museum received — came from a bequest to the University from the estate of Eugenie LaMothe and her brother George. The smallest donation, $9.65, came from a group of beginning painting students. They emptied their pockets, placed the contents in a manilla envelope and handed their contribution over to King.
Continuing the celebration, museum officials hosted a fifth-birthday party for the general public on Saturday. More than 300 people enjoyed dinner on the Washington Avenue Bridge, which was sectioned off and heated for the event. An additional 200 joined the participants for dessert and dancing at the museum.