Frank Gehry’s Frederick Weisman Art Museum on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota is at least as interesting as the art it houses. From the West Bank, looking across the Mississippi it is a sculpture of stainless steel, supposedly representing the rivers and waterfalls of Minnesota, reflecting the colors of the trees, passing cars or light rail when the light is right. From the East Bank it is made of the same brick as the neighboring, and more conservative, University buildings that were there when I was in graduate school. It was the last major building Gehry designed without the computer software that made construction of the Disney Concert Hall or Guggenheim in Bilbao possible. This building was designed the old fashioned way. But it doesn’t look it.
This is my second walk through the museum with Dr. Don Browne, my grad school advisor, and one of my mentors, now retired. As we walked through the museum he wondered that our paths had taken us in different directions but they, twice, have ended up in this museum enjoying the same work, which is somewhat removed from the academic disciplines that we both pursued. When we first worked together 39 years ago he had recently left the Foreign Service to teach about broadcasting as an international medium and how broadcasting could be used as a tool for national development. When I defended my theses he asked how my work could relate to building a community radio station on Minnesota’s Iron Range. It turns out it had a lot to do with the uses of Community Radio, and when I had my mid-life crisis I found that I relied a lot on what Don tried to get me to understand.
And an art museum is also about building community, around the building and around the creations inside. Gehry’s buildings have become community icons around which communities of interest (The Disney Concert Hall in LA, the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, or the Biosphere Museum in Panama), or an entire city, (in the case of the Guggenheim in Bilbao) have coalesced. In the building I can see Minnesota’s flowing waters.
Inside the building gives art room to breathe. Some of the rooms create shadows that offset the exhibits. In one room windows and stainless steel wedges frame the Minneapolis skyline across the Mississippi. There are two Frank Gehry fish on display. One had originally been in the Walker Art Center sculpture garden.