conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


15 Minutes With: Dr. Marcelle Polednik


December 2016


Photography by STEPHANIE BARTZ

Originally from Poland, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s new director, Dr. Marcelle Polednik, came to the U.S. when she was 10. With a doctorate in art history, she arrives here with the intention to grow Milwaukee as an art center after stints as chief curator at the Monterey Museum of Art and director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Fla.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Certainly becoming the first Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, no question on that point. Before I came to Milwaukee, I think it depends on how you look at it. As director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, the two crowning moments of my time there were both being able to secure the largest donation ever given to a nonprofit in Jacksonville history, and from a curatorial point of view, the highlight for me was curating an exhibition called “SLOW: Marking Time in Photography and Film.” That was a project that ushered in a new artistic vision for the organization and drew a firm line in the sand, securing our spot as a thought leader in Jacksonville and beyond.

What were your first impressions of the Milwaukee Art Museum?

What impressed me most was the permanent collection. I expected to love the architecture — the War Memorial Center by (Eero) Saarinen, the Kahler building, the Calatrava — but what impressed me most was the astonishing works of art that reside in those permanent structures. There are works in the collection that I studied as a young art historian, so it was like being reunited with old friends.

What were your initial impressions of the city?

I was immediately drawn to Milwaukee, first of all, because of its heritage. It’s a place where Eastern European immigrants have really made an impact on the culture. ... Also the energy of the city downtown and how much building is going on, and restoring entire neighborhoods like the (Historic) Third Ward, which shows the respect for the city and its history that the inhabitants have.

Where would you like to take the museum in the next few years?

We want to turn our attention to the artistic vision of the museum, in the ways we activate the permanent collection, how we treat educational initiatives, and inspire and galvanize the sense of love of the museum as a symbol.

How will you know that you’ve been successful?

I think I will know that I’ve been successful if there’s both deeper community engagement and also broader engagement within Milwaukee and outside Milwaukee. This is the kind of success that sometimes takes generations — if everyone in Milwaukee made the museum an extension of their living room; a daily habit, something that was inspirational and really vital to their lives.


cocktail. It’s been
my hallmark beverage of choice for over a decade.

The contours of the Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion of the MAM. They remind me of the magic that happens when vision and flawless craftsmanship come together.  Louis Mayer’s “Lady in Black.” This exquisite painting of a local cabaret singer by Milwaukee’s own Louis Mayer is my reigning favorite work in the museum’s permanent collection galleries.
Louis Mayer (American, 1869-1969); "Lady in Black" (Portrait of Carrie Donaldson), 1900
  Slippers. A fondness I share with my son, Beckett. Teacups. I have an embarrassingly large collection, but this hand-printed, Hungarian snail and thistle cup is my favorite.


This story ran in the December 2016 issue of: