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
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
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.
>>MY FIVE FAVORITE