German expressionism. American decorative arts. Among the nation's best American art post 1960. The Milwaukee Art Museum is a leading American institution for the work of self-taught artists and holds one of the largest collections of works by Georgia O’Keeffe and other artistic luminaries in four floors of the 341,000-square-foot museum. Encompassing more than 25,000 pieces, the museum's collection ranges from 90 works of Haitian art and 450-plus German expressionist prints to an expansive contemporary art selection that includes pieces by Andy Warhol. Among the more singular holdings in the more than 40 galleries are the earliest surviving American-made chair.
Temporary and traveling exhibitions pass through each year, spotlighting everything from Rembrandt to color photography. Upcoming highlights include tattoo art, nineteenth-century portraiture, and, in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. Delve deeper into works on display during lectures and talks, part of a packed events calendar that includes concerts and film screenings. Visitors can also flex their own artistic muscles during programs such as kids' and adult art classes.
Originally built as homes for prominent Milwaukee businessmen, the Charles Allis Art Museum and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum allow for public perusal of the eclectic collections housed within their walls. As visitors teleport from room to room within the Charles Allis, they can view works spanning two millennia of artistic endeavor in a broad range of media, including bronze sculpture, elaborate furnishings, ivories from the Far East, and Bruno Ertz watercolors of moths and insects. Barbizon School paintings inhabit the French parlor, and Hudson River School paintings congregate in the library. Villa Terrace's similarly multifaceted collection includes furniture designed by architect David Adler, a 24-panel Züber wallpaper panorama, and an extensive compilation of ironwork, photos, drawings, and blueprints from Milwaukee artisan blacksmith Cyril Colnik. Outside, its Renaissance Garden features an array of flora, a fishpond, a tram, and a water stairway that leads to a cloud shaped like an Olympic swimming pool.
The 14,000-year-old Hebior mammoth stands sentinel past the entrance to the Milwaukee Public Museum, serving as a massive reminder to all who enter that they are traveling back in time. Originally founded in 1882, the museum has spent more than a century collecting artifacts and fossils from around the world to portray the vast reaches of natural and human history throughout 150,000 square feet of exhibit space spread over three and a half floors.
Representing the recent past, The Streets of Old Milwaukee's turn-of-the-century gas-lit lanes and the European Village place visitors up close to replicas of more than 58 structures, including an old-fashioned barbershop and a fully furnished Scottish dwelling. Traveling further back to the Cretaceous period in the Third Planet exhibit, a life-size replica of a tyrannosaurus greets visitors with its tiny arms and impeccable manners. Visitors can also explore treasures from Africa, Asia, and the Arctic, or stroll through the butterfly wing to witness free-flying exotic and native species.
Adjacent to the museum, the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium and IMAX theater display astronomical wonders with a Digistar 3 computer-projection system. The Skies Over Milwaukee show lights up the ceiling with the current night sky for a tour of the planets and constellations. In the same theater, IMAX films transport audience members to the top of Everest or to the bottom of the ocean with a six-story screen, wraparound digital sound, and the distilled imaginations of 5-year-olds.
Discovery World’s 120,000 square feet of exhibits celebrate exploration—both of technology and aquatic life. Guests can gaze at a 75,000-gallon freshwater tank filled with species found in the Great Lakes, stroll down a glass-enclosed tunnel beneath the 65,000-gallon saltwater tank containing colorful Caribbean fish, and admire jellyfish showing off their limber break-dance skills before getting their hands wet in touch tanks with sturgeon, stingrays, and more. The museum further satisfies thirst for watery knowledge with to-scale replicas of the Great Lakes and the Challenge, a 19th-century schooner.
Discovery World houses plenty of exhibits dedicated to innovative technology, including Les Paul’s House of Sound, which features guitars from Les Paul’s own personal collection. Visitors can also practice flying a plane and skywriting marriage proposals in the airplane simulator, or peer inside a nuclear reactor as it generates energy.
Situated in the heart of downtown Racine, RAM is dedicated to the exhibition, education, and collection of contemporary visual art. With more than 5,000 objects in its permanent collection, the 46,000-square-foot space houses one of North America’s largest collections of contemporary crafts in a multitude of mediums such as ceramics and fiber arts. The museum also constantly cycles in new retina-rallying exhibitions such as the current Not So Still Life, examining a range of quirky interpretations of classic still-life subjects such as fruit bowls or avant-garde Jello molds. Visitors can also admire the bold contour lines and expressive mark-making of painter couple Ruth Grotenrath and Schomer Lichtner. Check the exhibitions schedule for a sampling of upcoming shows to fuel future bouts of cognitive calisthenics.