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Wings up, wings down for 20 years at Milwaukee Art Museum
By Tom Adkinson
February 5, 2021

Wings down at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Wings down at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Image by Tom Adkinson

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – 2021 marks the 20th year that the roof of the Milwaukee Art Museum has flapped like the wings of a graceful shorebird on the edge of Lake Michigan. Wind permitting, it is a piece of architectural performance art that happens every morning when the museum opens, at noon and in the evening when the museum closes.

wings up at the milwaukee art museum
Wings up. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The 72 steel wings, ranging from 26 to 105 feet long, take 3.5 minutes to open or close. They form the roof of the museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, designer of eye-catching buildings and bridges around the world. Of course, what’s inside is the real attraction – 30,000 works of art that stretch from antiquity to today and are displayed in 40 galleries. Among its treasures is an extensive collection of works by Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum began as the city’s first art gallery in 1888. Designers of that building couldn’t have imagined today’s highly engineered building.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

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