A Museum on the Move

At 50, the Chazen rethinks its role on campus.

Chazen museum gallery

The Chazen's addition opens in 2011. Jeff Miller

UW–Madison made national news in 2005 when a $20 million gift from Simona x’49 and Jerome ’48 Chazen kicked off a major expansion of the Elvehjem Museum of Art. A stately addition opened in 2011, doubling the size of the renamed Chazen Museum. It had surpassed its peers to become the largest collecting museum in the Big Ten.

The Chazen again made national news last September when it extended its hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, establishing itself as the country’s most-open museum. The new schedule — along with a sunny new café — was a radical statement of accessibility. Attendance promptly spiked.

“We want you to feel like this is a place you can come as part of your whole life,” says Chazen director Amy Gilman. “Not only when you want to see a special exhibition, but when you want to have a cup of coffee or just meditate.”

As the Chazen celebrates its 50th anniversary, Gilman is rethinking its role on campus and in the Madison community. Among her long-range plans is a complete reinstallation of the permanent collection. Fasten your seat belts: this is a museum on the move.

Patrons browse galleries during the Chazen's inaugural exhibition in 1970

The inaugural exhibition in 1970. Courtesy of the Chazen Museum

It’s come a long way from the modest Elvehjem Art Center, which opened in 1970 with collections pulled together from across campus. Starting in the 1980s, former director Russell Panczenko applied himself to boosting the collection’s size and quality. Now, with more than 23,000 works and 100,000 visitors per year, the Chazen is UW–Madison’s crown jewel.

The Chazen had planned to mark its anniversary with exhibitions opening in August and September, but everything’s up in the air with the COVID-19 pandemic. For the time being, the museum will continue a social media campaign featuring works of art acquired every year since 1970. It will also publish a handbook showcasing one object or collection for each of the museum’s 50 years.

Embroidery installation hung from the Chazen gallery ceiling

An artist’s conception of Amanda McCavour’s 50th anniversary installation. Courtesy of Amanda McCavour

A special installation by embroidery artist Amanda McCavour, originally scheduled to open on August 15, will happen at some point. She’ll hang lush botanical shapes from Paige Court’s third-floor ceiling, encouraging visitors to see the space with new eyes.

McCavour is breaking out as a major talent, and this exhibition will be her largest commission to date. Don’t be surprised if, once again, the Chazen makes national news.


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