John Michael Kohler Arts Center reveals plans for Art Preserve on Sheboygan’s west side

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For several years, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has pursued addressing the challenges presented by the expanding size of its unparalleled collection of works by artist-environment builders and by the increased interest in this remarkable art form.

The solution begins taking solid form in March with ground breaking on construction of the Art Preserve—the first facility of its kind devoted to the study of artist-built environments and their conservation, preservation, and presentation. The Art Preserve will complement the exhibitions and programs that will continue to be offered at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s main facility in downtown Sheboygan.

At the Art Preserve, we will be able to continue and expand on the important work of preserving art environments for the future, fostering scholarship in this diverse and fascinating field of art making, and investigating new ways of making the lifework of these artists more meaningful to the public

The Art Preserve will provide a safe home for the 20,000 works of art in the Arts Center’s world-renowned collection of art environments. The current facilities for the collection at the Arts Center’s New York Avenue location have reached capacity, making it difficult to both care for and grow our holdings. The Art Preserve will remedy these problems with spaces designed specifically to house this special collection.

Spearheaded by Director of Special Initiatives Ruth DeYoung Kohler, the Art Preserve will provide for viewing and study of the collection when the environments are not included in exhibitions at the Arts Center’s New York Avenue location.

“At the Art Preserve, we will be able to continue and expand on the important work of preserving art environments for the future, fostering scholarship in this diverse and fascinating field of art making, and investigating new ways of making the lifework of these artists more meaningful to the public,” said Kohler.

Located on 38 acres along Indiana Avenue on Sheboygan’s west side, the Art Preserve will include a new 54,000-square-foot, three-level building designed by tres birds workshop of Denver, CO. Mortenson Construction, headquartered in Minneapolis, has been tapped to build the facility. Construction on the $40 million project is slated for completion in late 2019, with the public opening scheduled for summer of 2020.

Tres birds workshop’s design embraces community accessibility and interaction while addressing current needs and anticipating growth in the collection through 2040. The result of a highly collaborative effort, the Art Preserve will embody a holistic moment in which the building, the surrounding landscape, and the collection become an experience that is more than the sum of their individual parts.

For many of the artists represented in the collection, the media they worked with reflects what they had on hand. That idea—humble people using humble materials to create something extraordinary—is incorporated into the material choices for the Art Preserve.

The building will be primarily a concrete structure, a material choice in keeping with the prevalence of concrete as a medium in the creation of many art environments. Visitors entering the building will move through a “forest” of soaring timbers angled like the trees growing on the site.

Inside, the traditional understanding of museum collection storage has been eschewed in favor of a storage aesthetic that allows works to be viewed with the sense of discovery that is so fundamental to art environments that are in situ.

In addition to the curated display areas, the Art Preserve includes an education area, library, study collection, and other spaces that will provide access to the collection for researchers, tour groups, and the broad public.

Serving on the Art Preserve committee are John Michael Kohler Arts Center Board members Ed McKelvey (committee chair), Mike Beeck, K.C. Nemschoff, and Nancy Schreiber. Arts Center staff leadership is provided by Ruth DeYoung Kohler, director of strategic initiatives and director emerita. Other staff members involved in the project include Sam Gappmayer, director; Kelley Renzelmann, deputy director for operations; Amy Horst, associate director; and Karen Patterson, senior curator.

Fundraising for the Art Preserve is ongoing. Please contact Rebecca Owen, deputy director for development, if you are interested in helping to ensure that the exceptional work of art-environment builders continues to be accessible for generations to come.

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