Since 1967, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (jmkac.org) has been one of the Midwest’s premier artistic institutions, with an expansive collection of more than 32,000 individual works primarily by art-environment builders and self-taught, folk and contemporary artists. Now, there’s even more reason for culture connoisseurs to put Sheboygan, Wis., on their must-visit list, as JMKAC is set to unveil the Art Preserve. The world’s first museum wholly dedicated to the presentation, care and study of art environments—an art form created by artists who frequently transform their homes, yards and surroundings into artworks—the architecturally stunning 56,000-square-foot, three-level structure was masterminded by the late Ruth DeYoung Kohler II and will provide exhibition space and storage for more than 25,000 works from the Arts Center’s collection. As JMKAC prepares for its official opening June 26, NS gets the inside scoop from JMKAC director Sam Gappmayer.
What makes the Art Preserve such a unique project? The Art Preserve turns the museum experience inside out, exhibiting the artists’ work through tableaux as well as curated, visible storage—treasures usually held behind the scenes. We’re proud to be an institutional steward of the works, and look forward to the ways the Art Preserve will strengthen our position as an art destination.
How does the Art Preserve add to the legacy of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center? Whether they’re bone towers built in a kitchen, concrete sculptures constructed in a yard on the shore of Lake Michigan or elaborate fiber hangings woven in a New York City loft, the works from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center collection exemplify the wide-ranging and complex artistbuilt environments contained at the Art Preserve.
How does the design of the Art Preserve contribute to its impact? Built into a hillside adjacent to the Sheboygan River, the Art Preserve was designed by the Denver architecture firm Tres Birds. Since the potency of much of the Art Preserve’s collection is found in its relationship to nature, the walk-in-the-woods design approach allows moments of interaction between the artwork and the natural environment. Engaging the landscape in its design, the building feels as if it has grown organically out of the hill and meadow site.
What do you think Ruth DeYoung Kohler ll’s response would be to the finished Art Preserve? Ruth visited the Art Preserve site often until just a couple of weeks before her passing last November. She saw the finished building and a good majority of the installed art. As the director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center from 1972 to 2016, Ruth guided the growth of a local arts center into an internationally recognized institution presenting contemporary art and the work of vernacular artists, including art environments. As the Arts Center’s collection grew, she envisioned a center devoted to art environments, and the Art Preserve is her brainchild. She worked with the board of directors, Arts Center staff, and Tres Birds in the design and completion of plans for the new museum. She wanted the building to be connected to nature and made from “sticks, stones and earth.” In the Art Preserve’s realized incarnation, the timber shades are the sticks; the hill is the earth; the stones are the regional river rock aggregate of which the building is mainly composed. The result is a unique and beautiful space that speaks to the collection, both materially and experientially. The Art Preserve will be an enduring testament to Ruth’s legacy.”
Photography by: JOHN MICHAEL KOHLER ARTS CENTER