Eight Artful Stops in Wisconsin

We think an art-inspired road trip is in order, and we’ve already made a list of museums you’ve got to see with some truly fascinating and thought-provoking exhibits. Before you go, though, double-check to ensure the museum is still operating normally. Oh, COVID.


This University of Wisconsin–Madison museum explores every corner of art history, from Byzantine floor mosaics to paintings from China’s Qing dynasty. Craving something contemporary? View works by artists who’ve led printmaking workshops at the university’s Tandem Press. These include “Maus” cartoonist Art Spiegelman, installation artist Judy Pfaff and “Twin Peaks” creator David Lynch. Before you depart, admire “Theseus Combating the Minotaur,” a famous sculpture by Antoine-Louis Barye.

Fun fact: The oldest item in the permanent collection is a relief fragment depicting a priest from the tomb of Ancient Egypt’s Ptahhetep II.


This Marquette University museum had quite a grand opening in 1984, after “Crack Is Wack” artist Keith Haring painted a mural on the fence around the construction site. Inspired by graffiti and the study of symbols, the piece contains two of Haring’s most famous pictographic characters, plus televisions with limbs and wings. To help visitors experience the mural in the 21st century, the Marquette Visualization Lab created a virtual reality experience that goes with it. Just grab a headset and follow the instructions for a mind-expanding blend of videos, photos and more. The museum is currently closed but plans to reopen in the fall.

Fun fact: The Haggerty owns more than 100 etchings by Marc Chagall, a pioneer of modernism.


On display through Jan. 10, the Sheboygan-based John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s “On Being Here (and There)” celebrates the ways art-making can empower marginalized people. Highlights include photographs from David Eberhardt’s cross-country rail adventures and Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s “Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre,” a film illuminating how the “official” narratives museums tell about historical objects can hide other stories that are just as important to remember.The museum is temporarily closed,but keep an eye on its reopen date. You’ll want to check it out.

Fun fact: The center is restoring a cottage filled with modernist mobiles, murals, mosaics and more by Wisconsin artist Mary Nohl.


Be among the first to experience the hale and hearty goddesses of Teresa Lind’s “Earth and Water”in this museum’s sculpture garden. For more al fresco excitement, enjoy Sprecher brews and live music in its pop-up beer garden Thursday evenings though Sept. 17.

Fun fact: Merging Classical, Queen Anne and Romanesque architecture, this red-brick museum is a work of art in itself.


This Cesar Pelli-designed triangular glass building showcases an extensive selection of Chicago Imagist art, the focus of its “Uncommon Accumulation” show. Running through Oct. 11, it’s a time machine to the 1960s, when Jim Nutt, Roger Brown and others were forging their professional identities at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Experience the museum online or in person, now that it has reopened.

Fun fact: The museum’s rooftop has a restaurant, film screenings and one of Madison’s best views of the Capitol.


With awe-inspiring architecture by Santiago Calatrava, an over 31,000-piece collection and renowned examples of everything from German Expressionist paintings to Haitian folk art, the Milwaukee Art Museum is the crown jewel of Wisconsin tourist destinations. With its lakefront location, you can experience the best of Milwaukee’s views and international artworks.

Fun fact: Families can drop into the Kohl’s Art Generation Studio for hands-on art projects or experience live performances on selected Sundays throughout the year via their Kohl’s Art Generation Family Sundays.


Gasp and giggle your way through “Wisconsin Funnies,” a comic-arts retrospective celebrating political satire, Wisconsin-based superhero stories and more. Don’t miss the specimens from the graphic-novel groundbreakers at Kitchen Sink Press or University of Wisconsin– Madison professor Lynda Barry, the “Ernie Pook’s Comeek” creator who received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Although the main museum is in West Bend, it has a satellite location within Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, too.

Fun fact: Each Saturday, the museum unveils an art project for its Facebook fans to try at home.


The tiny city of Manitowoc owns this museum’s collection, which boasts works by regional artists and international heavyweights like Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol. “Water’s Edge Artists: The Art of Preservation” (Sept. 27-Nov. 1) highlights efforts to preserve endangered places through art, historical preservation and environmental stewardship.

Fun fact: You can view a replica of the piece of the Soviet satellite Sputnik IV that crash- landed near the museum in 1962.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Haggerty Museum of Art, Chazen Museum of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum (photo by Travel Wisconsin), John Michael Kohler Art Center, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

This article originally ran in the 2020 issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine, a Nei-Turner Media Group-owned publication and was accurate at the time of publishing. Some information may have changed since then.

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