Cool re-do makes for a must-see U of M Museum of Art

Gotta have art?

Love intriguing architecture?

Then visiting the newly expanded, renovated and reopened University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) is a must-do for you.


We were part of the crowd turning out for a special 24-hour reopening celebration at the UMMA in late March, when an estimated 15,000 people checked out the museum’s ambitious $41.9 million expansion project that closed the museum’s main building for nearly two years.

We went on out to Ann Arbor for the event, showing up around 11 p.m. that night as workers set up for a midnight dance party and a thick crowd of visitors buzzed with excitement as they milled around every gallery throughout the museum.

Wowed by the museum’s cool melding of modern and traditional elements in a project that took the UMMA’s original 41,000-square-foot 1910-vintage Beaux Arts style building and more than doubled the museum’s space by pairing it with a new and starkly modern 53,000-square-foot Frankel Family Wing, we recently revisited the UMMA on a quiet weekday to more fully enjoy the new expansion.


The old and new parts of the museum present a somewhat oddly juxtaposed appearance from the exterior, but the interior spaces seem to meld seamlessly into each other.

Your Ann Arbor art experience starts outside of the museum with a collection of outdoor sculptures scattered about the museum grounds that includes the large-scale orange Orion in front of the new wing from American artist Mark di Suvero.


I always loved the main hall of the old museum, where the soaring ceiling of the two-story gallery flanked by smaller galleries on either side gave it an especially expansive feeling. The newer wing echoes the same expansive feel with open multi-level galleries.

The expansion means the UMMA can display 10 percent of their 18,000-piece collection, as opposed to the smaller space that limited showing closer to just three percent of the collection at any given time.

One of my favorite sections of the museum is the cool open study-storage gallery with glass cases packed with nearly 1,000 treasures and interactive computer stations that allow visitors to click on a virtual cabinet location for in-depth information about the items displayed on a particular shelf.


Museum officials hoped for 10,000 guests over the week-long reopening celebration—nearly 24,000 showed up. A student preview drew 5,500 guests and nearly 3,500 showed up for several special performances and patron events, in addition to the 15,000 who showed up for the 24-hour open house.

Museum Director James Steward sent a glowing recap to museum friends and supporters with a list of “press highlights” listing coverage of the event that included my story on Midwest Guest.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon until 5 p.m. Sunday. Museum officials want the UMMA to become a central community meeting place, so expanded building hours keep some of the common areas open to the public until midnight each evening.

Admission to the UMMA is free, although the museum always appreciates those who wish to make the suggested $5 donation.


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  • Booshido

    I just went to the UMMA last weekend and really love the building. I personally think that the new addition and old building beautifully stand side by side. I love that the extension doesn’t pretend to be an old Gothic building while resonates with the main museum by carrying the same stone finishing on the exterior, with a humble change in sizes and dimensions.

    Really well done extension I have seen in recent years. I can’t wait to visit the new extension of the Chicago’s Institute of Art which is recently done as well.

  • DominiqueKing

    I agree that they did a nice job with the UMMA by not pretending that the new building was an old structure. It looks a little strange from the exterior to me, but I think both new and old parts of the building flow great together inside.

    I’m hoping to get to the Chicago Museum soon as I’ve heard great things about the new extension.

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