A new museum of art on the Washington State University campus in Pullman could be a multi-story glass-walled building in which students, alumni, and community members can venture in to an open and intriguing series of galleries.
The new building, now in the conceptual phase, will have more than twice the space of the current 5,000-square-foot museum and include four distinct galleries. It will rise out of the hillside across from the Compton Union Building on the site of the former fire station and current police station.
“It gives an opportunity to complete Terrell Mall in a way that reinforces the public quality of it,” says Chris Bruce, director of the WSU museum. “We wanted to bring to campus a beautiful, distinctive piece of architecture, a world-class art space. It’s not just four walls, a ceiling, and some lights.”
Seattle-based architecture firm Olson Kundig has taken on the project, led by renowned Northwest architect Jim Olson.
“We want it to be a beacon of the arts,” says Bruce. “The architects really took that to their vision. One idea is to surround the gallery spaces and entry pavilion with a translucent glass wall that would engage with the sunlight and literally glow at night. But also it would project images onto the glass wall.”
The fundraising for the project was launched last fall with a $5 million gift from arts patron Jordan Schnitzer, a real estate investor from Portland, Oregon.
Schnitzer often lends schools and museums works from his personal collection, one of the nation’s largest of contemporary prints. He also supported the 2005 renovation of the University of Oregon art museum, which was renamed in his honor.
Schnitzer is president of his family’s Portland-based real estate company, Harsch Investment Properties, one of the largest privately held real estate property and management companies in the western United States. His mother was the founder and curator at Fountain Art Gallery in Portland.
“Museums are a place of refuge for me from my daily life,” says Schnitzer. “I run a family business, I have teenage daughters. Art transports me to another place, a place where my mind is spinning.”
He began collecting prints as a teenager. He recalls the first show of his prints at the UO and how it changed his thinking. At the opening, Schnitzer stopped near a man and his eight-year-old son looking at a print by Robert Longo in which men were moving to avoid oncoming tennis balls.
“I scooted down there and asked the boy, ‘Hey, what do you think’s going on there? Is that guy dancing and rocking out, or is he twisting in pain and about to collapse?’” says Schnitzer. “He thought for a minute, and he said, ‘I think he’s dancing.’
“That’s when the light went off.”
Schnitzer realized he could do more than collect. He could marry his passion for art with efforts to provide art to underserved communities so that children like that young boy would have a chance to see works by both local and national artists.
Pieces from Schnitzer’s collection have been used in 80 exhibitions in 50 museums around the country. That includes WSU, where in 2005 Bruce curated a major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. “It would be very difficult for us to assemble the sweep of an artist like that’s entire career,” says Bruce. “But Jordan has 100 Lichtenstein prints in his collection, from the very first he ever made to the last one he made.”
That exhibit traveled to seven other museums and led to a book distributed around the world.
With Schnitzer’s gift, the museum project now has $9 million of the $15 million goal. Bruce says the new museum’s galleries will showcase traveling exhibitions and display works from the University’s permanent collection. One gallery could have a single focus piece, such as an 1860 George Innes landscape or a video installation. Another gallery will have new work and serve as “almost a laboratory space where an artist is creating something on site,” says Bruce. He believes people will find the space far more accessible and dynamic than the existing museum. “Now they come to see the current show. But this new museum is an open door to creative expressions that can be 150 years old or 150 seconds old,” he says.
Schnitzer is excited about the direction of the new museum plans, especially if it can encourage more frequent public and student visits. “If we can train young people on the Washington State University campus to be world leaders, and also help them to be cultural leaders, then we’ve succeeded,” he says.
“We want students to realize that to build successful communities they need jobs. But they also need to nourish their hearts and souls. That nourishment comes from the arts,” says Schnitzer.