Museums of the Midwest

Over the past few years, I have been on an informal tour of the fine arts museums of the Midwest. I am proud to say that of the places that I’ve gone so far, I’ve been rather impressed with their collections. I’ll briefly discuss them in chronological order of visit.

In 2011, I went out to the Cleveland Museum of Art. It was striking how much of it reminded of the Art Institute here at home due to its size and comprehensive collection. However, it’s situated very differently. Instead of downtown like the AIC, the Cleveland Museum is on a beautiful museum campus with lovely green lawns and picturesque flowering trees.  I’ll never forget wandering into the medieval/Renaissance room and seeing horse mannequins in full armor while heraldic flags fluttered slightly overhead. As much as I liked the armor room at the Art Institute, this one surpassed it with its majesty.

It has a wonderful impressionist and modern collection. They have several Picassos that I actually like. There is the woeful blue period piece “La Vie” and two portraits,  “The Artist’s Sister Lola” and “Woman with a Cape” that both feel very impressionist. There is a wonderful Andre Derain of “The Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge” which is quite charming. I’m not normally a fan of Derain but this work captures my attention probably because I’m a bit of an Anglophile. The red buildings remind me a lot of how bright buildings get as the sun goes down.

In the Impressionist and post-impressionist camp, there is a wonderful Seurat study of “Bathers at Asniéres” which is always fun to see since his work is not very common. There was also a wonderfully bright Van Gogh called “The Poplars at Saint-Remy” with a strong black line throughout. It made it look a little cartoonish. They also have some wonderful Rodin and other contemporaneous sculptors.

But I’ll never forget seeing a wall covered in what looked like stained glass in the contemporary art rooms. When I got closer, I discovered that what I had thought was stained glass was actually butterfly wings. It’s probably the first time I encountered Damien Hirst and I have to say that I liked it. I’m not entirely sure if it is still there but I hope so.

Sadly, many galleries were closed while I was there so I couldn’t see their famed indigenous art and more. But I’ll simply have to go back.

While we were in Toledo for a wedding, we decided to spend some time at the Toledo Museum of Art. There was a wonderful portrait of Queen Elizabeth I; I don’t remember seeing one in the United States before. (Maybe the National gallery has one in DC but I don’t’ recall). They have a lovely modern collection. My favorite was a painting of three abstract nudes and the Eiffel Tower in vivacious colors by Robert Delauney. There were some impressive antiquities itself including a silver drinking horn with a bull on the end. It’s definitely what I want to be drinking water from. Most impressive of all is a cloister set up in the museum. Three walls are from France and one was constructed in the 1920s. Two are Romanesque while the third was from the later Medieval period. Apparently, you can rent the room for your events after hours.

Two years ago, I visited Minneapolis Institute of Arts while at a conference for work. I had to run there between meetings so I had a whirlwind tour. I’ll remember it for one thing in particular. It wasn’t until I was on my way out that I discovered Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” was there. I’ll remember it because I didn’t have time to see it. Oh it aches!

What I did see was fabulous. I finally saw a Georgia O’Keefe that I liked but it figures that it is a depiction of the dark sky in the city. There was even a new Magritte painting showing a painting of a turret in front of a window of the turret. It’s gorgeous. I was really happy to see my second ever Lorena Carrington, who was Spanish and did her own take on surrealist work. She creates these mystical scenes, often times with people changing into inanimate or natural objects. One lovely feature of the museum were the period rooms. You could see what a Han period room looked like or a Renaissance sitting room.  And there was a giant Calder mobile in the lobby with a giant white dog sculpture nearby.

Last but not least, we went to the Detroit Institute of Art. I know it’s been in the news a lot these days with the city’s bankruptcy. I certainly hope that the collection stays together. I was particularly interested in seeing the Diego Rivera murals since I had studied them in college. And it was one of the most magnificent sites I’ve seen. The ceiling is made of glass so light pours into the building making these murals into a chapel of industry. It’s a must see in my book.

There was a little medieval French chapel that had been transported to Detroit after the war. In the center, there is a golden triptych, bright against the dark walls of the chapel. Another notable paintings is a Giorgio de Chirico of a lion eating a gladiator. Most of his work is notable for its absence of people so this was something new. It was eerie in the opposite way his other paintings are odd. There were some beautiful pieces of indigenous arts including wonderfully chubby dog pots by Mesoamerican tribes. And there was an entire wall of drums. Finally, the director is known for his bow ties so all director’s tour on the audio guide is signaled by a little bow tie. Charming!

So go see these wonderful museums when you travel the Midwest!


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