My love of cultural institutions knows no bounds. I absolutely adore visiting and exploring museums and galleries, and really any place that houses art and exhibitions. Cultural institutions anywhere are valuable to their communities because they ideally offer safe spaces where people from all walks of life can learn, think critically, and understand the world around them. That’s why when I visited one of my oldest childhood friends back home in Ohio, she made it a point to take me to visit some artsy places in the happening city of Columbus: the Columbus Museum of Art, and the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Living in New York City, I have been spoiled by the access to cultural institutions in what some would call an artist’s mecca. There is no shortage of art and culture here, so I can understand why my girlfriend insisted that the small museum and campus arts center in Columbus might not be what I was used to. Every city has something wonderful to offer, and I was nonetheless excited to visit the Columbus Museum of Art and the Wexner Center for the Arts for the first time. Columbus is a really cool place for young professionals like my friend and I, and she made an easy transition to settle there after graduating from The Ohio State University. Since we only had one afternoon to visit these institutions, we had to pick and choose what we would see. We opted simply for the exhibitions on display at both cultural landmarks, though they both have interesting offerings in educational programs, film screenings, panel discussions, and more.
At first glance, the Columbus Museum of Art was surely smaller than many of the “big city” institutions I’m used to visiting and working in back home in NYC, but the exhibitions and use of space in the museum were both breathtaking and creative. I truly enjoyed the Center for Creativity, a space that covers the entire ground floor where “people of all ages can explore, think, imagine, play, learn, wonder, and create,” and felt like a kid again looking at the exhibition of books by authors of children’s literature at the museum’s entrance. Some of my favorite childhood authors and illustrators, like Tommy DiPoala and Quentin Blake, had adorable, silly, and educational books on display with playful illustrations to match.
We breezed through an interesting exhibition showing the role of nurses in different historic and cultural contexts called “Shine On: Nurses in Art”, and I explained the importance of trade and commerce in Asia to my friend as we walked through “Hats of the Silk Road.” The captivating highlight of the visit for me was viewing the embroidery work of Jewish artist Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, who escaped certain death in the Holocaust; she and her younger sister were among the few Jews in their Polish village to survive. Krinitz survived the ghosts of her trauma by creating thirty-six elaborately stitched, collage storyboards of her heroic, and lucky, exodus to Brooklyn, New York at the height of World War II. She escaped the clutches of the Nazi forces by separating with her sister from her family, who experienced a grimmer fate by following orders to report to a local railroad station for relocation. At the age of 50, Esther began creating her collection of works that both beautifully and with haunting detail tell her tale of terror and survival. The exhibition honored her life, work, and art expertly.
The Wexner Center for the Arts is “The Ohio State University’s multidisciplinary, international laboratory for the exploration and advancement of contemporary art”. A beautifully designed space with bold architecture and artfully placed points of interest, I thoroughly enjoyed the retrospective of dynamic African American artist Jack Whitten. His early work speaks to the politically charged issues of our recent past, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. His later works are more abstract, including mosaic-like paint techniques and the use of ordinary tools like squeegees. The colorful, often geometric and mathematically precise pieces were a wonder to behold.
All in all, my trip to two of Columbus’ cultural institutions did not disappoint. I appreciated the chance to stroll through The Ohio State University’s campus; something I hadn’t done since I visited my friend while we were still in college. And I really was excited to see what the Columbus Museum of Art had to offer. Seeing bits of my childhood in the exhibition right at the door made me feel right at home. I hope that their latest renovation efforts are a grand success, and will definitely visit again in the future. If you’re in Columbus, Ohio anytime soon, these two institutions deserve a visit.