3 Great Midwestern American Art Museums You’ve Probably Never Visited

There are a lot of amazing art museums around the world.   Today I want to highlight three options for North Americans that can’t travel to any of the “famous” ones in Europe.  These are places in the Midwest of the USA that you might not think of when you think “great art museum”, but you’re making a mistake if you don’t take the time to visit any of these when you’re nearby!

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland OH  You’re probably thinking, “CLEVELAND?  Like in OHIO?”  Yes, that Cleveland!  And I won’t criticize you for being skeptical: I felt the same way the first time I visited here.  I was doing graduate school near Pittsburgh and the school took us on various activities on the weekends.  One of the trips brought us here.  I had been to Cleveland before, but never to CMA.  I remember thinking on the bus ride, “No way will Cleveland have any art worth seeing.”  Boy, was I wrong!

CMA was established in 1913 by three wealthy local industrialists.  They donated the land, paid for the building, bought much of the art, and (most importantly) set up an endowment (now worth almost $800 million) which continues to finance the museum to this day (and makes CMA one of the richest museums in the world!)  It has remained true to the vision of its founders: admission has always been free!

The museum is internationally known for its world-class collection of Asian and Egyptian art, and their collections of paintings and sculptures isn’t shabby either.   Here are just a couple of my favorites.

Church

          (Twilight in the Wilderness, by Frederick Edwin Church, 1860.)

George III

(George III, by Benjamin West, 1783.)

gray and gold 2

          (Gray and Gold, by John Rogers Cox, 1942.)

Dali

          (The Dream, by Salvador Dali, 1931.)

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

Nelson-Atkins is another museum often overlooked by visitors.  Founded at the beginning of the  1900s, it was originally two museums that decided to join forces.  It has an excellent collection of Asian art.  The original founders (Nelson and Atkins) both donated lots of money but no paintings.  Fortunately for the museum, when the Great Depression hit, the world art market was flooded with cheap pieces and the museum was able to buy incredible works of art for almost nothing.  As a result, the paintings at Nelson-Atkins are as good as any you will see anywhere.  Seriously!  The museum also has a large sculpture park, including the largest collection of Henry Moore bronzes in the world, as well as works by Calder and Rodin

Here are some of my favorite paintings at Nelson-Atkins.

Caravaggio

          (St-John the Baptist in the Wilderness, by Caravaggio, 1605.)

Magdalene in the Wilderness

          (The Penitent Magdalene, by El Greco, 1585.)

Monet

          (Le Boulevard des Capucines, by Claude Monet, 1874.)

Manet

(The Croquet Party (La partie de croquet), by Édouard Manet, 1871.)

Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Detroit MI

It’s hard to know how to describe the DIA.  The word “encyclopedic” seems to fit.  This place has just about every type, period and genre of art you can imagine.  It is an amazing place.  It bought its first painting in 1883, and now has over 65,000 works in its collection.  Nearly a million people visit every year, making it one of the most-visited museums in the world.  So why haven’t YOU visited yet?  🙂

The museum has 100 galleries (yes, 100!), and so there’s no easy way to tell you about all the things there are to see.  I’ll just show you some of my favorites, but please: if ever you’re in Detroit with some free time, go to the DIA.  It is totally worth it!

The first thing  you will see at DIA is a series of 27 frescoes painted by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera in 1932-33 called Detroit Industry Murals, which show people working at the Ford Motor Company factory.   These things are HUGE.  Here are some pictures of the paintings.  It is an amazing work of art.

Rivera wall

Rivera detail

DIA also has one of my favorite paintings from my favorite artist!

Wedding Dance

(The Wedding Dance, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1566.)

Vna Gogh

(Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, by Vincent van Gogh, 1887.)

St-Jerome

(St-Jerome in His Study, by Jan van Eyck, 1442.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick tour through three excellent American Midwestern art museums.  If ever you’re in the area, pay them a visit!  

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