There’s a buzz going on about Columbus, Ohio and for me, it started as a numbers game. Statistics kept coming my way calling Columbus the best-, the most-, the highest rated of- this and that. After the statistics, news about Columbus’ art scene serendipitously followed. That piqued my interest, and I booked a flight. When exploring art and culture “happenings” to see and do, there were so many opportunities, I decided to focus my trip on the fine art scene. And so began my Art in Columbus trip.
Columbus: For the Right- and Left-Brained
Columbus, Ohio, perhaps surprisingly, is the 14th largest city in the U.S., with a population of more than 860,000. Yes, Columbus is larger than Seattle, Denver, and Boston. This Midwest city is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It’s seen nearly 11% growth and a 14% job rate growth in the past eight years. Recent studies have put it number one for job and business opportunities, number one as the best the best city for new college graduates, and number four as the best city to start a business. It’s won “best” in regards to equality and human rights issues. And Columbus is number six as the best city for creatives.
What I discovered was a walkable, friendly and vibrant city, with great parks and urban offerings. Residents and business owners were quick to share what they loved about the town, and were generous with recommendations of things to do and places to eat. It’s time for a visit.
Wexner Center of the Arts at Ohio State University
On my arrival to Columbus and the start of my art-filled weekend, I headed first to Ohio State University’s Wexner Center of the Arts. The “Wex” offers opportunities for films and videos, performing arts, lectures and classes, and exhibitions. Housed in a Peter Eisenman-designed modernist building, you’re sure to see students with notepads and bump into gallery tours during your visit. Enjoy the student-vibe of nearby coffee cafes and budget local eateries around this lovely Midwestern campus.
Original, provocative works by artists who are actively honing their talent are the norm here. Current cultural and personal themes are explored, much of it with sociopolitical theme. The art is far from pedestrian. These are works exactly suitable and important for a university campus arts center — although life-long learner-visitors will equally enjoy these exhibitions.
The Wexner Center for the Arts is a gorgeous building, with soaring ceilings, great wall space, open stairwells and spaces that encourage you to settle into exhibits. The building is located at the edge of the campus, making it easy for first-time visitors to find. OSU is a lovely campus, with much more to offer than boo-koo energetic Big 10 Buckeye football games, so spend some time strolling around as well, as time allows.
Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Art Museum in Short North
My next stop was Short North Arts District to visit the Pizzuti Collection. The Pizzuti Collection began as the private collection of Ron and Ann Pizzuti, Columbus art collectors who formed a non-profit and have shared their works of art collected over 40 years with the public. The collection opened in 2013 in a renovated 18,000 square foot building originally constructed in 1923. (Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture garden.) The museum is just across the street from the Short North’s Goodale Park, a green oasis in the neighborhood.
The Pizzutti’s lovingly renovated building is ideal for a collection as impressive and extensive as theirs, and Columbus is lucky to have them. The works include more than 600 different art works, from 40 countries. Just earlier this year, Pizzuti Collection merged with the Columbus Art Museum, a move which will bring more opportunities for both museums.
The temporary exhibits I saw during my visit were energetic and unique.
Pieces in the permanent collection are also strong. Don’t miss Hank Willis Thomas’ “Public Enemy III,” a screen print on retro-reflective vinyl. The photo to the left is how the work appears without light. The same piece to the right is shown with light reflected. The piece is part of the permanent collection.
Short North Arts District
Don’t leave Short North after visiting Pizzuti Collection quite yet. In fact, plan on spending a good part of the day here. The Short North Arts District includes more than 300 mostly locally-owned businesses that form this prime example of urban revitalization.
Short North is one of Columbus’ most vibrant neighborhoods and very much a bustling center of art galleries, shops and restaurants, as well as a residential neighborhood that feels very much like a village. (The brick row houses especially caught my Midwest-born heart.)
The Short North Arts District runs up and down North High Street and its side streets. There are art galleries and exhibition spaces, shops, music and performing arts opportunities and plenty of public art to feast on. It’s also a thriving creative, and fun residential neighborhood.
Before continuing your exploration, take a beverage break at one of the neighborhood’s many coffee houses (pick up a free Coffee Experience card listing 18 coffee shops during your visit) or a cocktail and a meal at one of the many restaurants and lounges on the strip. Or, make a stop at the neighborhood’s North Market, a way-cool farmer’s and public market.
Pick up one the free Short North Art District maps as you roam. The art gallery shows, of course, rotate frequently, but on my visit, I especially enjoyed Brandt-Robert Galleries, with sculptural works by Omar Shaheed and monotypes and collage by Columbus artist, Alice Carpenter. Lindsay Gallery is another standout gallery in the neighborhood.
Beeler Gallery at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) in Downtown
The Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) serves some 1,100 students, and with a student-teach ratio of 9:1, students are well-served to hone their skills in their chosen mediums and embark on professional careers. The school serves students from 22 countries and 37 states.
The Beeler Gallery is an on-campus gallery that brings in exhibits from professional artists, as well as student works. Director of Exhibitions, Jo-ey Tang, has been with the gallery since 2017 and has lived and worked as a curator, writer, editor and artist in Tokyo, New York and France.
On my visit, Tang showed me around as they worked on the installation of their “arms ache avid aeon: Fierce Pussy Amplified” exhibit. The exhibit showcases the individual art practices of the four original core members of fierce pussy, the New York-based queer art collective that began in the early 1990’s– Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka. I remember when these artists first started working together and bringing LGBTQ, AIDS activism, and more to the conversation.
Tang said, “Exhibits like this one explore the notion of what it means to have multiple ways to being an artist, a social being, a human being.”
This is the art that art students—and the rest of us—need to see. Don’t miss a stop at Beeler Gallery.
Keny Galleries in German Village
Keny Gallery is a full-service art gallery specializing in American historic artists, folk art, and contemporary artists.
With its tree-lined and exposed cobblestone streets and 19th century red brick bungalows, German Village is something every Midwest city wishes they had managed to preserve. Keny Gallery is housed in just one of these historic homes, complete with an art-filled outdoor courtyard garden.
Ring the brass doorbell for entry, and you’ll enter a specialized fine arts gallery that has been in business since 1980. Keny Gallery is owned and run by Jim and Tim Keny, twin brothers who grew up in a family whose family members mingled with and collected notable works, especially Americana watercolors and folk art. Art collecting is in their blood.
Keny Gallery works with a national list of clients, galleries and museums. In the market for a piece by Hopper, O’Keeffe, Sargent, Wyeth or other notable American artists? The Keny brothers are the people to talk with.
He said, “Some of our clientele can’t buy the best of works by these American artists, but they can buy smaller works, especially watercolors. American have produced some of the greatest watercolors. We take a very approachable and direct process in working with clients.”
When I asked Jim Keny how the Columbus arts scene has changed since 1980, he laughed. “We deliberately chose Columbus for our business because there was no art scene back then. We knew we’d be working with a national and international clientele. And we also saw a place where we could serve a population that wasn’t being served. So we’ve really seen a lot of change in Columbus, of course.”
I fell in love with a Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) watercolor that I know would be impossible not to truly take in every time I passed it if it hung in my home. I discovered the work of another American artist, Alice Schille. Jim Keny and staff member Carol were eager to answer questions about the works and the artists from the body of work in which they specialize.
Columbus Museum of Art in Downtown
The Columbus Museum of Art (CMOA) in many ways is representative of all the great changes Columbus is seeing as a city. The museum celebrated its 140th anniversary last year, and has always served the city well. But just as the city has grown and acquired so much more of an appealing urban buzz, the museum has consistently and increasing acquired world-class works of art and generous benefactors. One such advancement was the 400 works from the Phillip and Suzanne Schooler Collection of American Social Commentary Art 1930-1970. Including works by Jacob Lawrence, Lucile Blanch, George Tooker and others, the museum’s the donation only add to an already impressive collection of works.
There are all the usual galleries a good city art museum has, devoted to national and international works of various time periods. I especially enjoyed their collection of from Europe, circa 1500-1800, and those from Impressionism and Cubism period, and their extensive American early 20th century collection.
On my visit, CMOA was playing host to Titian’s “Portrait of a Lady in White,” circa 1561. Working with Columbus’s Sister City of Dresden, Germany, the chance to view this resplendent and significant Renaissance work was made all the richer by one of the best exploration of the conservation work and the scientific examination work done on this painting.
The museum’s Schokko Art Café is a great place to take a break. Weather permitting, grab a table outdoors in the Sculptural Garden.
Where to Stay: Hotel LeVeque, of course!
For anyone who appreciates architecture, history, design, style, as well as comfort, beauty, great service, and great value, Hotel LeVeque is where to stay on any visit to Columbus. Renovated as a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, The Hotel LeVeque opened in 2017. Originally built in 1927, its Art Deco roots have been respected and played up to their full advantage, whle offering all the modern comforts of style and amenities. This boutique hotel is in the city’s most iconic building, a building you’ll spot in almost every shot of the city skyline. Its beacon shines from the tower of the building, making it’s tagline of “Beacon of Hospitality” most apropos.
This boutique hotel is in the city’s most iconic building, a building you’ll spot in almost every shot of the city skyline. Its beacon shines from the tower of the building, making it’s tagline of “Beacon of Hospitality” most apropos.
My room at Hotel LeVeque had it all.
Definitely wander and enjoy the original and varied art at Hotel LeVeque.
Visit the Art in Columbus!
But wait, there’s more. This by no means exhausts the opportunities for immersing yourself in fine art or any of the performance arts, and other mediums. Time permitting, check out Downtown Art Sundays Urban Art Space, Ohio Art Council’s Riffe Gallery, the Cultural Arts Center, and many more.
- Experience Columbus, https://www.experiencecolumbus.com/
- Columbus Museum of Art, https://www.columbusmuseum.org/
- Beeler Gallery at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), https://beelergallery.org/
- Pizzuti Collection, https://www.pizzuti.columbusmuseum.org/
- Wexner Center for the Arts, https://wexarts.org/
- Keny Gallery, https://www.kenygalleries.com/
- Short North Arts District, https://shortnorth.org/
- Brandt-Robert Galleries, https://brandtrobertsgalleries.com/
- Lindsay Gallery, Short North, https://lindsaygallery.com/
- Hotel LeVeque, https://www.hotellevequecolumbus.com/
- North Market, https://www.northmarket.com/
- Ohio Tourism, https://ohio.org/
– All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.