Last month, at the invitation of Experience Columbus, the city's PR arm, art and travel writers from across America and Canada descended on the state's capital to take in the arts scene, which has blossomed in recent years. It's fascinating to see the similarities between Cleveland and Columbus in person (passion for sports, sprawling metropolises centered around water, etc.), and the visit also illuminated differences, including Cleveland's Rust Belt imagery and ethos as opposed to Columbus' more diversified economy and university atmosphere.
The timing of the trip was pinned to the grand opening of the renovated Columbus Museum of Art and HighBall, the city's annual two-night costume party and fashion competition. But for the art-seeker, there's plenty more to see even before you leave the hotel. The downtown Hilton boasts 225 original works by 128 artists from the Greater Columbus area. But you're not here for the hotel.
First, early Friday, we headed to the Wexner Center for Arts. The building itself is a work of art: It was architect Peter Eisenman's first major publicly scaled project. Eisenman would later design the Columbus Convention Center, among a number of other public projects. The Wexner's design contains few right angles, creating a skewed perspective with diagonals that guide your eyes around the building's interior. The Wexner is a multifaceted venue, exhibiting visual art, film/video, performance art, dance, live music and special public programs. Currently on display through Dec. 27, After Picasso features nearly 150 works in a diverse variety of media by 80 of Picasso's contemporaries including Mike Bidlo, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Jackson Pollack, Peter Saul, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. Any fans of modern and contemporary art history will find plenty of inside jokes in this fittingly heartfelt, yet sometimes lighthearted, homage to the pioneer of geometric cubism.
Shortly after, it was off to the newly expanded and remodeled Columbus Museum of Art. The new Margaret M. Walter wing adds 50,000 square feet to the footprint, including more than 21,000 square feet of new gallery space. Designed to complement the original structure, the new wing features an upper level permanent gallery space, video gallery, Chin Gallery (housing Mel Chin's "Spirit"), lower level special exhibition space, museum store and Schokko Art Cafe. The renovations continue outside the museum, with 14 works of art installed throughout the beautifully landscaped grounds around the building. The Museum re-opened with approximately 375 works on display in its permanent galleries. From Nov. 20 through Feb. 21, 2016, the CMoA hosts a special exhibition, Think Outside the Brick: The Creative Art of LEGO.
Similar to Cleveland and other arts-rich areas, the neighborhoods are where most of the action is. In Columbus, that's Franklinton, the burgeoning arts community that's home to the Columbus Idea Foundry and, as with any good neighborhood, a brewery. In this case that's Land Grant Brewery.
Franklinton's also home to 400 West Rich, which is most comparable in Cleveland to 78th Street Studios or the Screw Factory. This former industrial manufacturing warehouse has been repurposed into a dynamic, 105,000-square-foot arts complex, complete with more traditional office space and a fully functional restaurant and bar (Strongwater Food and Spirits). The complex includes multiple special event and exhibition spaces, as well as more than 120 units. The building's tenants include more than 150 visual artists, dancers, aerial artists, tech companies, retail spaces — even an architecture firm and ukulele classes. Franklinton Fridays (think Tremont's art walk or Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios) run the second Friday of each month between 7 and 11 p.m.
By the way, what was that Idea Foundry we mentioned? Well, admittedly, it was one of the coolest parts of the tour. CEO Alex Bandar describes it as a "gym for makers." It's a community workshop, learning center and creative space featuring training on and access to tools and technology, from conventional to state of the art. More than 300 members have access to 3D printers, computer-controlled mills, laser cutters and welding equipment. Check their schedule for unique social events where you get to play with some of the stuff.
In what more resembles a high quality museum than traditional gallery, Ron and Ann Pizzuti's eponymous Pizzuti Collection (which has a gift shop and archived library) is currently home to Us Is Them, an exhibition whose title is taken from celebrated African-American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose work is featured in the collection. In general, the building houses a rotating schedule of temporary, themed exhibitions that are typically created exclusively from the personal collection of the owners.
The Pizzutis are busy. They also run Joseph Editions, which brought with it the new Joseph Hotel. In an effort to fill the hotel with artwork, the Pizzutis founded Joseph Editions. More than a gallery, Joseph Editions selects Columbus and Ohio-based artists to work with master printmakers to create a limited edition collection of new prints. In addition to creating exciting new work for the hotel, Joseph Editions aims to make collecting contemporary art more accessible to everyone.
There's all that and we haven't even mentioned the Short North yet, which includes Hammond Harkins Galleries, Brandt-Roberts Galleries and Lindsay Gallery. Harkins, it struck us, has a strong dedication to supporting Columbus-based artists. After many years in the suburbs, Hammond Harkins recently relocated to its new home in the Short North. At Lindsay Gallery, we took in the current exhibition of large paintings by Joey Monsoon. Monsoon's distorted portraits are reminiscent of Egon Schiele. This cohesive exhibition of dynamic, well-crafted portraits remains on view through November.
The takeaway: Whether you have a free day or a full weekend, it's worth the short two-hour drive to Cleveland's southern neighbor for a diverse and exciting batch of visual art.