Maybe Not On Your Travel Bucket List, Yet
So, what cities are on your travel bucket list? If you’re from North America, you’ll likely checkmark the obvious European cultural centers such as London, Paris, Rome, Florence and Vienna. Each offers a lifetime of art, architectural and gastronomic experiences. For Europeans, common wish list cities include New York, San Francisco and Vancouver.
For others, the bucket list features Tokyo, Sydney, or Buenos Aires. All are worthy candidates.
What About Cities That Time Passed By?
Have you ever considered Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York or Jackson, Mississippi? When I mention what a great time I’ve had in those cities, I often get the “raised eyebrow of disbelief” look.
No, they can’t compete with “the big list”, but each has its own charms (just ask their tourism offices!). They may be past their glory years, but if you’re in the region, they’re worth your attention. The trick is to find the gems in each city.
Hello Cleveland! It’s Time to Rock & Roll!
For me, the magnetic attraction in Cleveland is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I had avoided it for years – rock and roll in a museum, you must be kidding – but since going the first time, it’s drawn me back for another three visits. I always get there first thing in the morning and spend the whole day inside! So much to see and hear, including films, audio and various interactive exhibits.
Designed by one of the world’s most celebrated architects, I.M. Pei, the glass pyramid on Lake Eire is the place to let your immaturity run wild. Get a front row seat for everything that moves your rock and roll heart from the roots of blues, R&B and folk, to rock, disco, EDM and more. Where else can you see Muddy Waters’ guitar, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper outfits, the instruments Led Zeppelin played on their first album, Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche or one of Michael Jackson’s gloves?
Sometimes the Smaller Exhibits are the Most Memorable
In addition to the major themed exhibits, the curators have included numerous pocket pieces, some of which will have you close to tears.
On one visit, I walked along a narrow display case, about 30 feet long, of documents that outlined Doors’ singer Jim Morrison’s entire life. No glamour, no music, just a series of papers, many of them donated by his mother. Starting with his birth certificate, it included school report cards (he was a brilliant student), letters to his parents from UCLA, letters explaining how he wanted to be a musician, his excitement at getting a record deal, letters from the road, all the way down to a letter of recommendation from his father to the judge in Morrison’s obscenity trial. Finally, there was his death notice. Here was a libertine’s life reduced to a row of mundane little papers.
You’ve Been to the MOMA. How About Buffalo’s Albright Knox?
The “rust belt” cities such as Cleveland and Buffalo were built on blue-collar manufacturing. That means they were also home to barons of industry who owned the factories, steel mills and banks. Many were benefactors to their towns, and their largesse is what we still enjoy today.
Founded in 1862 as The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, in 1905 it became the Albright Art Gallery after receiving funds from business magnate John J. Albright to build a permanent new home of white marble. It got a second shot in the arm in 1938, courtesy of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., another wealthy businessman who not only underwrote an addition to the building, but also provided ongoing funding for the acquisition of new works of art.
It is interesting that the mandate of the Albright Knox is “collecting, conserving, and exhibiting the art of its time”, so in a sense it has always been a modern art gallery. That means that today’s focus is still on art of our time, which keeps the gallery perennially fresh.
The collection includes masterworks by Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
The image at the top of this post is Wall Drawing #1268: Scribbles: Staircase by Sol LeWitt, which was installed in 2010. You get the total 3D experience approaching it, then walking up the stairs and finally viewing it from different angles from the landing at the top.
You can easily spend a half a day here.
When You Think of Jackson, Mississippi Do You Think of Art?
Probably not. For me, Jackson brings back the 1960’s with civil rights marches and Freedom Riders. More recently, it’s where an anti-L.G.B.T. law was passed in the guise of religious freedom.
We were on a music tour of the American South and decided to stay overnight in Jackson. That’s when we discovered the Mississippi Museum of Art.
This is a beautiful building in a perfect setting, surrounded by an art garden. The collection is inspiring, much of it from the American south. Such a revelation! Right then and there, I knew we had to seek out more regional southern American art.
In addition, the feature exhibition, When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection highlighted 52 works by influential American artists from the first half of the 20th century. This included modern masters such as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko (a personal favorite).
“Tell people we wear shoes and have our teeth.”
After our morning visit, we decided to have lunch in the Art Garden.
We started talking with our server who, to us, was obviously gay. And we, obviously from our accents, weren’t from the south. He asked whether we had been reading about Mississippi in the news, referring to the anti-L.G.B.T law. We said yes. With a roll of his eyes, he indicated that the man who drafted that hateful law was sitting at the table right behind us. And then he said, “When you go home, tell people that down here we wear shoes and have our teeth.”
The irony was that our server was a very religious man and was soon leaving for a trip to Uganda to help educate a town about HIV/AIDS. He and a group had raised the money for the trip through their church. It would be his fourth trip.
Art and enlightenment on an idyllic Mississippi day.
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