The Jewels in the Towns: Oklahoma’s Museums of Fine Art
Oklahoma’s major art museums provide visitors with easy access to important works in settings often as beautiful as the works they contain.
The state’s major repositories of painting, sculpture and other expressions of the creative genius of internationally known masters are a constellation of stars in the art universe. They provide visitors with easy access to important works in beautiful settings.
I’ve visited a good many of the world’s major museums during my wanderlust-defined life. And what I’m about to say, I say with the authority that such experiences lend to me: Oklahoma’s art museums can compete, and seriously. They aren’t as big as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum or Le Louvre in Paris or Spain’s El Prado, but – cliché alert – good things, extremely good things, do come in small packages. And the names on the canvases and sculptures within our museums are as big as they come.
In addition, many of their collections are exponentially bigger than their display space. It’s thrilling to realize that in the vaults are three, four or more times the number of pieces we’ve yet to see on exhibit. Most museums rotate pieces, of course, making repeat visits a good idea, as do the world-class temporary exhibitions that supplement their significant permanent holdings.
I’ve gone to most of these institutions fairly regularly for years, but I’ve revisited them all in the last few weeks. At each stop, I was delighted as always by the visual energy, the nonstop barrage of beauty, the sense of surprise around every corner and in each new gallery. Pinky swear: That was not overstatement.
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
The Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma is home to the platinum architectural setting for the multiple jewels of art of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Renowned architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, a student of master Louis Kahn, designed the Mary and Howard Lester Wing, which opened in 2005 and added several galleries within its 34,000 square feet. The limestone façade changes with the outside light, and light is the key word inside as well. The space itself glows, and radiating light within it are pieces in the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionism: Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh are shining examples. The Richard H. and Adeline J. Fleischaker Collection of mostly Native American and Southwestern art has gorgeous works by Leon Gaspard, as well as pieces by T.C. Cannon and Ernest L. Blumenschein. The names can’t get any bigger.
Explore the Eugene B. Adkins Collection to see more than 3,300 objects, including paintings by such major American artists as Leon Gaspard and Maynard Dixon and Native American artists including Maria Martinez and Jerome Tiger. The Adkins Collection is shared with the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
If you can avoid gasping at the impact of the light illuminating the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's collection of Dale Chihuly glass pieces, you’re made of tougher stuff than I am. Its holdings of American and Latin American art showcase such luminaries as Frank Stella, Georgia O’Keeffe and Rufino Tamayo. On the European side, we’ve got Renoir and Duchamp and Magritte. Sometimes a list of names tells the story, doesn’t it?
Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art
Travel a few miles into Tulsa to the beautiful campus on which the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art sits. The museum is dedicated to celebrating and educating as it showcases the expression of faith in art. Here, you’ll see the largest collection of Judaica in the Southwest, including handwritten Torah scrolls, lovely menorahs and textiles of all sorts.
Masterpieces by Western artists such as Remington and Russell, of course, hang on the walls of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, but you’ll also stand in awe of works by such non-Western painters such as Winslow Homer. Three temporary exhibitions they've recently hosted give you a taste of what you can find at any time in addition to the permanent collection. I saw Native American ledger art, the wood pieces of Willard Stone and a trove of American Impressionist paintings. An American treasure, for sure, but Oklahoma has it. An art historian once called the Gilcrease “the Smithsonian Institution of the American West.” Any questions now about small vs. large?
Philbrook Museum of Art
Within its architecturally astonishing Italianate villa, and surrounded by its formal gardens reflecting the art of nature, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa has treasures, treasures everywhere. The newly acquired Adkins Collection, shared with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, presents eye-popping Native American painting, pottery and jewelry. The permanent collections contain masterpieces of American and European painting and sculpture, with really great stuff from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, as well as some super examples of modern and contemporary art. And human genius competes with nature’s in an outdoor gallery without walls spread throughout the gardens. The sculptural pieces there are an international feast, with Israel, Canada, Austria, Britain, Australia and Iraq as well as America represented. “The Brilliant Prayer,” by Allan Houser, will stop you in your tracks.