The Museum Experience
Destinations for art, science, and exercising the senses
Shift, Current Studio’s wildly popular immersive art installation from Factory Obscura, may have ended on February 25, but such a multi-sensory experience has only whetted the appetites of many Okies for more of this type of experiential art. Fear not, for although Shift has shut down, there are many noted museums and galleries in neighboring cities across the Midwest within a day’s drive. If you’ve got the travel bug and a taste for experiential art, or just want to check out some of the best museums and works of art around, here are a few more spots where you can stimulate the senses as well as the mind.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Not exactly wild and immersive, but quite strange nonetheless, OKC’s Museum of Osteology (skeletonmuseum.com) is one of the state’s coolest museums, and a lot closer than St. Louis or Santa Fe. A large two-story room surrounded by glassed-in exhibits houses bones from the tiniest of creatures to the largest mammals. The behemoths of the collection are displayed in the center, with the skeleton of a 40-foot-long humpback whale hanging over all. Information on special adaptations and evolution are scattered throughout the displays, and you can get scavenger hunt sheets to mark as you visit. For the uber-curious, there is information on the process of preparing the skeletons; founder Jay Villemarette has been featured on TV’s “Dirty Jobs.” This museum will appeal to all ages – except, perhaps the very youngest visitors. For others, perhaps the creepiest exhibit is Villemarette’s skull … and he’s not dead. No spoiler alerts here. You’ll have to visit the museum. – Elaine Warner
For a long time, Crystal Bridges was a surprise to people not from Arkansas – but slowly, this museum, founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, has gained ground as one of the most relevant art museums in the United States. The 217,000-square-foot facility is built over two creeks and features exclusively American art from Colonial to contemporary with notable works from artists such as Winslow Homer, Jasper Cropsey, John LaFarge, Asher Durand, Marsden Hartley and Norman Rockwell. A stroll through the garden is a must, and is highlighted by a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright. – Matt Payne
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe has long been known for art, but Meow Wolf Experiences is something you must see to fully understand. This art collective experience is made up of more than 200 artists and incorporates sculpture, photography, painting, virtual and augmented reality, audio engineering and performance into an interactive, otherworldly experience akin to Alice’s trip to Wonderland. House of Eternal Return is Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, and was designed with the help of “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin. A narrative-driven wander through the 20,000-square-foot Eternal Return features mysterious portals, climbing apparatuses and secret passages to hidden surreal art exhibits. And while it is a wild experience, it is also kid friendly. – MP
Completed in 1893 for that year’s World Columbian Exposition, the Art Institute of Chicago was huge, built in massive Beaux Arts style. And that was before the eight additions made since its construction – necessary to accommodate almost 300,000 works of art. You could spend days wandering through the collections. For a fast trip, check out these highlights: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” The Impressionist collection is a real favorite with many, as well. In a room all its own, you’ll find the six-panel stained glass work “America Windows” by Marc Chagall – a gift given to the Art Institute by Chagall himself. Eight feet tall and 30 feet wide, the windows, a visual celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, highlight America’s freedom of cultural and religious expression. The AIC refers to these beauties as “One of the most beloved treasures in our vast collection.” – EW
► Elaine Warner is Adventure Grandma
Museums can be an educational adventure, but one hardly ever thinks of them as an insurance risk. The City Museum in St. Louis is a daredevil’s dream on steroids.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Could it sound more boring? I would never have gone if it hadn’t been on the itinerary of a press trip, but the creation of the late Bob Cassilly – artist, sculptor, genius, marcher to a different drum – is a conglomeration of things to climb on, slide down, crawl into and explore. The first sign that City Museum was going to be a little different was the yellow school bus hanging over the edge of the roof.
The museum is a monument to imaginative recycling: The building was once the home of the International Shoe Company, so chutes that once were used to send shoes from one floor to another have been turned into slides. A stainless steel refrigeration coil formerly used in a large beer tank in the Anheuser-Busch Brewery has become the Slinky of Death, with kids climbing fearlessly up and down. Pans that once held mice in Washington University’s research lab make a shiny wall covering leading to the bathrooms. The Puking Pig that dumps water into a pool is made of part of a boiler tank and the axle system of an 1880 fire pump.
There are caves and giant carved animals; in one area, thousands of strips of fiberglass create a fantasy undersea theme complete with walk-through whale.
There’s a circus school and a shoelace factory, a repository of bits of demolished St. Louis buildings and the world’s largest pencil, plus my personal favorite: the world’s largest pair of men’s underpants.
Atop the building is an acrophobe’s nightmare where, high above the street, kids (and grannies) climb and crawl through wire passageways. Remnants of two airplanes provide more crannies to check out. It’s like a giant salvage yard topped with a Ferris wheel.
Why would they give such an amazing place such a mundane name? It must have been because Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was already taken.