ATHENS, Greece — Before leaving for Europe last month, I spent a Saturday afternoon at one of Cleveland’s top institutions. I often go there to seek clarity.
Sometimes I think I took such moments for granted, without fully appreciating this cultural gem in my backyard. I never thought too deeply about what it was until I had the chance to compare it with similar institutions in other cities.
Few places I will visit rank well next to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and, if I had any doubts about that, it was dispelled after a trip here to the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Now, Athens is undoubtedly a world-class city; perhaps no other place can match its history or culture. Most people who travel the world would rank it above Cleveland on all counts – safety, weather, and cost of living among them. But Athens lags far behind in that area I mentioned above: its art museum.
The museum in Athens is huge, a gift from one of the wealthiest men of his generation: shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. He lavished millions on the museum, but his millions could not buy him a Picasso, a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh or put similar works in the gallery.
Nor could her millions constitute a famous collection of contemporary artists – women and men of color. They were absent from what the museum presented.
I am not trying to criticize the museum. I’m making a loose comparison with what’s in my neighborhood. I can walk – a long walk – to the art museum across from the Wade Oval.
Every time I go, I celebrate Rashid Johnson’s “Standing Broken Men”, Robert Colescott’s “Tea for Two”, Kerry James Marshall’s “Bang” and Jacob Lawrence’s “Fulton and Nostrand”.
If my luck is good, Auguste RodinThe sculptures of will be exhibited in an outdoor gallery.
For an art lover, which I am, our art museum is a tapestry of creativity, tied without singular thread – unless the thread is the beauty. I can spend a year there or the rest of my life, and I still couldn’t soak up all the colors and rich stories behind each masterpiece.
I won’t go so far as to call the Cleveland Museum of Art the best of its kind in the world. Its footprint is small, its collection too limited to match what people see in the louverthe Hermitage Statethe National Gallery of Art or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But our jewel doesn’t have to be the Chicago Art Institute; he just has to be our jewel.
While it’s hard not to call it our gem, it’s underrated.
Few black people take the time to enjoy it. Remember, our gem is nestled in the heart of University Circle, a neighborhood where the adjacent streets to the north are teeming with residents who are mostly, if not all, black.
I will not advise people on how to spend their time. My taste for the art museum does not mean that everyone has to do it. But not at least peeking inside makes me think maybe we should lend a fraction of our extraordinary collection to a museum that has the space – and the visitors – to bring its splendor to light. .
Judge B. Hill grew up on the East Side of the city. He practiced journalism for more than 25 years before settling into teaching at Ohio University. He left on May 15, 2019 to write and globetrot. He does both.