City Guides

The ARTnews Culture (and Food) Lover’s Guide to Columbus

A part of me believes all art people should live in a city like Columbus, Ohio. It is big enough to support a diverse array of practices, institutions, young talent, and incredible public art, yet small enough to make all these cool attributes feel accessible. It’s a place where everyone has tips on artists to meet and galleries to visit, and the longer you stay, the more you learn about its quirky, unruly side. I was expecting something of a town-and-gown division within the city—it’s the home of The Ohio State University—but instead I found a place where both sides thrive off the other. It’s a city where a group of young artists can pool their money and open a gallery with a distinct point of view and have some left over for a perfect cocktail; where an artist can create a giant digital head or a topiary garden based on a famous painting. And while I’m giving compliments, Columbus just looks beautiful with its old architecture and redbrick streets.

Museums

I went to the Wexner Center for the Arts every day I was in Columbus. On the campus of Ohio State, the Wexner is a diverse and international hub for the advancement of contemporary art across various disciplines. Each day there was something new for me: the three exhibitions full of newly commissioned work; the iconic site-specific installation by Maya Lin, Groundswell (1992–93). 

The Wexner also has maybe the best on-campus bookstore around, complete with works of glass art made by students in connection with the recent exhibition by the artist and sculptor Sahar Khoury. And did you know that the Wexner is the sole art center in the nation offering continuous professional and financial backing to filmmakers through a Film/Video Studio Residency program? This place is the coolest. Bonus points for its having the most knowledgeable security guards I’ve ever encountered. In separate exhibitions, three of them offered up bits of information from the artist walk-throughs or from the installation process.

If you like Peanuts, Spider-Man, Dick Tracey, Beetle Bailey, Krazy Kat, and Rube Goldberg, you’ll love the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Tucked inside an unassuming building at Ohio State, it holds the world’s largest collection of materials related to comics and cartoons, including more than 300,000 original works, notebooks, magazines, journals, 67,000 comic books, archival materials, and 2.5 million newspaper comic strip pages and clippings.

I was especially fond of the permanent collection at the Columbus Museum of Art and spent a lot of time with its early-20th-century American works, which included pieces by great artists from the city: Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Elijah Pierce, and William Hawkins. One of my favorite spaces in the museum is the Wonder Room. This creatively designed area is aimed at nurturing imagination, experimentation, and storytelling in a family-friendly environment. Brimming with art, games, and participatory stations, it provides various ways to connect with the exhibited art.

Walk a block from the Columbus Museum of Art and you quickly see a sign that’s hard to miss: ART, spelled out in 100-foot bright red block letters. From the outside, you would have no idea that the Columbus College of Art & Design’s Canzani Center building opens up to a gorgeous 6,000-square-foot exhibition space, the Beeler Gallery. Through its exhibitions, commissions, residencies, workshops, lectures, and screenings, the Beeler reconsiders the role of a gallery within the framework of an art school.

Located within the Lazarus Building in downtown Columbus, the OSU Urban Art Space is a hidden gem. The former department store is one of those retro behemoths, occupying four city blocks. Tucked in among offices housing the Ohio Departments of Insurance and Medicaid is a long hallway that opens up to a beautiful exhibition space, one of those off-campus university spaces that both serve the city and augment the curriculum of the university’s art department. On a recent visit there was a stunning exhibition of works by Lucie Kamuswekera, an 80-year-old artist who embroiders burlap sacks with images of her native eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Artists’ homes

During this year’s annual Short North Tour of Homes & Gardens, about 900 people passed through Charles Wince’s wonderfully eclectic WinceWorld. When the artist purchased his Victorian clapboard house in 1988, he said it was in such shabby condition that there were no details to preserve, thus allowing his transformation of the home to be totally personal—and totally wild. 

Wince is a brilliant artist who around every turn has filled the place with murals, mosaic tile floors, sculptures that double as furniture, making his home a veritable museum. Step into his bedroom to view his monumental masterpiece Mother Russia Meltdown (1994–), a painting 12 feet in length occupying an entire wall. If you take a moment to get your bearings, you’ll realize the characters creating chaos in the painting are ingeniously reflected in three dimensions all around you (including on the bed’s headboard, where a young girl’s ears are plugged with $50 and $100 bills and snakes slither from her hair, all bearing the face of Stalin). Then look down at the floor, which has what may be the most beautiful wood grain you’ve ever seen. When I asked about it, Wince told me it was entirely hand-painted.

Tours are by appointment only. To schedule one, contact the artist through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/winceart/

Galleries

Every art scene needs a James McDevitt-Stredney. An advocate, a defender, a cheerleader for all things creative Columbus, McDevitt-Stredney graduated from the Columbus College of Art & Design and several years later opened No Place, his gallery since 2015. His program is a beautiful mix of artists from the Midwest and artists from other places—an excellent push and pull of bringing the art world to Columbus and bringing Columbus to the world.

Skylab Gallery is the OG of the independently run art spaces in town. Since around 1999 it has played a vital role in the city’s cultural scene, sharing with the community as well as thriving from it. On top of the exhibitions Skylab organizes, the gallery has long played host to a number of experimental and noise-rock bands that otherwise would not have played Columbus.

Dream Clinic Project Space is a tiny exhibition venue tucked into a shared studio space and housed in a former car wash. Within its 7 x 13 feet, artists invite other artists to experiment, to transform the space in a way that would not be possible in a bigger gallery. It also has its ongoing Tiny Pedestal project, which takes advantage of an architectural anomaly in the industrial space.

Since 2018 the Maroon Arts Group (MAG) has operated the MPACC Box Park in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. The grassroots organization, with a mission of providing a platform for community, art, and learning, constructed an outdoor venue built with repurposed shipping containers on what was once an abandoned lot. A trio of containers house a performance space with an open stage, an art gallery, and, for nourishment, Willowbeez SoulVeg, a family-owned vegan soul food spot. On a recent chilly morning I was looking at the various raised beds on the property when a woman passing through stopped to tell me that I just missed some yummy produce. To encourage daily encounters with art, the park is ringed with paintings by artists of all ages.

Public art

In the 1870s brothers Lewis, Ephraim, Allen, and Peter Sells became involved in the circus business. As their circus grew, they moved the business to a racially diverse, semirural community on the northwest periphery of Columbus that is now referred to as Victorian Village. On the side of the central staircase of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s main library, the town unfolds like a memory map in Aminah Robinson’s mural Life in Sellsville 1871–1900 (1992) (above), which depicts students from the “Polkadot School” going by stagecoach to see a woman pirouetting atop a trotting horse.

Next to the library, the seven-acre Topiary Garden Park offers a unique re-creation of the scene immortalized in Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The Columbus sculptor James T. Mason began creating a topiary sculpture for his backyard before the vision became grander and moved to the park, where workers initially had to shape artificial hills and excavate a pond to emulate the River Seine. Then Mason crafted the bronze frames for 54 human figures, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey, and a cat—all of them covered in greenery. It’s a quirky, fun site where a bronze plaque indicates the original viewpoint of the painting. Admire the work from there, then step into the Seurat and walk among the topiary picnickers and sunbathers.

It’s difficult to imagine a grander backdrop than Ohio Stadium. It’s difficult to imagine an athlete more deserving of a bronze sculpture honoring his achievements than Jesse Owens. Owens achieved GOAT status by winning four track-and-field gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, but even before that, in 1935, the “Buckeye Bullet” set three world records and tied another in less than an hour running for Ohio State. In 1984 the Atlanta-based artist Curtis Patterson unveiled Celebration for a Champion, which consists of triangle-shaped pieces creating a pyramidal form that represents Owens’s records. An abstract lattice signifies his journey toward triumph and the obstacles he encountered along the way.

People wearing lanyard IDs buzz everywhere at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. When conventioneers step out to the North Atrium to call the office, they are greeted by Matthew Mohr’s As We Are (2017). From the front we see a 14-foot, 3-D digital head, made with curved ribbons bearing 850,000 ultrabright LED screens. At the back, at the base of the neck, is a photo booth. Enter it, and 29 cameras will capture your image with simultaneous photographs that are subsequently stitched together using a technique known as photogrammetry. Within two minutes, your smiling face becomes the art itself. Between sitters, the sculpture transitions through portraits captured earlier, each one approximately 17 times human size.

If you look up “Brutalist architecture,” chances are you will find a photo of the Bricker Federal Building. Constructed from gray concrete, the commanding structure is characterized by its raw and unadorned aesthetic. And yet, on its fortress-like facade, I was delighted to see a bright Robert Mangold piece, Correlation: Two White Line Diagonals and Two Arcs with a Sixteen-Foot Radius (1977–1978), whose luminous orange and red somehow find harmony with the building.

Melvin Edwards’s Out of the Struggles of the Past to a Brilliant Future(1982) is a large abstract metal structure arranged in an arch formation out of flat metal pieces and oversize stylized chain links. A reflection on the history of racial violence and civil rights struggles, it nevertheless exudes a sense of optimism, symbolizing hope for a brighter future. The title appears to resonate with the sentiments expressed in the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem. This is a special stop, as it marks Edwards’s first major public art commission.

As a teenager, Elijah Pierce traveled the country by hopping freight trains. He eventually settled in Columbus, where he opened a barber shop. In the late 1920s he carved a small elephant as a gift for his wife and was soon overtaken by the practice. Pierce became a prolific self-taught woodcarver renowned for his masterful depictions of biblical scenes as well as figures from popular culture and sports. The city has bestowed many honors on his legacy; a 10-foot-tall statue of him stands just a few blocks from Elijah Pierce Avenue.

Honorable mention: Janet Echelman’s sculpture Current (2023), made up of 78 miles of twine that has been tied into half a million knots, floats high above a downtown intersection (at Gay and High Streets) that I found to be mostly empty at night, allowing you to walk along underneath it. The work is illuminated at night, highlighting its red, blue, pink, and purple strands that mimic the gentle undulations of a jellyfish in motion.

Finally, if you have some extra time, head northwest 20 minutes to Dublin, Ohio, where you can view Todd Slaughter’s Watch House and Circle Mound (1999) and Jeppe Hein’s Modified Social Benches (2008).

Food and drink

Columbus is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and residents are incredibly fond of the food scene. You have options, such as visiting Bethel Road, a rural, two-lane strip in northwest Columbus with outstanding restaurants owned by immigrants offering Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and Pakistani cuisine. There are the fine dining establishments in German Village or the trendy spots in Short North (and increasingly downtown). And if none of that suits you, if everything else is closed, there is always a chocolate longjohn at Buckeye Donuts. Here, a few individual highlights:

Lots of deep green plants and intimate low candlelight greet you at commune, where everything about my dinner was perfect. The chef brings together locally sourced ingredients, simple yet creative plant-centric preparations, and a funky, funky wine list. The charred savoy cabbage (with gigante beans, sun-dried tomato ’nduja, ceci crisps, and thyme) is all I ever wanted on a plate.

Momo Ghar is a family-owned Himalayan restaurant with a fairly simple menu: steamed Kathmandu Valley–style dumplings with chicken, Tibetan dumplings stuffed with ground pork and cabbage, or veggie dumplings with seasoned potatoes. Add in flat bread and alu dum, a Nepali-style potato salad, and those are your options. Slather the juicy dumplings in the spicy signature sauce and enjoy, just like Guy Fieri once did.

It was a chilly night outside when I rolled up to the bar at Chapman’s Eat Marketfor dinner. Instantly things warmed up. The restaurant combines a comforting Midwestern feel with an inspired menu drawn from around the world. Get yourself an order of General Tso’s cauliflower and a Oaxacan Old Fashioned.

In the morning it’s Parable Café, a beautiful coffee shop with heaps of houseplants and tons of light from the sizable windows, even on a gloomy day. Grab a sesame miso caramel latte or a ceremonial matcha and pair it with a “wham bam thank you yam,” a bruléed marshmallow and candied yam sauce. The shop has long worked to pay a livable wage to its employees and to offer coffee or food to those without means. Come back when the sun goes down for Parable After Dark Cocktail Bar. I’m especially fond of what happens when concepts crossover, such as in the Tropic Thunder, which blends rishi matcha, pineapple rum, key lime, and coconut milk.

Any place with Swick Wines on the menu is a place for me. I went to the Bottle Shop for a glass of wine but came back later in the night for the classic cocktail menu. A cold Toronto was basically an old fashioned with some bittersweet fernet. This place also serves a mean Port Flip, a mixture of cognac, tawny port, and a whole egg. With a proper shake, the ingredients emulsify, turning frothy like a boozy milkshake. It’s a perfect, festive way to finish the night, or in this case, my trip to Columbus.

The ARTnews Culture (and Food) Lover’s Guide to Nashville

Nashville is a city with a perpetual buzz, exuding a sense of excitement and anticipation. And that buzz extends far beyond Lower Broadway, the city’s pop country–style take on Times Square, once the perfect place for a honky-tonk bar crawl but now swarming with bachelorette parties, pedal taverns, and celebrity-owned/backed multi-level theme bars. In my 20 years of visiting Nashville, I’ve spent a lot of time getting beyond Broadway, and what I’ve found is a lively culture of artists, musicians, and other creatives doing great things.

The list of artists working in Nashville is long. It includes—in no particular order—Alicia Henry, Emily Weiner, Virginia Griswold, Brandon Donahue, David Onri Anderson, Rob Matthews, and Marlos E’van. Also Vesna Pavlović, Alex Blau, Vadis Turner, Paul Collins, Benjamin Anderson, Omari Booker, Beizar Aradini, Earthen Clay, Jodi Hays, Rae Young, and John Paul Kesling.

You’ll stay busy if gallery-hopping is on your Nashville agenda. Coop Gallery, Zeitgeist, Julia Martin Gallery, David Lusk Gallery, Unrequited Leisure, and Elephant Gallery are among the sites you can visit, along with Tinney Contemporary, Red Arrow Gallery, Gordon Gallery, and the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery.

This summer saw the first iteration of the statewide Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art, run by Carolyn and Brian Jobe through their Knoxville-based nonprofit Tri-Star Arts. The Triennial connected art venues in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. While the exhibitions at the different venues were not connected by an overarching theme, it was beyond cool to have everything open at the same time. Venues suggested other venues, and the other venues suggested sites around town that were outside the larger exhibition. (And geez, that Alicia Henry exhibition at Fisk University as part of the Triennial was a knockout!) There was a palpable sense of togetherness and camaraderie, so important in a midsize art scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Tennessee Triennial grows.

For more cultural offerings in Nashville, read on.

Museums

You would be hard-pressed to find a prettier space than the Frist Art Museum. In the days of flashy museums with asymmetrical rooms, the spaces in this historic former post office, built between 1933 and 1934, only enhance the art. The masterful Art Deco cast-aluminum doors and grillwork are mostly in interstitial spaces, filling the hallways and stairwells with stunning decorative moments. The post office’s vast sorting rooms with high ceilings prove perfect as exhibition galleries.

Established in 1866, just after the conclusion of the Civil War, Fisk Universityproudly stands as the oldest institution of higher learning in Nashville. The university holds two gallery spaces, Carl Van Vechten Gallery and Aaron Douglas Gallery, for temporary exhibitions and selections from the permanent collection of more than 4,000 objects. In 1949 Van Vechten, a prominent Harlem Renaissance music critic, persuaded Georgia O’Keeffe to donate a large selection of her late husband’s art collection, including Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, and Diego Rivera. Just across the quad stands Fisk’s library, Cravath Hall. In the summer of 1930, the university commissioned the prominent Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas to paint a series of murals on the second floor. He described them as a “panorama of the development of Black people in this hemisphere, in the new world.” In 1939 Douglas returned to Fisk to teach and serve as the art department chair. He later became the founding director of the Carl Van Vechten Gallery.

Initially constructed for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, the Parthenon, a faithful re-creation of its Athenian counterpart, serves as an homage to the zenith of classical architecture. The highlight of the museum is a 42-foot statue of Athena Parthenos, just as it is believed to have looked when unveiled in the 5th century B.C.E. in Greece. Nashville selected a native of the city, Alan LeQuire, to sculpt the monumental work. His sculpture is covered in 23.75K gold leaf, with Athena’s skin painted to appear to be ivory. It’s stunning. Back downstairs is a gallery space that hosts temporary contemporary art exhibitions.

During the pandemic, Nashville opened its newest museum, the National Museum of African American Music, in a fitting location, Lower Broadway, the heart of the country music capital. The museum is the anchor of a new development, a huge complex of shops and restaurants, and it’s a triumph for the city. The 56,000-square-foot museum is a true tribute to the originators of the earliest distinctly American music, unfolding over the past 400 years through more than 50 musical genres and subgenres. Starting with the musical traditions of enslaved individuals, the museum’s interactive displays celebrate the rich legacy of contributions that African American musicians have brought to classical, country, gospel, jazz, blues, and hip-hop, among other genres. Technology plays a key role in the museum, and I spent a fair amount of time watching people across generations wearing headphones and bobbing their heads. In the One Nation Under a Groove Gallery, there is an interactive dance space where one can move to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” or learn how to style and produce an R&B beat. The whole experience is informative and fun, and I cannot wait to return with my son.

The bustle of Broadway got you frazzled? Refuel your soul with a peaceful escape to the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. You’ll find 55 acres of cultivated gardens and greenhouses and a 1.5-mile wooded sculpture trail (with works by Alicja Kwade, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, Siah Armajani, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and others). Tucked within the gardens lies an on-site art museum housed in the original Georgian-style Cheek family mansion. It’s a treasure trove for art connoisseurs and history enthusiasts, with period rooms filled with American Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative arts. Bonus for those who missed the big William Edmondson show in Philadelphia over the summer: Cheekwood has the world’s largest collection of sculptures by the Nashville native.

Other Sites and Stops

Speaking of Edmondson, the Edgehill neighborhood arose after the Civil War, becoming home to individuals who had been enslaved and their descendants. Edmondson was one of the most prominent figures to emerge from the neighborhood, his residence a dual-purpose dwelling and open-air studio. In the backyard he created all of the works that went into his 1937 solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art—the first such show by an African American artist. The homes that once stood in Edgehill were cleared in 1950 to make way for a school and park; today a historic marker designates where Edmondson’s home once stood. In 2018 the city abruptly announced a plan to sell the entire property to private developers. Now the Edmondson Homesite Coalition is working to preserve and protect the place and to someday transform it into the William Edmondson Cultural Arts Center and Museum, with an adjacent sculpture garden.

Also speaking of Edmondson, in 2013 the Metro Nashville Arts Commission hired a pair of artists to create sculptures in a park dedicated to the artist’s memory. Visit Edmondson Park to see the two commissioned pieces, Lonnie Holley’s Supported by the Ancestors and Thornton Dial’s Road to the Mountaintop. A third piece, by Tennessee artist Sherri Warner Hunter, was moved to the park from a nearby location.

Everything seems more important in the Ryman Auditorium; you can feel the history in the air. A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, the venue holds immense significance in popularizing country music. Every prominent name in country music has taken the stage there: A teenage Elvis Presley had his only Opryperformance in 1954; in 1956 Johnny Cash made his debut; there was recently a celebration to mark 50 years of Dolly Parton performing on the Opry. If you cannot make it to a show at the Ryman, at least take the self-guided tour and go home with a souvenir photo of yourself up on stage. Side suggestion: Ryman Alley. Back when the Grand Ole Opry occupied the auditorium, there was no backstage, so the Lower Broadway honky-tonks, especially Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in the 1960s, became the place where the talent would hang out before an appearance. Willie Nelson had the famous quote about getting a couple of drinks before a show: “It’s 17 steps to Tootsie’s and 34 steps back [to the Ryman].”

I’ve known about David Onri Anderson since his time as one of the cofounders of the excellent Mild Climate, an artist-run space and curatorial collective in Wedgewood-Houston. In 2018 he opened a new space in the backyard of his South Nashville home. From the outside, the Electric Shed is a simple structure of the type that would store gardening tools, lawn mowers, and bicycles. But Anderson has paneled the shed to create a perfect, nearly ready-made art space. Shows have included Rahn Marion (Memphis), Mika Agari (New York), and Beizar Aradini (Nashville)—with music programming by Eve Maret.

Hatch Show Print is just a visual delight. Influencing the visual vocabulary of Music City since 1879, this is one of the country’s oldest letterpress shops. Across the 20th century, it played a pivotal role in advertising southern entertainment and music, creating posters for the Grand Ole Opry and etching the images of many stars into history. In 2013 the press and its archive were donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

In a city full to the gills with cool recording studios, Third Man Records is fun and different, even if you have left your lo-fi, White Stripes phase behind you. The spot is a blend of record store, novelty lounge, and live venue, all in equal measure. It is also the world’s only live-to-acetate recording facility in the world. A refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine records 150 seconds of audio and dispenses a one-of-a-kind 6-inch vinyl record. Neil Young once used it! Want a little red memento? The Mold-A-Rama machine sculpts brightly colored wax mold souvenirs of a miniature model of Jack White’s classic Airline guitar.

Food and Drink

While Charleston and New Orleans were stealing the culinary headlines, Nashville swooped in and became the best food city in the South. The continual innovation, mirroring the city itself, and a willingness to break from long-held traditions make Nashville a gold mine of restaurants.

At this point I should mention that I’ve eaten vegetarian for more years now than I ate meat, so you’ll notice the absence here of the meat-and-threes and the fiery fowl that have swept the nation and brought Nashville cuisine to the masses. That said, one of the things this city does better than just about anyone is to take a vegetable you’ve had a thousand times, a thousand ways, and set it down in front of you with such a simple and transformational preparation that you’ll never think of that veggie the same way again.

I have to admit being a sucker for the Urban Cowboy. The Victorian-era Queen Anne mansion holds eight suites where you can stay overnight, each outfitted with kitschy cowboy-culture wallpaper by the “wall-covering studio” Printsburgh. The lobby palette is reminiscent of the Dust Bowl and adorned with an assortment of musical instruments. Tucked out back you’ll find some of the best cocktails in the city at the Public House Bar, which has recently been joined by an outpost of Roberta’s wood-fired pizzas. Pick one and pair it with the Town Prince, a cocktail made with pisco, passion fruit, lemon, egg white, and fresh cinnamon.

Have I structured a whole day around having the latest lunch possible at 5 p.m. atRolf and Daughters and then coming back for dinner at 9:30? Yes. And I’m proud of it. The menu changes frequently, almost daily. I’ll eat any pasta they make; a few years back, they had this dish with raw squash, salsa matcha, and Mimolette cheese that was so simple (seeming) and so special that when I got home I found myself running back and forth to the market trying to recreate it (a big fail).

A big part of having dinner at Lou is that you are stepping into an intimate 1930s craftsman house in Riverside Village. It’s a place to lounge, drinking natural wine and sampling all the veggie-heavy small plates, like local soft greens with bee pollen and Peruvian lima beans.

Bastion offers up two distinct experiences. On one side, behind a semi-secret sliding door, lies a 24-seat tasting-menu restaurant where it’s difficult to secure a reservation. On the other side, at the Big Bar at Bastion, a big rolled-up garage door invites us into an industrial space where Nashville’s young professionals sip cocktails like the Damaged Goods (mezcal, Campari, and blood orange). On the food menu they offer only one option, nachos, available with meat or a concoction of cauliflower, sundried tomatoes, and black beans that somehow comes out tasting like chorizo. It’s worth all the hype.

For a different experience, slide right up to the bar at this fan favorite: Dino’s. It claims to be East Nashville’s oldest dive bar, and I’m not inclined to argue with that. However, I will get a cold house beer—a Dino’s Armadillo Ale—and a basket of animal-style fries with Velveeta cheese and special sauce.

Every time I leave Nashville, it’s the same story: I swing by Proper Bagel on Belmont and order my usual: salt bagel with a generous schmear of dill pickle cream cheese, Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda. Perfect. The ritual remains the same. I promise myself half now, half somewhere around Chattanooga. I’ve never made it past Murfreesboro.

The Art (and Food) Lovers’ Guide to Minneapolis

Before May 25, 2020, if you mentioned Minneapolis, most people would think of Prince, or maybe the image of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her beret up in the air, or, among sports fans, a Kevin Garnett slam-dunk. Now, of course, we think of George Floyd and the civic unrest that unfolded in the wake of his tragic murder.

While those events still hang in the air, Minneapolis also has a thriving art and food scene, evident in the many institutions, installations, special events, public spaces, and restaurants throughout the city. Here’s what I discovered on a recent visit:

Galleries and Artists

Here’s a list of some of the artists living and/or working in the Minneapolis area:Pao Houa Her, Frank Big Bear, Lela Pierce, Piotr Szyhalski, Leslie Barlow, Dyani White Hawk, Cameron Patricia Downey, Sarah Nicole, Rachel Collier, Emma Beatriz, Sophia Munic, Tia Keobounpheng, Jeffery Haddorff, Angela Two Stars, Todd Norsten, Zamara Cuyún, Matt Olson (formerly RO/LU) Ne-Dah-Ness Rose Greene, Alonzo Pantoja, Aaron Dysart, Julie Buffalohead, Lissa Karpeh, Pedro Pablo, Maiya Lea Hartman, Joshua McGarvey, Nancy Julia Hicks, Sarah Peters, Maiya Lea Hartman, Jesus H. Lucero, Lee Noble, Kim Benson, and Mark Schoening. (Side note: shout out to Peter Happel Christian, working in Saint Cloud).

And here are some of the galleries you’ll find there: All My Relations Arts, Toa Presents, Bockley Gallery, David Petersen Gallery, Waiting Room, Rosalux Gallery, Night Club, Dreamsong, Hair + Nails, Weinstein Hammons Gallery, and The Porch Gallery.

Art Museums

At the Walker Art Center you will find a permanent collection of nearly 12,000 works of modern art by some 2,300 artists, plus special exhibits, performances, films, and a fine library and archive. But if you’re looking for a cathartic morning, may I suggest not even stepping inside? The adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which the Walker operates with the city’s parks and rec department, is free and open from 6 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year. When I arrived right at 6, it seemed like one of the quietest places I’d ever been, despite being barely removed from a major road. Of course, its Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–88), the Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculptural fountain, is a symbol of the city, but I was there for two other works.

Okciyapi (2021), a commissioned piece by Twin Cities–based artist Angela Two Stars, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, provides a space to gather. A concrete spiral serves as shared seating, and with its metal plates bearing words and phrases written in Dakota, it’s also a place to consider language and how we speak with each other, and a place for reconsidering values.

When you’re ready to leave the Sculpture Garden, follow a series of walkways and stairs that run behind the Walker and are nearest to the parking garage (trust me). Soon you will approach a tunnel leading to a subterranean room. This is James Turrell’s Sky Pesher (2005). In many ways it is the typical, perfect Turrell recipe: a concrete bunker encircled with benches and punctuated by an aperture in the ceiling, open to the sky. In the early morning, the sky was bluer than anything I’d ever seen before, and clouds sat still above me as I lay flat on the chilly floor gazing upward. While Okciyapi is about learning through togetherness, Turrell’s work offers solo contemplation and mediation. It’s about finite days and infinite possibilities, devotion, and transcendence.

For a trip through history or around the world, try the encyclopedic Minneapolis Institute of Art, which has more than 90,000 artworks from six continents spanning about 5,000 years. It offers many opportunities to enter the past by viewing its immersive “period rooms.” But in the galleries and far away from all other institutional workspaces, seek out The Curator’s Office (2012–13), a time capsule, circa 1954, created by artist Mark Dion. A cramped habitat bursting with vintage elements, it contains a Polaroid Land Camera, a dark wood card catalog, a painting resting on a thick wood easel, designer lamps, and pencil-filled coffee cans. There is also a stylish and stocked Art Deco bar caddy and an Underwood Model 150 typewriter resting on a desk. 

The space is well lived in: Cigarette butts flood an ashtray; muddy galoshes sit beside two worn leather suitcases. You get the feeling that the elusive “curator” stepped out and will be back any moment. Or maybe not: The extended wall label tells the tale of Barton Kestle, a curator of modern art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a disciple of MoMA director Alfred H. Barr—and a figment of Dion’s imagination. As Dion tells it, Kestle disappeared after “receiving a summons from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington, D.C.” He boarded a train for Washington and was never seen again. Dion used the curator’s effects to build a composite of his beliefs and politics, the relics of an eccentric, mercurial man working in a period of social and political strife. His office is forever frozen in time.

The Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus is an excellent example of the work of architect Frank Gehry, built in 2011. Remember to button up your coat if standing outside to admire its striking crumpled-aluminum façade, which calls to mind another Gehry work, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. The museum houses a collection of more than 25,000 pieces, but one installation in particular makes my heart race: Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s Pedicord Apts. (1982–83). 

Part of the artists’ Spokane Series, it was created by salvaging materials from a soon-to-be-demolished derelict residential hotel that was once considered grand before falling victim to a severe lack of care. The Kienholzes deconstructed parts of the real building piece by piece, pulling out baseboards, moldings, brass doorknobs, light fixtures, and then reassembling them into this work. We enter via a seedy corridor, then peek down a long, hardwood-paneled hallway with six closed apartment doors. If you are brave enough to lean against any of the six doors, suddenly muffled sounds can be heard on the other side. As you eavesdrop, you hear the inner lives of the residents. Apartment A is watching a game show; Apartment B is home to a growling dog. There is a party, a couple fighting, a toddler crying, and the play-by-play of a Dallas Cowboys versus New Orleans Saints football game. There is a sense that the past never dies and that our truths do not remain locked away.

Alternative Spaces

After her recent starring role in the 2022 Whitney Biennial, the Hmong-American artist Pao Houa Her is all over the Twin Cities. Literally. She has work in the permanent collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and she recently had a solo exhibition of black-and-white landscape photos, “Paj qaum ntuj/Flowers of the Sky,” at the Walker Art Center. But the most memorable opportunity to see Her’s work is in St. Paul as part of an ongoing exhibition with Midway Contemporary Art (one of the most fantastic alternative art spaces around). This exhibition of four light boxes can be found in the West Building Food Court of the HmongTown Marketplace. Many Hmong fled Vietnam after the war; a large number settled in Minnesota, with the great majority settling in Minneapolis–St. Paul. Her’s works in the dining area reflect her experience as an immigrant who spent her formative years in refugee camps in Thailand.

If you want an experience that’s as uniquely Minnesota as it gets, try Art Shanty Projects, a four-weekend winter art festival that invites artists to design a temporary structure based on the ice-fishing shacks that pop up on lakes across the north. (Think of Burning Man, only frozen.) Initially the brainchild of artists Peter Haakon Thompson and David Pitman, it is now run by artistic director Erin Lavelle, with festivities on Lake Harriet (or Bdé Umán in the Dakota language). Of the many fun aspects of the Shanties is how they encourage fun with events and performances such as last year’s Fro-gahh (frozen yoga), hula-hoop jams, and a costume performance called Fashion Disasters.

Books

Art meets bookmaking at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, a space for innovation and pushing the boundaries of what a book can be. The folks there do everything from offering classes on letterpress printing, bookbinding, and papermaking to exhibiting works made on site and examples of inventive books from afar.

Ever wish the bookshop in your city’s local contemporary art museum would just let you take home some exhibition catalogs and monographs, if you promised to bring them back? Well, in 2007, Midway Contemporary started the Midway Contemporary Art Library, with thousands of titles from publishers from around the world. The coolest thing is that there’s no fee, and no membership or library card is necessary.

Leave it to the land of 10,000 lakes! Paddle up, tie a line, and come aboard to flip through the waterproof bins and custom bookshelves of the Floating Library, perhaps the only collection of artist-made books that live onboard a ship and are accessible only by boat. Trying to figure out where to start? No worries. There are always Floating Librarians there to give recommendations.

Public Art

Regrets, I have a few. My days in Minneapolis were limited, and the itinerary was packed, thus leaving me unable to see Prince’s custom shoes exhibition on view at Paisley Park. Instead I did what I could and visited the recently installed, 100-foot-tall Prince mural by Hiero Veiga, located near the southwest corner of First Avenue and Eighth Street downtown. One of the most iconic bars I can think of, First Avenue, is just across the street. It’s among the country’s longest-running independent music venues, and Prince used the club in as a setting in the film Purple Rain.

Along with a small group, I was invited to make the pilgrimage to pay respect and collectively grieve at George Floyd Square, the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. The barricades have come down, but the “autonomous zone” remains. Walking down Chicago Avenue, you pass the first of two fabricated-steel Black Power fists created by the artist Jordan Powell Karis with Chicago Avenue Fire Arts. A hand-painted sign announces, “You Are Now Entering the Free State of George Floyd.” From the sidewalk, we viewed a work of art painted on the street by Mari Mansfield, The Mourning Passage (2020), bearing the names of 168 BIPOC individuals killed by the police.

Every day people come to the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to pay their respects, remember, and heal. Community members estimate that these visitors have left more than 5,000 offerings of art, signs of protest, letters, flowers, poetry, songs, and many other ways people express their hope and pain, and they are preserving this history. The George Floyd Global Memorial has developed a conservation room at the Pillsbury House & Theater where “caretakers” tend to fragile offerings or those weathered or harmed by the elements. The organization has been creating exhibitions of these offerings.

My mind kept flashing back to how I first saw this neighborhood on television. It was depicted as some war-torn Thunderdome on American soil. Now, though, it’s mostly quiet. And it’s a neighborhood I know, a neighborhood that looks just like places I’ve lived in half my life. The layout of the streets, the storefronts, and the physical structures all feel so familiar and so far removed from what we watched on television just two years ago. But also, not. There is a weight that is always there.

Food and Drink

Granted, it has been a while since I was here last. Still, on my previous trips to the Twin Cities, the food was centered on trendy “New Nordic” counterbalanced by Juicy Lucys (one of those hyper-local specialties that all quality cities possess, this one consisting of a cheeseburger with the cheese melted inside the burger). What at the time felt a little bit one-note has been replaced by a vibrant food scene that arose, forgive the pun, organically. As the demographics have shifted, so has the food. The Hmong refugees began arriving in the mid-1970s, and Minneapolis–St. Paul now has the largest metropolitan concentration in the country. There are also thriving populations of Somalians, Liberians, Ethiopians, and Ecuadorians, each and together creating a culturally rich and culinarily diverse place to eat.

At Owamni by the Sioux Chef, a restaurant celebrating indigenous cooking, the meal was simply transcendent. I started asking about getting a reservation as soon as I landed at the airport; the repeated line was that the wait was a solid three months. But traveling solo and being happy to sit at the bar has its benefits. Owamni has won kudos for its decolonized menu, which uses only ingredients that come from the land—animals, freshwater fish, wild plants, heirloom fruits and vegetables—and none of the foods brought by European settlers, such as dairy, flour, refined sugar, beef, or pork.

I started with the Blue Corn Mush with maple, hazelnut, and berries, then moved on to one of the specials: a variety of squashes of a bed of black bean puree with greens and berries. For drinks, I chose the La Reyna IPA from La Doña Cervecería, a local brewery that celebrates Latino and Minnesotan cultural vibrancy. That was followed by a Last Fathom Wild Rice Lager, a nutty, Munich-style dunkel made with Minnesota wild rice by Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul.

Despite my sitting at the bar, the meal became communal. To my right, a woman explained that she had just returned from a two-week hiking trip where she ate only what she could carry. She ordered a five-course meal with one item from each section of the menu: Game, Plants, Native Corn Tacos, Salads, and Corn Sandwiches. The woman to my left sat down and immediately ordered two servings of the Red Cliff lake trout with white bean spread because her co-worker had told her it was the best thing she had ever eaten.

It’s a holiday tradition in my household to have a sampler platter delivered from Minneapolis’s Herbivorous Butcher, easily the best brother-and-sister-owned vegan butcher shop I can think of. Pop in for incredible eats, like the chicken bacon ranch hot panini or the sweet potato and chorizo rajas hot panini. Or head to the siblings’ new fast-casual fried chicken spot, Herbie Butcher’s Fried Chicken in South Minneapolis, for a bucket and a biscuit.

A team of four owners, including curator Esther Callahan, recently opened Arts + Rec Uptown, a creative reuse project they describe as an “immersive dining space.” Equal parts restaurant, nine-hole mini golf course, alternative art gallery, black box theater, and speakeasy for Minnesota-themed cocktails, it’s a place where art lives throughout. 

In the restaurant you can order such earthy fare as mushroom crostini, cheese curds, chestnut soup, and a hot chicken sandwich; there are even crickets to snack on if you have the urge. The cocktail bar offers classics with a local twist, like a Scandinavian gimlet or a Minneapolis mule, and quirky offerings like the Red Headed Step Child, a glowing blend of whiskey and ginger.

When you’re done dining and drinking, get a ball and putter from the mini-golf hole designed as a record shop (complete with vinyl for sale). Other holes feature a car wash; a sauna; the Rheinlander Hodag, terror of the northern Wisconsin pine forests; and a tribute to Sheriff Val Johnson, who in 1979 was on patrol in northern Minnesota at 2 a.m. when a beam of light from a UFO engulfed his squad car, which was found sitting sideways on the road with the windshield shattered. A hoax? Who knows?

Located inside Graze Provisions + Libations the Union Hmong Kitchen is a space presided over by chef Yia Vang, often credited with bringing Hmong food to a wider audience. My go-to, off the Zoo Siab menu (which translates from Hmong as “happy” or “gratified”), was the sweet chili–marinated tofu with purple sticky rice, fried brussels sprouts, and lettuce wrappers. A side of chilled khao sen noodles are a must. Chef Vang is also the host of Relish, a Twin Cities PBS web series that journeys through cultural heritage in Minneapolis–St. Paul communities through the personal stories of chefs and their food.

I am forever a sucker for a good natural wine and tapas bar. At Bar Brava on a chilly day I had a warm tomato with kale, lapsang souchong, shirodashi, and a couple glasses of Frank Cornelissen’s Susucaru Rosso. The wines, unfiltered and made from organically farmed grapes and wild yeast, are excellent. 

The ARTnews Culture (and Food) Lover’s Guide to Atlanta

Old Atlanta is gone. And those of us who “flew here” rather than “grew here” missed something wild and glorious. Old timers tell tales of the Gambino-funded Gold Club, RuPaul dancing on his go-go milk crate at Weekends disco, a small group of Atlanta University Center students organizing a picnic in 1983 that birthed the cultural and musical revolution that was Freaknik.

There was the southern outpost of the famed New York nightclub Limelight, now a grocery store known as “Disco Kroger,” the time Michelangelo Pistoletto did a citywide Creative Collaboration as an artist-in-residence for various cultural institutions across the city (including Nexus Contemporary Art Center), and then there was the outlandish Dante’s Down the Hatch where one could eat fondue while listening to live jazz and sitting in a theatrical pirate ship above a pool of live crocodiles. I am always chasing old Atlanta. 

The city’s seal depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes. But lately it’s been less embers and more bulldozer and crane debris. There is a lot to love about new Atlanta. The city is defined by its dualisms, being both Southern and progressive.

New Atlanta is urban designer Ryan Gravel’s dream of the BeltLine coming to life in the form on a 22-mile greenway loop that connects 45 neighborhoods. It’s all the little community parks that branch off the BeltLine. 

New Atlanta is the fight to defund Cop City. It’s the Clermont Lounge, the female-owned strip club whose dancers stay for decades, previously located in the basement of an apartment building, now the basement of a bougie hotel. New Atlanta continues to be Black excellence. New Atlanta is long lines to vote. It’s a city on pace to gain 2.5 million new residents by 2040. New Atlanta is not perfect.

I mourn for old Atlanta, the wonderful, weird place I’ll never know, but I find much of the old energy in the artists who live here now. As the city grows and development pushes and pulls from all sides, there is an abundance of great art making. 

Off the top of my head, while fully knowing I’m going to mistakenly leave out 15 people, my list of great Atlanta artists would include Lonnie Holley, Yanique Norman, Erin Jane Nelson, Cosmo Whyte, Kevin Cole, Jiha Moon, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Larry Walker, Myra Greene, Dianna Settles, FRKO, Jill Frank, Dawn Williams Boyd, Y. Malik Jalal, Krista Clark, Zipporah Camille Thompson, Jeremy Bolen, Caleb Jamel Brown, Luzene Hill, Sheila Pree Bright, Alex Christopher Williams, Dana Haugaard, Sonya Yong James, Michi Meko, Elisabeth McNair, Mark Starling, T. Lang, Wihro Kim, Monica Kim Garza, Craig Drennen, Hasani Sahlehe, Courtney McClellan, Ato Ribeiro, and Antonio Darden. And others. 

And, while we’re on the subject, there are plenty of galleries to visit in town: Sandler Hudson, whitespace, Marcia Wood Gallery, September Gray Fine Art, Day & Night Projects, Kai Lin Art, Jackson Fine Art, Hi-Lo Press & Gallery, Wolfgang Gallery, and ZuCot Gallery. Want to know the who, what, when, where, why of the Atlanta art scene (as well as around the South)? Burnaway Magazine is your one-stop shop.

For more cultural offerings (many of them kid friendly!), read on.

Bookstores

The For Keeps bookstore can feel like a half bookstore, half museum archive . . . and half community center. It welcomes everyone to read, sit, talk, browse rare and classic Black books, and even purchase a few—from the store or from one another. A Cappella Books is one of those independent new and used book shops where everything is so well selected you cannot go wrong. It has great book signings too. Charis, in Decatur, is the South’s oldest independent feminist bookshop. Shout-out to X Books, a nonprofit that gets books to the incarcerated. The tricky thing about Lucian Books and Wine is whether I should list it as my favorite bookshop (art, design, and cookbook division) or my favorite restaurant. It’s pretty perfect as both.

Museums and Attractions

The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art is a quintessential on-campus teaching museum with internationally important artists and innovative education programs. The collection and temporary exhibitions focus on art by and about women of the African diaspora. 

The High Museum of Art is the Southeast’s largest museum for visual art and has an extensive collection of photographs taken during the civil rights movement. The museum has one of the best collections of self-taught artists of any major museum in the country; what is underrated, though, is the Greene Family Learning Gallery. It’s incredible. It makes my kids want to go to the museum. They can run, jump, build, climb, color with crayons, and take digital selfies that can be turned and twisted like funhouse mirrors. There is a sensory wall, colossal soft blocks, and a noodle forest. It’s exceptionally well done. 

Did you spend the past two and a half years thinking a lot about influenza viruses and the 1918 pandemic? Join the club. At the Sencer CDC Museum, see how scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combine historical solutions with high-tech, cutting-edge science to solve mystery diseases. The Historical Collection holds a working iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, and a shiny silver mechanical respirator used primarily for polio treatment. Obsolete for decades, these old machines were actually put back to work during the Covid pandemic. 

The SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film offers shows that are always sharp, impeccably curated, and immaculately installed. In 2020 it organized what may have been the best exhibition to come to town in recent years, “Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design,” dedicated to the costume designer for Black Panther.

Just up the stairs and into the atrium of Trevor Arnett Hall, home of the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, you will find The Art of the Negro, a series of six large panels on canvas by Hale Aspacio Woodruff. Painted between 1950 and 1951, they collectively depict the influence of African and other forms of tribal art on the history of Western and European art. The work is a masterpiece, and you should not miss it.

At the Center for Puppetry Arts, you’ll find characters from Sesame StreetThe MuppetsFraggle RockLabyrinth, and The Dark Crystal. More than 5,000 puppets and artifacts are on hand, including the world’s most complete collection of Jim Henson memorabilia. Other attractions include Create-a-Puppet Workshops and excellent puppet shows in the theater. 

Sure, the Trap Music Museum is something of an Instagram trap, but where else can you pose with Jeezy’s cocaine snowman while holding fake bricks of cocaine? You’ll find some memorabilia, music-inspired art, childhood portraits of famous rappers, and 2 Chainz’s original, iconic all-pink Chevy sedan that sat in front of the “Pretty Girls Like Trap” pop-up house. Trappy Hour on Thursdays features a complimentary glass of champagne and two-for-one drink specials. It’s all very Atlanta. 

I’m not a car guy. I drove my Hyundai Elantra until the day it died, then bought a Prius and am very happy. That said, there is nothing like the Porsche Experience Center. This $100 million wonderland serves as the automaker’s U.S. headquarters and a theme park built around history and speed. The campus contains a heritage museum, a vintage car restoration center, and Porsche’s version of a playground: a 1.6-mile track. The center offers several driving experiences as a driver or passenger. I went as a passenger in a 911 GT3 RS, which went from 0 to 60 mph in a stomach-dropping 3.0 seconds and reached a top track speed of 184 mph.

Cultural Institutions and Landmarks

Playscapes in Piedmont Park is sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s only playground in the United States. I could talk about this for days. Noguchi believed that play was too prescribed and that the usual arrangements of conventional equipment were not inspiring for children. If you present them with a series of minimalist shapes, he thought, kids will find new, creative ways to play—and creative kids become creative adults. After decades of having playground designs rejected in New York City, the High Museum in Atlanta invited Noguchi to create this gem.

At the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park, visit the crypt where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King are buried and to see the eternal flame at night is an otherworldly experience. It’s simply heartbreaking. Next door is Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King preached to his hometown congregation, and a block away sits his childhood home.

Just down the street is the incredible WERD Radio, a re-creation of America’s first Black-owned radio station. It has around 50,000 pieces of jazz and blues vinyl. The original WERD was upstairs, and Dr. King’s office was directly below it. It is said, perhaps apocryphally, that whenever he wanted to address the community, he would bang a broomstick on the ceiling and someone would open a window and drop a mic down to him on the sidewalk. The space doubles as a small museum that honors Madam C. J. Walker (1867–1919), the first female self-made millionaire in America. This was the site of the last licensed Walker’s Beauty Shoppe in town and still has the original, hand-painted signage on the window. Check operating hours before you visit.

When I drop visitors off at the 52-story Atlanta Marriott Marquis, I always tell them to pass through the lobby, take one of the elevator pods to the top floor, and then look back down over the railing. It’s disorienting at first. Designed by John C. Portman Jr., it was the largest atrium in the world upon its completion in 1985, at 470 feet high. The piano-key interior balconies jut in and out, and the conical shape of the building creates something between M. C. Escher, Alice in Wonderland, and the rib cage of a giant whale. 

Atlanta loves to knock things down and build them back up. It’s in the DNA of the city. That’s why preservationists had to fight like hell for five years to stop the city from demolishing and replacing the Atlanta Central Library, the last Brutalist building Marcel Breuer ever designed. Eventually a compromise was reached: Instead of a new building, a local architecture firm would cut into the building’s imposing walls and install large banks of windows to allow light to spill in, making the structure more open and inviting. Many, myself included, were skeptical. But the reimagined space has won me over.  

Special mention to the Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University (open to visitors by appointment). Browse the Atlanta Punk Rock Collection, the manuscript for the book Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Amiri Baraka, and the childhood drawings of Flannery O’Connor, then sit back and take in the digitized archive of the most excellent public-access show television has ever produced, The American Music Show. From 1981 to 2005, a group of artists and actors created a sketch show that featured comedy, drag and musical performances, interviews, and on-the-scene reports from around Atlanta. The show has had a small renaissance of late, thanks to the popularity of RuPaul, who made frequent appearances, including her first time on television.

Public Art

If you like art in public spaces, Atlanta has some of the best in the country. Here is a quick list:

-Sol LeWitt , 54 Columns (1999), on Highland Avenue at Glen Iris Drive.
-Emma Amos, We Will Not Forget (1996), Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard between Formwalt and Cooper Streets.
-Thornton Dial, The Bridge (1997), at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Freedom Parkway.
-David Hammons, Nelson Mandela Must Be Free to Lead His People and South Africa to Peace and Prosperity (1987), in Piedmont Park at Charles Allen Drive NE and 10th Street NE.
Beverly BuchananHard Days Work Shack, 1988 at Studioplex, 659 Auburn Ave NE.
-Lonnie Holley, Earth Flower (1996), at Folk Art Park, Piedmont Avenue at Baker Street NE.
-Willie Cole, The Sole Sitter (2013), at Commercial Row Commons, 92 Peachtree Place NE.

In the mood to take a short car trip? Within two hours, in opposite directions, the extended Atlanta area is home to two famous visionary art environments. To the north is Paradise Garden, the four-acre home where Howard Finster (1916–2001) was called by God to “paint sacred art.” The result is this unruly complex of tiny buildings (the bottle house and mirror tree fort), cement “mountains” bedazzled with found toys and souvenirs, and a colossal tower of rusty bike frames and parts. Finster’s white Cadillac sits in a side-yard shed, painted bumper to bumper with portraits of presidents and pop stars. The shed is emblazoned with a Howard-ism: “DRUGS WILL SHORTEN YOUR DAYS AND TAKE AWAY YOUR HEALTHY FEELING. YOU DON’T NEED THEM WITHOUT PRESCRIPTION.”

To the south is a place unlike any other on this planet, Pasaquan. Amid a severe fever in the 1930s, Georgia-born Eddie Owens Martin (1908–1986), who had run away to New York City at the age of 14, heard a voice telling him that he was a “Pasaquoyan” named Saint EOM. When he returned to Georgia in 1957, he turned the family home into a work of art: seven acres of temples, pagodas, shrines, totems and mandalas, snakes, nudes, and aliens in gravity suits. Stylistically Eddie’s world is a blend of pre-Columbian Mexico and Pacific Islander. It’s big and bright, a sharp contrast to the pines of rural Marion County.

Food and Drink

Disclaimer: I’ve eaten vegetarian for the past 28 years, and Atlanta is decidedly not a vegetable-forward town. That said, you will be rewarded if you are willing to hunt or forage. 

To start with, Atlanta has the two most fantastic grocery stores that have ever existed: Buford Highway Farmers Market and Dekalb Farmers Market. But these are not mere farmers markets; they’re more like an international food experience. 

Dekalb Farmer’s Market started as a small produce stand before blooming into a 140,000-square-foot mega-market with 750 employees (the staff is said to speak more than 50 different languages and dialects). It’s a free-for-all of fruits and veggies—more than 450 varieties—and an astonishing mix of Turkish roasted nuts, Dungeness crab from Oregon, 50 types of fresh pastas, Bavarian rye breads, and that big shark head with its jaws open and lots of little fish spilling out. 

Buford Highway Farmers Market is 100,000 square feet of aisle after aisle marked according to the food’s country of origin. The shelves are stocked with Belarussian chocolates, Louisiana alligator meat, Japanese nori komi furikake, Norwegian lefse, Czech frying cheeses, and plenty more from China, Korea, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia, Jamaica, etc. The produce section has sugar apples, mangosteens, rambutans, and pepino melons. I never leave without a container of half-sour pickles or warm kimchi dumplings. Lately, my kids have been all about the raw sugarcane stalks. 

While you are out this way, nothing exemplifies Atlanta more than Buford Highway. Instead of set ethnic enclaves, what we have is a 10-mile straight line tracking the urban sprawl you’ve heard about. With its strip mall after strip mall, its straight-to-consumer architecture that at first glance might be Anywheresville USA, Buford Highway is distinctly of this place. 

You quickly see the Sinaloense restaurant with its big barrel smoker in the parking lot. The Viet-Cajun Crawfish shack. The taqueria counters inside otherwise unassuming groceries. The Shanghai soup dumplings and the Bangladeshi buffet. The one-of-a-kind Plaza Fiesta is a massive Mexican mercado, or flea market, full of food stalls, bakeries, and raspados hawkers tucked between quinceañera dress shops and cowboy gear emporiums. 

Getting thirsty after a long day of sightseeing? Listen, if you don’t love Trader Vic’s, I’m not sure how we can be friends. It’s cheesy. It’s a little run down. Is it a voyage to a Polynesian paradise? No. Will you sidle up to the bar next to the sun god Tiki-Makemake? Also no. Will you have fun with a potent drink served in a giant red koi fish glass? Yup. As they phrase it, “You’ll be swimming sideways.” In 1944 the original Trader Vic’s in Oakland, California, created the often imitated, never duplicated, original mai tai. Taste the recipe that made Vic’s famous! 

Still parched after a very full week of sightseeing? May I suggest you also try these:

Ticonderoga Club’s Ticonderoga Cup: Plantation Grand Reserve rum, cognac, sherry, pineapple, lemon, mint.
Kimball House’s New Tokyo: scotch, pine and pear brandy, ginger, yuzu, lime.
Little Bear’s Divine Hammer: mezcal, melon skin liqueur, maraschino, lemon. 
Talat Market’s French 75: barrel-aged gin, xila liqueur, lemon, lemongrass, Thai bitters, prosecco.