It’s no secret that we love galleries and museums. If you ever lose us in a new town, check the art galleries and cafes; we’ll probably be at one or the other. So naturally, we love the big art museums in New York and Los Angeles. But what about smack dab in-between? You might not expect the broad plains of Oklahoma to host a thriving and exciting art scene, but it does! Master works from the Old World to the Modern live alongside Native American and native Oklahoman artists in a variety of forms. From sketches to sculptures, we’ve rounded up the best place to see great Oklahoma City art for yourself.
Oklahoma City Art Museums
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Located in the grand Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is simply fantastic! The museum is not so large that you’ll be overwhelmed, and not so small that you’ll blink and miss it. Allow a few hours to leisurely stroll through the galleries, culminating at the top with a wonderful Dale Chihuly exbibit.
In the lobby, you will be entranced by a teaser for that hallmark collection. Soaring 55 feet, from floor to ceiling, is the museum’s signature sculpture, the Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Memorial Tower; 2400 handblown glass pieces that elegantly defy gravity. A few floors up, you’ll see the rest of the exhibit, Dale Chihuly: Magic & Light.
Pro Tip: Get set for an epic selfie in the “Chihuly Tunnel.”
Exhibits change on a regular basis, so be sure to check the OKCMOA web site for a current listing. We were excited to see an exhibit on Oklahoma artists, but were totally blown away by Isabella de Borchgrave’s exhibit Fashioning Art from Paper. The Countess de Borchgrave is a prominent Belgian artist best known for her paper art. In this exhibit she recreated royal and theatre fashion in paper, to stunning effect. Also check the museum calendar for Third (often “Thirsty”) Thursday, Museum Films in the adjoining Noble Theatre, and other fun events. There is a Museum Café, and a wonderful gift shop on-site.
Where: 415 Couch Drive
When: Open Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, Sunday 12n to 5pm; Closed Monday, Tuesday, and major holidays
Admission: Adults: $12; Seniors, College Students, and children 6 to 18: $10; Under six: Free. Tours available for additional fee; Film admission additional.
Note: OKC MOA is a Blue Star Museum: Active Military get in for free from Memorial Day through Labor Day; $5 all other times
21c Museum Hotel
Although we’d recommend it, you don’t have to stay at 21c Hotel to enjoy the 21c Museum. Even better: it’s free!
The entire first floor of the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant (which is on the National Registry of Historic Places) is a gallery space where 21c Museum Hotel features rotating exhibits of modern art paintings and sculptures. You’re free to wander through the gallery whether you’re a paying guest or not, and we encourage you to do so.
Make sure to venture into the conjoined restaurant, Mary Eddy’s to see the River of Time. This kinetic sculpture by New York-based artist James Clar was built specifically for this site. It uses conveyor belts as a nod to the building’s past, and to convey the passing of time as a river. It was one of several highlights for us, along with the small room you probably passed on your way in. Sit down in the spinning top chairs for a (wobbly) fun time. Pro Tip: While you’re there, grab a selfie with the iconic purple penguins!
By the way, if you’re looking for a good hotel, 21c Museum Hotel made Travel + Leisure’s 2017 list of Best New Hotels in the World. Also, Mary Eddy’s serves up modern comfort foods and craft cocktails. We highly recommend an art brunch!
Where: 900 West Main Street
When: Open 24×7/365
Admission: Free; Guided docent tours offered Wednesdays and Fridays at 5pm
Oklahoma City Art Galleries
Artspace at Untitled
Artspace at Untitled is an environment designed to stimulate creative thought and new ideas through contemporary art. – 1ne3.org
It’s fitting that the once abandoned warehouse has been restored as a gallery and performance space. The Deep Deuce district of downtown Oklahoma City was the heart of the black jazz community in the 1920s and ‘30s. Like much of downtown OKC, the district transformed several times before falling to vacancy in the 1960s, where it remained for 30 years.
In 1995, the building was “rescued” and rehabilitated by artist Laura Warriner. Today, Artspace at Untitled is just that: A space for art. The free community programming includes live music, exhibits, artist talks, and film screenings. It’s so much more than a gallery, it’s a working art space that’s bound to be different on every visit.
Where: 1 Northeast 3rd Street
When: Open Tuesday thru Saturday 10am to 6pm; Closed Sunday and Monday
Over in the Bricktown district is Exhibit C, an art gallery and retail space owned by the Chickasaw Nation. Inside you’ll find works by Native American artists representing their communities throughout Oklahoma. If you enter Bricktown on Sheridan, Exhibit C will be the first thing you see, on the left side of the street. Be sure to check out the street art on the side of the elevated train tracks, and in the tunnel beneath them. (More street art coming up!)
Where: 1 East Sheridan, suite 100
When: Open daily 11am to 8pm
A walk down 16th Street in the Plaza District is almost artwork in itself. From retro shops to pubs and coffee shops, it’s a delightful stroll that could have looked much the same a generation ago. That seems to be in the DNA of OKC. Appropriate, since this is home to DNA Galleries.
The contemporary art gallery and retail shop focuses on Oklahoma artists and artisans with rotating exhibits by local artists. If you happen to be there on the second Friday of a given month, stop by for Live on the Plaza, when the new exhibits open and the whole neighborhood gets into the action.
Where: 1709 Northwest 16th
When: Open daily at 11am; Monday to Thursday until 7pm, until 8 on Friday and Saturday, and until 5 on Sunday
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Street Art OKC
On the Streets
There are two things that we keep vowing to get better at: One is spotting wildlife, the other is finding Street Art. The problem, we think, is that we are typically on a mission and almost always forget to leave a day free to let serendipity take the wheel. As a result, unless there’s a mural on the way to whichever museum, attraction, or restaurant we’re heading to, we end up missing it. Once again, we vow to get better at this.
Our friends Chris and Heather at A Brit and a Southerner, and a few others, seem to be great at finding Street Art! So instead of us telling you where we’ve heard there’s great street art in OKC, we’re going to point you to a few blog posts that we’re using to help us find our way on our next visit.
- A Brit & A Southerner: Street Art in Oklahoma City – How to Find the Best Murals
- Camels & Chocolate: The Best Murals in Oklahoma City and Where to Find Them
- OKC Street Art on Facebook
- Uncovering Oklahoma: Oklahoma City Mural Guide
Like many cities, Oklahoma City has underground walkways that connect several of the downtown buildings. There really isn’t much down there: no malls, few shops, mostly walls. And where you have walls, you can have art! Not exactly street art, but art beneath the street! Take a look at this short video about the OKC Underground from Downtown OKC:
The Bricktown district is one of the more fun destinations in OKC. The very family-friendly area was once a major warehouse district. Today there are lots of restaurants, a couple of galleries, a large movie theatre, and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, where the Minor League Oklahoma City Dodgers play. A major attraction is the Bricktown Canal, plied day and night by water taxis.
Along the canal are three different types of art that bend the traditional definition of Street Art. For one thing, it’s not by the street. At the headwaters of the canal is the Devon Energy Mosaic. Sponsored by Devon Energy, the mosaic is the work of 250 students and volunteers who placed 650,000 tiles. The mosaic features three American Indian silhouettes, a buffalo, a redbud tree, and the names of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.
Further along the canal is a large painted mural done by an art professor and his students. Amazingly, the huge painting was completed in one weekend! The four panels celebrate the city’s Centennial with scenes of OKC through the years.
Finally, the Bricktown Canal takes you into the heart of the art, and you find yourself surrounded by horses, wagons, and settlers. The huge installation – the largest series of sculptures in the world – is The Centennial Land Run Monument, a collection of 47 more-than-life-sized bronze sculptures by artist Paul Moore. It commemorates the Land Run of 1889, which was the birth of Oklahoma City. If you look closely, one character on horseback is none other than famous Oklahoma son Will Rogers!
The Bricktown Water Taxi operates continuously with seasonal hours that you can check here. Tickets are $11, are good all day (hop on-hop off), and can be purchased online or at their office (111 S. Mickey Mantle Drive) across the street from the ballpark.
The OKC Art Scene is Thriving!
Since the days when it was a highpoint on Route 66, Oklahoma City has been somewhat isolated from national attention. In that quiet, a bright and modern city has rebuilt, and has a thriving art scene. From murals and mosaics, to stunning Art Deco and Modern buildings, the city is an unexpected delight for art lovers. And while we’ve focused on visual arts, the performing arts are alive and well in OKC, too. But that, friends, is another story for another trip.
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We would love to hear from you now! If you’ve been to Oklahoma City, did you visit any of the art galleries, museums, or festivals? And if you haven’t, we hope we’ve convinced you to make a stop in the city that’s halfway between New York and Los Angeles, with an art scene all it’s own. Let us know in the comments!
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