Culture + Style

From Medieval Armor to Classic Warhol: Explore the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art 1916 building. (Photo: Howard Agriesti, courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art)

In Cleveland, art excites culture lovers like LeBron James’ game-winning buzzer beaters thrill sports fans. Helping sate this itch for art is the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the nation’s top art museums. The sprawling museum and its thousands of works can leave first-time visitors wondering where to begin their gallery tour. Follow our CMA guide to make the most of this epic museum.

South Galleries

If you’ve stumbled upon a gorgeous rotunda, you’ll know you’ve entered the museum’s south wing. Next to the rotunda is one of the most praised Cleveland Museum of Art exhibits, Armor Court, featuring European arms from the 1400s to the 1700s.

Discover how hundreds of steel plates were combined and molded to make one suit of armor, perfectly tailored to a knight’s shape. As you follow the technique’s progression over time, you’ll see the artistic additions that made these shiny suits fashionable. Who knew knights cared about fashion, too? Notable Piece: “Field Armor for Man and Horse with the Arms of the Vols-Colonna Family” (1575).

Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ames Family Atrium. (Photo: Howard Agriesti, courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art)

East Galleries

Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1960s. The contemporary art collection in the CMA’s east wing features work from 1961 through the present day. You’ll view paintings, sculptures and new media from American and European artists. The museum’s recent acquisitions include works in sculpture and new media, like video art. One notable exhibit is Omer Fast’s 2007 film, “The Casting.” Fast uses four-channel synchronized video projection to splice together interviews with a U.S. Army Sergeant and individuals affected by the Iraqi conflict.

Notable pieces: Andy Warhol’s iconic “Marilyn x 100″ by (1962), as well as Anselm Kiefer’s “Lot’s Wife” (1989).

North Galleries

Incredibly, one of the best collections of Japanese art outside of Japan is found at the CMA. The museum featured notable Japanese works when it opened in 1916, and now holds more than 1,950 pieces created over the span of 5,000 years. The robust Japanese calligraphy collection is a renowned crowd pleaser, as well as the collection of scrolls, sculptures and paintings.

Japanese artists have been known to take established art forms and create unique variations, telling an insightful narrative with each piece. As you browse the works, see if you can discern their stories. Notable Piece: “The Dragon & The Tiger” by Sesson Shūkei (1504-1589).

West Galleries

One of the most acclaimed CMA collections is in the museum’s west wing. Comprised primarily of sculpture and paintings, the Indian and Southeast Asian collection dates back to the Neolithic period. Look for a small bronze sculpture depicting a Hindu god dancing, named “Nataraja, Shiva as the King of Dance.”

This work is one Indian art’s most prized. The dancing god is Shiva, the all-powerful divinity responsible for creation and destruction. Notice the drum in his right hand. This is symbolic of the inevitability of passing time. Notable Piece: “Roundel” (1st century BC).

Gallery 1
Studio Play in Gallery One. (Photo: Howard Agriesti, courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art)

Post-Museum Eats

The University Circle area and Little Italy neighborhood are home to some of the city’s tastiest dining options. After working up an appetite at the CMA, fill your tummy at one of these nearby restaurants.

  • Provenance is conveniently located inside the CMA that features locally sourced and globally inspired cuisine, as well as a prix-fixe menu designed to complement current museum exhibitions.
  • You’ll find thoughtfully prepared Italian and Mediterranean dishes at Mia Bella, in the heart of Cleveland’s historic Little Italy district.
  • Dine on French cuisine at L’Albatros Brasserie, where in nice weather you can dine on the outdoor patio.