The Midwest may be a byword for cultural annihilation but it’s a lazy stereotype. American states such as Illinois and Michigan are powerhouses of manufacturing, mining and agriculture, yet they also harbour a civic pride and commitment to self-improvement that have resulted in world-class art collections, exhibited in buildings and settings that are often astonishing in their own right. And between the major urban centres are lesser-known, often delightfully surprising pockets of cultural distinction in Missouri, Ohio and Indiana.
The Chicago Art Institute is one of the finest art museums in the world (in the US, second only to the Met in New York), notable for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, as well as works by Abstract Expressionists such as Rothko and de Kooning. We enjoy two visits, part-guided and part-independent, while also exploring the stupendous architectural environment that surrounds it in ‘The Loop’ (our hotel is right there). Ground-breaking buildings are a consistent theme of the tour, as we take in Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch, which soars over the Mississippi in St Louis, and enjoy private visits to another Saarinen commission, the Miller House in Columbus, and to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Smith House on beautiful Cranbrook campus outside Detroit.
‘Motor City’ was running on empty – it filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2013 – but is undergoing a regeneration that we witness on a locally guided walk through the Art Deco skyscrapers of the downtown area. Detroit’s Institute of Arts has always been a beacon of excellence and remains one of America’s finest galleries featuring, among many exceptional works, a Van Gogh self-portrait and Diego Rivera’s vast Detroit Industry mural. The latter is contextualised by a visit to the Ford automobile plant, birthplace of the Model T. But it’s the more unsung treasures of the Midwestern hinterlands that really add a patina to the tour – the Glass Pavilion in Toledo, showcasing more than 5,000 works of art in glass; the mediaeval collection in the incredible Cleveland Museum of Art; the exquisite Allen Memorial Art Museum outside Cleveland (one of the finest university collections in the US); the Max Beckmanns and Gerhard Richters in St Louis; and the Japanese Edo period paintings in Indianapolis.
After twelve nights and five states the notion that the Midwest is an empty canvas is dispelled by the artistic richness of this particular slice of America.
Fly at c. 11.15am from London Heathrow to Chicago (direct, British Airways), arriving at c. 1.45pm (time in the air: c. 7 hours 30 minutes). Drive to the hotel in ‘The Loop’, a short walk from the Art Institute. Time to settle in before dinner. First of two nights in Chicago.
Chicago IL. The day is largely dedicated to the Art Institute, one of the world’s greatest galleries, and within the US matched only by the Met. The superb and encyclopaedic collection is best known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, as well as a wonderful display of American paintings. Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing houses the Institute’s remarkable collection of 20th-and-21st-century art. Guided tours of selected galleries are interspersed with independent time. The adjacent Millennium Park has noteworthy installations by Anish Kapoor and Jaume Plensa. Overnight Chicago.
Chicago, St Louis MO. An architectural walk through ‘The Loop’ to see skyscrapers and monuments of the Chicago School as well as some of the public art more recently installed. Return to the Art Institute for a further tour or some independent time. Continue to the airport for the late-afternoon flight to St Louis. First of two nights in St Louis.
St Louis. Walk through the Citygarden (works by Fernand Léger, Richard Serra, Aristide Maillol) to the landmark Gateway Arch. Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, and inaugurated in 1965, it soars over the Mississippi and the city. The Pulitzer Arts Foundation is in a sleek Tadao Ando building and is renowned for its high-calibre exhibitions. There are just three permanent works, two of which were commissioned specifically for this space: Serra’s Joe and Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Black. Continue to the St Louis Art Museum, built in the heart of Forest Park for the 1904 World’s Fair. The collection is wonderfully rich and varied, with modern European art at its core. It is also home to the world’s largest collection of Max Beckmann paintings. Overnight St Louis.
Indianapolis IN. Morning drive to Indianapolis (255 miles). The Museum of Art is one of the oldest collections in the US and is in a beautiful setting on a leafy campus north of the city. We explore the highlights: Gauguin and the Pont-Aven school, Japanese Edo-period paintings, and contemporary art including an installation by James Turrell. Free time to see the gardens and sculpture park. Overnight Indianapolis.
Columbus IN, Cincinnati OH. Drive to Columbus for a private visit of the Miller House. Commissioned in 1953 by industrialist, philanthropist and architectural patron, J. Irwin Miller, this is a perfect example of a complete modernist house. Architecture by Eero Saarinen, interior design by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Dan Kiley all remain remarkably intact. Continue to Cincinnati for a private after hours visit with the curator of the Contemporary Arts Center, a stunning new build by Zaha Hadid which opened in 2016. Our hotel is next door. Overnight Cincinnati.
Cincinnati, Columbus OH, Cleveland OH. Begin with private visit to the Taft Museum, with a small but excellent collection of European old masters and 19th-century American art. Founded in 1881, the Cincinnati Art Museum is long-established with a wide-ranging collection. Impressionists feature strongly and there are notable Fauvist and Cubist works, as well as an entire wing devoted to local artists and decorative arts. En route to Cleveland (240 miles), stop at the Columbus Museum of Art, which has a fine collection of modern European and American painting, including early Cubist works by Picasso and Juan Gris. First of two nights in Cleveland.
Cleveland. On the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland’s manufacturing centre is being revitalised in the 21st century. The city’s art museum is testament to this with a programme of massive expansion, including a magnificent light-filled atrium by Rafael Viñoly. There are many treasures here, particularly in European and American painting from the 19th and 20th centuries, and in the world-class holding of Asian art. The mediaeval and Renaissance galleries in the original museum building are beautifully displayed. Free time here or to walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art, a reflective, geometric form in the heart of the university circle. Overnight Cleveland.
Oberlin, Toledo OH, Detroit MI. A short drive out of Cleveland to the Allen Memorial Art Museum, housed on the edge of the charming Oberlin college campus. This small but eclectic collection contains important holdings of 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings. Continue to Toledo. The city’s glass-manufacturing heritage is reflected in the elegant, Japanese-designed Glass Pavilion, home to a superb collection of over 5,000 works of art in glass. The main museum includes European painting from the Renaissance to Impressionism, with notable works by Rubens, Rembrandt, David and El Greco. There is a strong American Art and Modern collection and a fascinating display of Japanese Netsuke. Continue to Detroit. First of three nights here.
Detroit. A morning walk looking at the Art Deco monuments of Downtown. Continue to the Detroit Art Institute, one of the finest collections in the US. Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry fresco and an expansive collection of American art are among the highlights here but there are many gems: a Van Gogh self-portrait, Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance and a fine collection of German Expressionist works. Overnight Detroit.
Cranbrook. The day is dedicated to the enchanting campus of Cranbrook, one of the leading graduate art schools in the US. Here Eliel Saarinen taught and his son Eero studied. Visits include Saarinen’s Art Deco house, the Art Museum, and special access to works from some of the 20th century’s leading artists and designers, all of whom had connections to Cranbrook. End with a private tour of the Smith House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Usonian style for two teachers in Detroit. Overnight Detroit.
Detroit. Visit the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, Henry Ford’s factory and the birthplace of the Model T. Drive to the airport for the flight to Chicago departing at c. 3.15pm, connect to the overnight flight to London departing c. 6.00pm.
Arrive London Heathrow at c. 7.45am.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE.
Price – per person.
Two sharing: £5,980 or £5,130 without flights on days 1 and 12. Single occupancy: £6,800 or £5,950 without flights on days 1 and 12.
Flights with British Airways (World Traveller, Boeing 747, Embraer RJ170) from London to Chicago on day 1 and Detroit to London via Chicago on day 12; a further flight with United (aircraft: Canadair RJ700) from Chicago to St Louis on day 3; private coach throughout; hotel accommodation as described below; all breakfasts, 1 packed lunch and 7 dinners with wine, water and coffee (plus meals on flights); all admission charges; all tips; all taxes (federal, state, city and airport); the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides where used.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
The Alise, Chicago: boutique hotel in the landmark Reliance Building; good location in ‘The Loop’ within walking distance of the Chicago Institute of Art. The Ritz-Carlton, St Louis: elegant 5-star in classical style with three restaurants, a martini bar, cigar club, and gym. All rooms have a balcony. Le Meridien, Indianapolis: boutique hotel in the heart of downtown that has undergone complete renovation. 21c Museum Hotel, Cincinnati: next door to the Contemporary Arts Center designed by Zaha Hadid; facilities include a restaurant and a rooftop bar with views of downtown. Renaissance Cleveland Hotel: dating to 1918 with grand public areas; comfortable rooms. Westin Book Cadillac, Detroit: Landmark hotel built in 1924 in downtown; three restaurants, bar and indoor pool. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
This is a long tour with frequent hotel changes, a lot of coach travel and standing around in museums. Fitness and stamina are essential. Average distance by coach per day: 89 miles.
Between 12 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.