The Dayton Art Institute is handsomely situated on a hill above the Great Miami River. The museum’s beautiful Italianate main wing provides a remarkable view of the Dayton skyline. Travelers along I-75 passing beneath the museum’s imposing facade can’t help but be intrigued by the marvelous piece of architecture.
The museum’s collection, while not as large as in-state rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati, is significant. I am originally from Dayton and have visited the museum many, many times over the years. Whenever I return, it’s like visiting family members who have been part of my entire life. “Hi, Auntie, how are you? You are looking great!” And no matter how often I visit, I always discover new things.
But, recent discoveries are not encouraging. Like many modern museums, the Art Institute seems always under construction; vast areas are fenced-off. A restaurant is being built next to the museum shop —or is it the reverse? In addition, the staff doesn’t seem to know what to do with the space—generous space—it has. Parts are empty and other parts a jumbled mess. The impression is one of confusion.
In its desire to find an identity that makes it relevant, the museum seems indifferent to its collection. Relevance is the sine qua non of museums these days. ‘Being relevant’ means relevant to the general—non museum-going—public. The thirst for relevance usually translates into a never-ending calendar of events and performances. Walking through the museum, one must carefully pick one’s way through old performances that are being dismantled and new ones being set up. The permanent collection is almost hidden, like a drunken uncle with a somewhat shameful past.
Finally arriving at the permanent collection (don’t give up, visitor, the collection can still be found scattered about!), I discover that the paintings have been grouped to conform to the thinnest, politically correct, pasted-on themes imaginable. All stupendously relevant—no doubt.
After my visit, I attempted to use the Art Institute’s web site. The animated monstrosity is unusable. Attempting to access their permanent collection is an exercise in frustration. Searching for ‘Robert Smith’ produces nothing, yet this painting is in their permanent collection and is on display (as discussed in this post).
Here is the link to their web site. Use it if you dare.