Orlando museums of art prove there’s more to the Magic City than the Magic Kingdom. Yes, Orlando is a real city, not merely an accumulation of theme parks. Arts and culture can be found there if you know where to look and I know where to look. Having lived in Florida since 2012, I’ve visited the Orlando museums of art many times. Here’s what you can expect.
Orlando Museum of Art
As it’s name would indicate, the Orlando Museum of Art is the city’s flagship arts institution. It is what’s known as an encyclopedic museum, a museum that attempts to display artworks from across histories and cultures and places and mediums. As a result, when visiting the Orlando Museum of Art, you’ll find contemporary and modern art along with antiquities, paintings, sculptures and photography – something for everyone.
Unfortunately, the Orlando Museum of Art is now best known for a shameful scandal resulting in an FBI raid on the museum in 2021 and the seizure of paintings purported to be by the legendary John-Michel Basquiat – right off the walls. The museum’s then overly ambitious and underly ethical director and CEO, Aaron De Groft, risked the museum’s reputation by staging an exhibition of paintings from Basquiat he should have known better than to accept as authentic. He lost. They were fakes, which is why the FBI raided the institution and confiscated the works, thereby removing them from the market to prevent their sale or further use to dupe the public.
Hosting this show and putting the entire museum’s heft behind it and the authenticity of the forgeries in the face of wide skepticism from the industry about their legitimacy has ruined the Orlando Museum of Art’s trust within the community, trust built up over decades, and made it a laughingstock within the institutional community.
What a shame. Prior to this international humiliation, OMA was steadily building a solid reputation as destination art museum, growing its collection slowly, but surely, attempting to provide the region’s exploding population with the sort of cultural hub it deserved.
Among the Orlando museums of art, you’ll find many highlights here not found anywhere else. It’s collection of contemporary work from Black artists is particularly exciting. It has one of the largest and best Kerry James Marshall pieces I’ve ever seen. A Bisa Butler portrait quilt once featured on the cover of “Time” magazine. An outstanding Nick Cave Soundsuit.
A 2022 gift is bringing 48 artworks by Miami outsider artist Purvis Young to the OMA – a triumph. The Orlando Museum of Art has a brilliant Georgia O’Keeffe painting. It’s collection of art of the ancient Americas is among the best in the Southeast.
The museum hosts special exhibitions, educational programming and events including the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, an annual show and competition highlighting artists from the state on the cutting edge of the field.
Depending on your level of passion for looking at art, a full three hours could be spent pouring over all the items on display, or a thorough breeze through completed in an hour’s time. It’s a big museum, but not anything that you can’t absorb in one trip.
Hours: TUESDAY through FRIDAY: 10AM – 4PM; SATURDAY and SUNDAY: 12 to 4PM; MONDAYS & HOLIDAYS: CLOSED.
Address: 2416 N. Mills Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803
Admission: Adult tickets are $20
Rollins Museum of Art and Alfond Inn
Associated and on the campus of the small, private, liberal arts focused Rollins College, the Rollins Museum of Art is the only institution among Orlando museums of art to have a permanent collection of Old Master artworks (Renaissance and Baroque). The museum presents a robust and diverse schedule of exhibitions throughout the year in its tidy home on campus and can easily be visited and appreciated in an hour. Ground is being broken on a larger museum building in 2023.
The campus surroundings in charming Winter Park – not Orlando, technically, rather a tony municipality of its own attached to Orlando’s northeast quadrant – filled with young people, boutiques and locally owned restaurants adds significantly to the Rollins Museum of Art’s charm. Winter Park is one of the few walkable downtown areas of any city in Florida and a full day could easily be spent popping into the museum’s, shops and eateries.
Especially interesting to me among the Rollins Museum of Art’s holdings is the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. Rollins College benefactors Ted Alfond and his wife Barbara met at Rollins and both graduated there in 1968. Alfond’s father founded the Dexter Shoe Company in Maine in the 1950s, selling it 1993 to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for more than $400 million in company stock which has since escalated in value.
Ted and Barbara Alfond work with Rollins Museum of Art officials on acquiring select pieces which go directly to the school. That esteemed contemporary art collection now numbers roughly 500 items and growing and is shared equally between the museum and the nearby The Alfond Inn, also owned by Rollins College. As a result, The Alfond Inn has one of the finest art programs among any hotel in the nation – it truly is an extension of the museum.
You’ll pass by outstanding pieces from Julie Mehretu, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Hank Willis Thomas on your way to the elevator and lounge. If you can swing the price, The Alfond Inn serves as ideal headquarters for exploring Orlando museums of art. The OMA, Morse Museum of American Art, Mannello Museum and Art and History Museums of Maitland are all located within five miles.
Rollins Museum of Art hours: Monday closed, Tuesday 10 a.m – 7 p.m., Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m – 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday Noon – 5 p.m.
Address: 1000 Holt Avenue-2765, Winter Park, FL 32789
Hotel website: https://thealfondinn.com/
The Alfond Inn hours: open 24 hours, 7 days a week
Address: 300 E New England Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789-4426
Visiting the hotel lobby to view the art collection is free.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
The world’s most comprehensive collection of items from Louis Comfort Tiffany distinguishes the Morse among Orlando museums of art. A lovely half-mile walk through Winter Park from Rollins College when the weather cooperates, the Morse Museum Tiffany treasures include the artist and designer’s jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows. Also on view is his stunning chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago as well as art and architectural objects from his Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall.
Also on view are American art pottery, late 19th- and early 20th-century American paintings, graphics, and decorative art and temporary exhibitions.
Depending on your interest in Tiffany, the Morse could take you an hour on the low end or several on the high end. Pair it with breakfast, the Rollins, lunch, a stroll around Winter Park and dinner for an ideal full day of culture in Orlando.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.–4 p.m.
Address: 445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
Admission: $6 for adults
Mennello Museum of American Art
Located on the shores of small Lake Formosa with an attached sculpture garden, the Mennello Museum is best known for its collection of works by self-taught, outsider artist Earl Cunningham. While it does host an exhibition program and collection of items from other artists, of Orlando museums of art, this one is really a single-artist showcase.
No complaints there as Cunningham will be a discovery for most museum visitors with his vivid, fantastical landscapes and port scenes leaving a deep impression. Born and raised in Maine, Cunningham came to Florida – St. Augustine – in 1949 where he opened a curio shop selling this and that and displaying his paintings, but not selling them. Or rarely selling them, despite constant requests to purchase them from the area’s many tourists.
Since his death in 1977, Cunningham has become one of the most prominent American folk artists with a solo show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and pieces entering the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and elsewhere.
Described, adeptly, as an “American Primitive Fauve” by some, esteemed New York Times art critic Roberta Smith described Cunningham’s worth thusly: “Fantastic, a weird fusion of traditional folk art and pop culture. [Cunningham’s] world is not only fabulously Technicolored, with skies tending toward hot pinks and yellows, and rivers and bays toward red or brown or ochre. It also teems with bright, often closely observed flora and fauna … all rendered in unexpected textures and often ingenious brushwork.” (R. Smith, New York Times, February 17, 1995)
Stop in for an hour, you shouldn’t need longer, you’ll be glad you did.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Closed Mondays and major holidays.
Address: 900 E. Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803
Admission: $5 for adults
Maitland Art Center
Also not exactly Orlando, but you’d never know the difference due to sprawl, the Maitland Art Center just north of downtown was founded as an art colony by American artist and architect André Smith in 1937. It’s roots as a working artist community can still be felt today as the Art Center hosts an artist in residency program as well as a variety of art classes. Here, the purpose is more about the process of making art than simply the display of finished items as it is at most Orlando museums of art.
The Art Center is one of the few surviving examples of “Mayan Revival,” or fantasy architecture, in the Southeast, a primary reason it became the first National Historic Landmark in the four-county Central Florida area.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am – 4pm, plus Last Wednesday of each month 5:30-8:00pm. Closed otherwise.
Address: 231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland, FL
Admisstion: $6 for adults
Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens
Back in Winter Park three tenths of a mile from The Alfond Inn on Lake Osceola – you didn’t know Orlando had so many little lakes, did you? – the idyllic home, grounds and gardens at Albin Polasek defy all perceptions of Orlando. The collection focuses primarily on American representational sculpture with over 200 works by Czech-born Albin Polasek.
Polasek retired to Winter Park in 1950 after nearly thirty years as the head of the sculpture department at the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago.
The museum is a member of the prestigious National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program which also includes sites for Andrew Wyeth, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, O’Keeffe, Donald Judd and others.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 – 4 p.m., closed on Mondays and holidays.
Address: 633 Osceola Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
Admission: General admission tickets are $12
Lake Nona Wave Hotel sculpture garden
Designed as the Living Room of Lake Nona – a planned community on Orlando’s south side by the airport – the luxury Lake Nona Wave Hotel opened in 2021 is a technological marvel with a sculpture garden behind the property which stands its ground among the Orlando museums of art. No, this isn’t a museum at all, but the collection is museum worthy and features many major-name sculptors including Fernando Botero.
The Lake Nona Sculpture Garden is open to the public. Stroll through the artsy lobby, grab a cocktail and selfie at the bar, enjoy one of the finest (and most expensive) meals of your life at BACÁN, then pop out back to see the sculptures.
Hours: the hotel lobby and sculpture garden are open to the public from 9 AM to 5 PM daily.
Address: Lake Nona Town Center, Orlando, FL 32827
Entry to the lobby and sculpture gardens are free