The Wexner Center for the Arts is The Ohio State University's multidisciplinary, international laboratory for the exploration and advancement of contemporary art. Through exhibitions, screenings, performances, artist residencies, and education programs, the Wexner Center acts as a forum where established and emerging artists can test ideas and where diverse audiences can participate in cultural experiences that enhance the understanding of the art of our time. In its programs, the Wexner Center balances a commitment to experimentation with a commitment to traditions of innovation and affirms the university's mission of education, research, and community service.
History and Architecture
Inaugurated in 1989 as both a creative laboratory and public venue for contemporary art in all forms, the Wex is a dynamic cultural institution, housed in a signature work of late 20th-century architecture. "When the Wexner Center opened, the building was hailed as a major cultural happening…and since then it has helped turn Columbus into a cultural destination." —New York Times "The Wexner Center was truly pioneering in making an equal and vigorous commitment to visual, performing, and media arts—often incubating collaboration across disciplines." —William Forsythe, choreographer History Even before it was officially launched on the campus of The Ohio State University in 1989, the Wexner Center for the Arts had already attracted international attention for its bold contemporary mission and daring design. An unlikely experiment in the heartland, the Wex (as it soon came to be called) was then the only cultural institution of its kind affiliated with a major research university, and among the earliest anywhere with a mandate to equally champion and present the entire spectrum of creative practice across the fields of visual art, performance, film, video, architecture, and design. Initially conceived by university leaders in consultation with national museum experts, the center gained considerable momentum in its early planning stages when OSU alum and prominent Columbus civic leader Leslie H. Wexner came forward with a significant founding gift that "named" the institution for his father Harry L. Wexner. He (Les) immediately saw the promise of a contemporary art center as both physical and symbolic gateway to an institution of higher learning—"one where free expression, independent thinking, and vital interactions among leading artists and cultural figures with students and academic experts would exemplify the ideals of a democratic society." At the same time, Wexner recognized the importance of courageous ideas and creative practice to building a vibrant, innovative, and diverse community as well as a highly educated, motivated, and entrepreneurial work-force. In that same spirit, he conceived and, together with his wife Abigail, funded the Wexner Prize which since 1992 has been awarded to pioneering artists whose achievements exemplify the pinnacle of daring innovation, bold intellect, and creative brilliance. The first Wexner Prize was awarded to theater director Peter Brook. In subsequent years the Prize went to such luminaries as Merce Cunningham with John Cage, Yvonne Rainer, Martin Scorsese, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, Bill T. Jones, Spike Lee, and Annie Leibovitz. From its inception, the Wex pursued ambitious and adventurous programming that engaged local and national/international audiences alike. Akin to a European "kunsthalle" (arts space without a permanent collection), the Wex building was designed with purpose-built flexible spaces to accommodate interdisciplinary artistic exploration—including new genres yet to be imagined. And since 1989, the center's robust Artist Residency Awards program has invested significant resources to support the research, production, and presentation of new work—a then novel concept that has since been replicated across the museum field. Immediately staking its claim among vanguard institutions, the center's inaugural-year programs featured such notable artists as Martha Graham, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Kronos Quartet, Trisha Brown, Spalding Gray, Adrian Piper, Chris Burden, Ann Hamilton, Bill T. Jones, Barbara Kruger, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage, among many others. Not surprisingly, the Wex garnered coverage in publications ranging from the New York Times to Travel & Leisure, from Vogue to Newsweek, from the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News. Entire issues of architecture magazines—including Progressive Architecture, Architecture and Urbanism, and Architectural Design—were devoted to this audacious new entry on the cultural landscape. Kurt Andersen, writing for Time, declared it "both grand and zany …and it works."
The unique ambition and potential of the Wex arts professionals from around the country to join the staff. Sherri Geldin, formerly associate director at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, was named director of the Wex in 1993, embracing the institution’s founding vision and advancing it. A diverse array of exhibitions followed the inaugural shows, including the Guggenheim’s sweeping retrospective of the work of Roy Lichtenstein (1995) and the Wex-organized multimedia exhibition Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire (1999). In 2001, the center organized As Painting: Division and Displacement, exploring the ever more elastic parameters of “painting” among European and American artists since the 1960s (still a significant touchstone for many artists and scholars). Mood River (2002), a dazzling, kaleidoscopic overview of the design of the moment, from aeronautic to automotive to athletic, included a fully operational skate bowl that drew avid young boarders—as well as a segment on CBS News Sunday Morning. Other notable exhibitions have included Part Object Part Sculpture; Sadie Benning’s Suspended Animation (2007), which toured to the Whitney Museum of American Art; the immersive, multimedia exhibition Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms (2008); Luc Tuymans (2009), jointly organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which toured internationally; the first museum retrospective of Mark Bradford (organized by the Wex in 2010), the first-ever exhibition of Annie Leibovitz’s Master Set along with her Pilgrimage series (2012); Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection (the keystone of our 25th Anniversary Season, featuring Picasso, Giacometti, and Dubuffet); the only Midwestern stop for Leap Before You Look (2016), celebrating the remarkable culture and lasting impact of Black Mountain College; and Sarah Oppenheimer’s enormous kinetic pivoting mechanism, titled S-337473 (2017), created during a multiyear Wex residency. Complementing and amplifying these major exhibitions, the Wex contributes important new scholarship to the field with in-depth catalogues and gallery guides that have become important documents and resources for the field. Groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary programs in performing arts and films have animated Wex stages and screens since the center’s opening. In recent years newly commissioned works have included The Great Flood, a joint project by composer Bill Frisell and filmmaker Bill Morrison (2012); Landfall, Laurie Anderson’s partnership with Kronos Quartet (2014); the theater is a blank page, an award-winning collaboration between Ann Hamilton and theater director Anne Bogart (2015); and A Thousand Thoughts, a live documentary by Sam Green and Kronos Quartet (2018), to name just a few. Major filmmakers from around the globe regularly visit the center to introduce and discuss their work for public audiences, helping make Columbus a film destination for the entire region. Among them are Claire Denis, Miloŝ Forman, Philip Kaufman, Laura Poitras, Liza Johnson, Jim Jarmusch, Kelly Reichardt, Gus Van Sant, John Waters, Walter Salles, Kevin Jerome Everson, Abbas Kiarostami, Isabella Rossellini, Charles Burnett, and Lucrecia Martel, plus dozens more. And the center’s Film/Video Studio is truly unique in the country—a state-of-the-art post production facility with two full time editors placed at the disposal of artists 365 days a year. While the Wexner Center has grown considerably in national and international stature over the years, it has also enriched the campus experience for thousands of students, faculty, and staff, forging collaborations and exchanges with a host of academic departments and student organizations across campus—ranging far beyond arts and humanities to the fields of business, engineering, law, medicine, agriculture, and even athletics. An illustrious roster of artists, architects, filmmakers, art historians, critics, cultural commentators, and social activists have spoken at lectures, panels, or symposia orchestrated by the Wex over the past three decades. Similarly, it is universally acknowledged that the very existence of the Wexner Center has enriched the cultural ecosystem of Columbus, making it a more open, vibrant, and sophisticated place to live and visit, while empowering local arts institutions to pursue more contemporary programming. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer has noted, “Let it be stated early and often: Since it opened in 1989, the Wexner Center for the Arts has provided some of the best contemporary art programming in the Midwest, if not the entire country.”
The Wexner Center for the Arts complex was designed by architects Peter Eisenman of New York in association with Richard Trott of Columbus, along with landscape architect Laurie Olin from Philadelphia. The design for the center emerged from a 1982–'83 competition held by The Ohio State University calling for a bold building to house its ambitious new multidisciplinary contemporary arts center. Eisenman's design for the Wexner Center deliberately draws on history while invoking the future. The prominent brick arch on the building's southern façade and the tower-like structures that cluster around the entrances to the building are fragments meant to reference and recollect the Armory, a campus landmark formerly located on this site, which was torn down in 1959 after a fire. The distinctive white scaffold-like spine that runs along the entire east façade of the building points toward the future, evoking the impression of something continually evolving—like contemporary art itself.
The Wexner Center for the Arts complex was designed by architects Peter Eisenman of New York in association with Richard Trott of Columbus, along with landscape architect Laurie Olin from Philadelphia. The design for the center emerged from a 1982–‘83 competition held by The Ohio State University calling for a bold building to house its ambitious new multidisciplinary contemporary arts center. "One of the most eagerly awaited architectural events of the last decade." Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing on the occasion of the Wexner Center’s opening in 1989 Eisenman's design for the Wexner Center deliberately draws on history while invoking the future. The prominent brick arch on the building's southern façade and the tower-like structures that cluster around the entrances to the building are fragments meant to reference and recollect the Armory, a campus landmark formerly located on this site, which was torn down in 1959 after a fire. The distinctive white scaffold-like spine that runs along the entire east façade of the building points toward the future, evoking the impression of something continually evolving—like contemporary art itself.
The design of the Wexner Center building reflected the then aspiring institution's mandate—to wholly reimagine what a contemporary cultural space could and should be, without regard to preconceived assumptions. Recognizing the potential of architecture to signal the center's vanguard mission to the public, as well as to shape and support the activities within, the university appointed a nine-person jury in 1982 to select an designer of international renown working in partnership with an Ohio-based architect. The jury was chaired by distinguished architect Henry Cobb, then chair of the Architecture Department at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, and included representatives from the local and national arts and architecture communities, in addition to university faculty and campus planning experts. The jury selected five design teams to participate in an invitational competition, in which they would work from a detailed architectural program formulated by an advisory committee of Ohio State faculty, staff, students, and alumni. The specific site was not delineated, though the teams were asked to situate their proposed building somewhere between the east edge of Ohio State's beloved Oval and the High Street entrance to campus. The Eisenman team's design readily stood apart from the field of submissions for its refusal to yield to conventional thinking. Rather than take the obvious approach of establishing the building as a counterbalance to the mass and form of the Thompson Library (at the opposite end of the Oval), Eisenman designed an angular, highly distinctive wedge-like complex nestled between the existing structures of Weigel Hall and Mershon Auditorium, with a plaza extending out to where High Street meets 15th Avenue. His overall design scheme for the center is rife with nods to history and place; the geometries underlying the center's design and orientation were calculated to deliberately underscore the 12 ¼ degree divergence between the city and campus planning grids—the intersection of "town and gown" made literal. As Eisenman noted at the time, it's "a building that is waiting to be a building," a notion made manifest in the now iconic exterior grid or "scaffolding" that runs the length of the building and is one of the most-photographed spots in town. The brick walls and castle-like turrets harken back to the Ohio State Armory, a beloved facility on the site that burned and was demolished in 1959. And where the sliced-off brick towers collide with the gridwork, Eisenman observes "the old is eroded, unveiled, cut away by the present and future." "The visually explosive building designed by Peter Eisenman helped usher in a new generation of cultural facilities conceived not as neutral containers but as expressive works of art themselves." ARTnews
Meanwhile, the interior spaces of the building (which include galleries, performance spaces, and a film theater, as well as a café and store) were designed to accommodate every conceivable contemporary art form, and even those yet to be imagined. As the jury noted in its selection of the design, the building "captured the spirit, dynamism, and open-endedness of the new center’s programmatic needs."Eisenman’s penchant for literally and symbolically excavating and the sites of his projects was honed to an exquisite degree at the Wex. He was everywhere conscious of imbuing the center with "intersectionality," creating a focal point and nexus where different arts disciplines and communities converge and thrive. A place where the campus population and community audiences together encounter and experience artists working in all fields. A place where the past is respected even as the future is in the making. And a place where local meets global, as symbolized in two distinctive vectors—one aligning to the main runway at Columbus’s John Glenn International Airport and the other to the storied and revered Ohio Stadium. The Wexner Center was the first major public commission for Eisenman, who prior to that time was primarily known as an architectural theorist and academic. He has since gone on to complete major works such as Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin; City of Culture of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain; and the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Ohio is unique in that is has three Eisenman buildings, the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the University of Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for Design and Art, in addition to the Wexner Center for the Arts. Not surprisingly, the Wex garnered coverage in publications ranging from the New York Times to Travel & Leisure, from Vogue to the Christian Science Monitor, from the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News. Entire issues of architecture magazines—including Progressive Architecture, Architecture and Urbanism, and Architectural Design—were devoted to this new marvel on the cultural landscape. The American Institute of Architects noted that the building "challenges assumptions of what architecture should be." The New York Times called it a "major cultural happening," and Newsweek wrote that the building "in its oddball way is a triumph—crazy, inventive, and full of life." In the almost 30 years since its debut, the Wexner Center building has been a catalyst for critical attention and discourse on the role of architecture in crafting cultural experience. And there’s no question that this now iconic structure has had a dramatic impact on the perception of Columbus—locally, nationally, and internationally. It also marked a moment of transition from more typically "classical" or "high modern" design to a period of highly experimental architecture in the service of museums, art centers, and cultural facilities worldwide. In subsequent years, architects such as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, Kazuyo Sejima, Daniel Libeskind, and others would be commissioned to design museum buildings that likewise pushed conventional boundaries and assumed the status of art objects in their own right.
We believe in the power of the arts to illuminate and reflect the complexities of contemporary life and to encourage cross-cultural understanding. We champion creative inquiry and experimentation among artists and audiences alike, connecting them through provocative and inspiring productions, programs, and personal encounters. Be equally artist-centric and audience-focused Support artistic innovation and experimentation Encourage cross-disciplinary research and expression Accommodate complexity in creative ideas and processes Connect audiences to the creative process; offer multiple portals for access and engagement Feed the culture, lead the culture Invest in ambitious creative research and practice Cultivate collaboration among artists, academics, and thought leaders Underscore and activate art’s relevance to contemporary life and issues Stimulate cultural curiosity, connectivity, and civility Inspire the “aha!” moment Captivate, engage, and immerse Provoke, surprise, and delight Ignite fresh thinking; foster new perspectives Inspire self-discovery and empathy for others Porous to Possibility Ask questions; question answers Take risks; make almost anything happen Be open and nimble; embrace innovation; welcome difference Abide and learn from experience, even the occasional failure
Over its nearly three decades, the Wex has become an essential cultural and educational resource for the university and the city, helping to spark the evolution of Columbus as a more open, progressive, and sophisticated place to live, work, and play. We support artists in the creation and presentation of new work in all media, providing unparalleled arts experiences to diverse audiences locally, and often beyond. As a nexus for cultural research, production, and experience—and as a platform for the exchange of ideas—the Wexner Center is a vital agent for social change.
As the only contemporary arts center of its kind at a major research university, the Wexner Center strives to advance culture for a vibrant and equitable society. Investing in the creative process, we serve as a laboratory for multidisciplinary artists from around the globe. "I can’t stress how essential it is that a place like this exists in the middle of the country away from the supposed cultural centers." —Martin Scorsese Since its founding in 1989, the center has offered more than 500 residencies and commissions, supporting the creation of original and relevant works by performing artists such as Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, whose projects explore the intersections of Blackness, queerness, and power; visual artists, including Carlos Motta—whose forthcoming exhibition delves into themes of colonialism and oppression; and media artists such as Hope Ginsburg, whose immersive installations probe the relationships between the ocean, art, and human well-being. (View a complete list of current residences here.) The internationally noted Film/Video Studio residency program has provided support for hundreds of filmmakers, offering postproduction curatorial and editing expertise to artists at various stages of their careers. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve adapted to meet artists’ changing needs, extending residencies and shifting online as required to help them develop their ideas—and generate new ones. Each year, the Wex hosts US and world premieres, presenting more than 60 performances and more than 200 film premieres since 1989. Works created at the center have gone on to tour the United States and nearly two dozen countries, including Brazil, Lebanon, France, Australia, and Japan; have appeared in prestigious festivals like Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival; and have been shown in venues that include the Whitney Museum of American Art, Film at Lincoln Center, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and theaters on Broadway. Artists who have created work here have collected top honors, including Oscars, Tonys, Bessie Awards, MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants, Cannes Film Festival awards, and the National Medal of Arts. A comprehensive and searchable archive is currently being developed to provide access to Wexner Center activity and artistic output over the decades.
At the Wexner Center, we believe in the transformative impact of the arts and strive to connect with audiences wherever they are. Through exhibitions, performances, screenings, online offerings, educational programs, artist residencies, podcasts, publications, and more, the Wex serves as a vital forum where artists test ideas and diverse audiences engage with the art and issues of our time. Events and other activities for all ages and backgrounds are held at our building, now part of the brand-new Arts District on the Ohio State campus, in neighborhoods and schools throughout Columbus and Ohio, and online. "The Wex has been one of the forces keeping me going through all of this." —Noah Demland, Arts & College Preparatory Academy music teacher and percussionist, on the Wex during COVID Our community partners include the Columbus Metropolitan Libraries, King Arts Complex, South Drive-In Theatre, Maroon Arts Group BoxPark in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville District, Sanctuary Night in Franklinton, K–12 schools, Linden Community Center, Huckleberry House’s Kenmore Square (for housing-insecure youth), Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Chalmers P. Wylie Ambulatory Care Center for veterans, and dozens of other organizations, large and small. In fall 2020, a pilot project called Free Space invited community members to participate in hands-on projects, submit films for screening, and contribute to an installation in our galleries—and will likely recur in pop-up form in the coming months and years. Our annual Ohio Shorts festival invites filmmakers of all ages to submit their Buckeye-made short films to a juried competition. During the pandemic, we increased our offerings of online performances, films, talks, artist Q&As, and guided online tours, which have been accessed by tens of thousands from nearly every continent around the globe. The Wex is committed to further increasing access and prioritizing equity. We offer free gallery admission on designated days and participate in programs like Museums for All Columbus (which gives reduced-price gallery admission to families receiving federal SNAP benefits) to help reduce barriers to participation. Our free Art & Resilience programming focuses on mindfulness and healing from physical and emotional trauma. This suite of offerings includes On Pause—weekly arts-based meditation sessions led by our partners at The Yoga Carriage @ replenish—and initiatives specifically for military veterans and others who have been wounded in body or spirit. Through these and other programs, we strive to foster a sense of community, inclusion, and well-being through the arts.
The Wexner Center’s free educational programs and contextual materials enhance audience experience and provide insights into the ideas behind the art. Through programming led by the center’s Department of Learning & Public Practice, we encourage critical thinking, dialogue, and debate among diverse audiences at Ohio State, in Columbus, and across the globe. We offer a robust array of on-site, off-site, and virtual/hybrid educational programs that use the arts as a springboard for deep discussion and connection, as well as playfulness and fun. "The art sparks insight, ideas, creativity, and wonder in the hearts and minds of my students." —Rachel C. Barkeloo, Columbus Alternative High School visual arts teacher Each year, the Wex serves hundreds of diverse students from nearly 20 school districts across more than a dozen Ohio counties, including urban, rural, and suburban areas. Two signature and ongoing programs for schools were launched in 2005: the yearlong, internationally noted Pages program, which engages high school students in writing, critical thinking, and self-expression; and WorldView, designed to help middle school and high school students explore the intersections of art, current events, and social justice. Both programs foster cross-cultural understanding as students from different backgrounds and schools interact and exchange ideas—whether in person or via video conferencing. Teachers are provided with robust learning guides that bring greater context to the work and are invited to attend workshops and trainings related to arts-integrated, equitable learning during the year. Family-focused programs engage visitors of all ages through free, innovative workshops and events held at the Wex, in neighborhoods, and online. From Zoom: Family Film Festival to master classes for Ohio State students and educational offerings for lifelong learners, we strive to bring people together and spur conversation about pressing social issues through the lens of contemporary art. Neighborhood-based opportunities—including art classes offered at the Linden Community Center—bring the arts to residents around the city, right where they live.
Wexner Center for the Arts The Ohio State University
1871 North High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43210
Patron Services Desk: (614) 292-3535 (614) 292-3369