American Indian Series (Russell Means), by Andy Warhol (1976). Source: Dayton Art Institute

6 must-see works at the Dayton Art Institute

You know, it can be tough to know what to spend an extra moment with, when you’re visiting a place that contains more than 20,000 artworks ranging from splashy modern abstracts to spare, ancient Estruscan sculptures.

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So … from time to time, we’ll help you not to miss the best stuff. Here’s our first short list of “Don’t-Miss Treasures” from the Dayton Art Institute. Stop by soon for more — and feel free to let us know which works you love, too. 

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Source: “Selected Works from the Dayton Art Institute Permanent Collection,” 1999.

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American Indian Series (Russell Means), by Andy Warhol (1976). Source: Dayton Art Institute

“American Indian Series (Russell Means), by Andy Warhol (1976)

It’s big, it’s bold and and it’s bright — and it’s as good an example of Warhol’s massive paint and silkscreen portraits of famous faces as you’ll find.

Fun fact: The subject, Russell Means, is an Oglala Sioux known in the 1970s for activism on behalf of Native Americans, including the 71-day takeover in 1973 of the village of Wounded Knee. He also acted in “Last of the Mohicans.”

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Tightrope Walker, by Everett Shinn (1924). Source: Dayton Art Institute

“Tightrope Walker,” by Everett Shinn (1924)

This small painting of a circus tightrope walker carefully balancing as he crosses over the heads of his audience is absolutely magical. The performer seems to float in space, his face obscured and yet focused, his spotlit figure a weird, ghostly white. 

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Fun fact: Shinn was a well-known magazine illustrator famous for his scenes of New York City life in the early 20th century and was one of the famed “Ashcan School” of painters who captured the town’s underbelly. He loved to paint performers and the way they related to the theater crowd. 

Study Heads of an Old Man, by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1612). Source: Dayton Art Institute

“Study Heads of an Old Man,” by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1612)

Enjoy this piece for the way it shows the Baroque-era master’s amazing handling of paint — the craggy look and feel of the subject’s weathered face, the depth of his eyes and the loose strands of his hair give one the sense that the old man is standing right in front of you, in the flesh. 

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Fun fact: The second face to the right, less-finished, was a study that was painted over some time in the early 20th century. Curators decided to remove the overcoat in 1991 and show the painting as Rubens left it. 

Notre Dame des Champs (Our Lady of the Fields) No. 4, by Georges Rouault (c. 1920). Source: Dayton Art Institute

“Notre Dame des Champs (Our Lady of the Fields) No. 4,” by Georges Rouault (c. 1920)

Most folks may think of Medieval and Renaissance artists when they see an image of the Madonna and Child, but this modern French painter specialized in glowing, colorful religious subjects and themes. The tenderness between mother and baby is apparent and fresh. 

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Fun fact: Rouault’s signature style of using heavy black lines to break images into small, colorful bits makes more sense when you know he was once a young apprentice to a stained-glass maker. 

Joy of the Waters, by Harriet Whitney Frismuth (1917). Source: Dayton Art Institute

“Joy of the Waters,” by Harriet Whitney Frismuth (1917)

This delightful, buoyant bronze is a gorgeous nude figure study, and conveys a sense of pure happiness — not to mention exuberant action. The piece originally was the centerpiece of a garden fountain, the sort popular in wealthy homes of the early 20th century. 

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Fun fact: This was the first piece introduced to the permanent collection of the DAI — in 1919, by Mrs. Harrie G. Carnell. 

Funerary Mask, from the Chimu culture (c. 1100-1400). Source: Dayton Art Institute

Funerary Mask, from the Chimu culture (c. 1100-1400)

A grave mask made entirely of hammered copper and gold, this amazing and mystic-feeling object was created by an artist who lived in Peru before the Incas. It once covered the face of a mummy of a wealthy leader and was discovered in the 1960s, somehow missed by graverobbers.

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Fun fact: The mask consists of 35 separate pieces.