There's much more to the world's great art museums than just the Louvre and the Prado. In fact, you can skip the jaunt across the Atlantic altogether and set your sights on some world-class art collections right here in the U.S. Even if you’re not planning a trip entirely around art, chances are that if you’re traveling to a major U.S. city (especially New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.), there’s a museum or two that will demand your attention, filled with masterpieces and captivating temporary exhibits. With their rich histories, monumental architecture, and incredible collections, here are our picks for 5 must see art museums:
The largest art museum in the country, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unfolds in an enormous Beaux-Arts building fronting Central Park on Fifth Avenue. There are ten wings on the first floor alone, including the American Wing, Egyptian Art, Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, Arms and Armor, Arts of Africa, Oceana and the Americas, and Modern and Contemporary Art. On the second floor, you’ll find European paintings and sculptures, Asian art, photography, drawings and prints, and musical instruments. After a major renovation, "the Met" reopened its Islamic Wing, showcasing tapestries, decorative objects, and an entire room from eighteenth-century Damascus.
Visitors to the Guggenheim come as much to admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic spiral building as they do to see the incredible collection housed inside it. Wright designed the Guggenheim to break with conventional museum architecture, allowing visitors standing in the light-filled rotunda to glimpse the artwork in the galleries above and to leisurely stroll up and down the ramps while admiring the collections. Solomon R. Guggenheim founded the Guggenheim Foundation in the '30s to foster an appreciation of modern and contemporary art, and the museum here has an impressive collection of paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, Picasso, and Mapplethorpe. Plus, it's well known for its robust calendar of excellent temporary exhibits.
A veritable New York institution, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan boasts a superb collection of modern and contemporary art. Founded in 1929 as an educational institution, it continues its pedagogical mission today via lectures, film screenings, classes, and children’s programming. MoMA is home to some of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth century, including Picasso’s monumental painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Like the Guggenheim, MoMA, too, has an impressive roster of temporary exhibits.
Continuously growing and expanding, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum on the West Coast, containing some 120,000 objects that span ancient history to modern times, which are displayed in a series of buildings spread out over 20 acres. The modern art collection is especially impressive, with works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Rene Magritte, Wassily Kandinsky, and Franz Kline. Visitors especially love Chris Burden’s Urban Light sculptural installation of restored and painted cast-iron street lamps. LACMA’s temporary exhibits are equally exciting.
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 as both a museum and a school for the arts. Its monumental building, with a marble lobby and iconic bronze lions out front, was constructed as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition and has since undergone several expansions, including the new modern wing, designed by Renzo Piano. The comprehensive collection spans history, from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to contemporary photography. The Impressionist collection is especially extensive, with an entire room dedicated to Monet.