My relationship with art museums has always been a passionate one. Not in a healthy, mature, reciprocated, #couplegoals kind of way; but, in a way that is more aptly described as wistful. For at least a decade, I longed to be able to enter an art museum and feel fully confident in my reasons for being there. Do you know what I am talking about? That inevitable wave of intimidation that happens right as you step inside a white-walled gallery. Despite feeling significant imposter syndrome, I was always persistent, visiting art galleries and museums in almost every city and country in which I found myself. Over time I became more aware of what I enjoyed, so much so that now when I am researching a destination, my first port-of-call is to look up restaurants and then art museums.
The persistence has almost paid off. I no longer stress about forgetting the minute details of a painter’s career or scolding myself because I didn’t “get” what the paragraph description on the wall told me I should be getting – I go there because beautiful things that require me to think make me feel alive. Last summer I went to nine different art museums in four different countries (told you your girl is persistent) – and thought it was about time I shared my top five picks.
1) Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark
Hands down my favorite art museum in the world – the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is an absolute dream of a collection. Located in Humlebæk, 35km away from Copenhagen, visiting is a wonderful affair due to the serenity and feeling of geographical isolation you experience upon entering the grounds. The name doesn’t refer to the US state, but instead from the first three wives of the original owner of the country house (that was later turned into this museum) who were all called Louise! Housing an incredible collection by artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter and outdoor sculptures by Richard Serra and Anthony Calder, this space is special due to its stunning fluidity between art, space, and landscape.
2) Tate Modern, London
One of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, the Tate Modern occupies what was formerly the Bankside Power Station, a large and iconic building that stands tall on London’s skyline. Showcasing art from 1900 to the present day, the galleries in the Tate Modern are grouped by artistic movements and include many famous names such as Warhol, Lichtenstein, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, and Rothko. A couple of years ago, the Tate Modern unveiled their extension — the Switch House — which is dedicated to performance art and rises high enough to have to a viewing platform and a stunning panorama of St Paul’s, the Shard and the City of London. One of my favorite parts of the Switch House was a room given to Louise Bourgeois (who died in 2010) and in which you can find her big spider sculptures, hanging human forms and unsettling cabinets of curiosities. If you are more of a painting fan, head to the original building for your fill of Picasso, Mondrian, Richter, et al.
3) Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
In the city that is technically considered “my hometown,” one of the greatest ways to spend an afternoon is at the Walker Art Gallery due to its wide-spanning collection that includes Italian and Netherlandish paintings from 1300-1550, European art from 1550-1900, and 20th-century works by artists such as Lucian Freud and David Hockney. In other words, a rather impressive assemblage. There is a particular Henry VIII portrait that remains a favorite because of his great presence and a downward gaze that leaves no doubt to the viewer who was King. As in most museums, at the Walker Art Gallery, I highly recommend purchasing the audio guide tour. I always get them, especially when the museum entry is free (as it is here).
4) Museo Soumaya, Mexico City
Somehow I missed this architectural wonder on my first trip to Mexico City, so you better believe that some time in Museo Soumaya was my main priority the second time around. The 66,000+ pieces that make up the museum are all part of the personal collection of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim which is said to contain the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial-era coins, the largest collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France and the world’s largest private collection of his art. In addition to Rodin, the museum displays works from Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Joan Miró, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Diego Rivera. Can you even wrap your head around the fact that this is one man’s collection?! I particularly enjoyed seeing the bronze cast of The Gates of Hell by Rodin (the original is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris).
5) The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
No list of my favorite (or anyone’s favorite for that matter) art museum would be accurate without a mention of The Art Institute of Chicago. You may remember the museum from that awesome scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) With more than 300,000 works of art (gasp!), approximately 1.5 million visitors annually (second gasp!) and 11 curatorial departments (third gasp!), it should come as no surprise that it is often voted the world’s best museum. Famous works include Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Claude Monet’s Stack of Wheat and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Next time you are there, take a glance at one of my all-time favorite surrealist paintings, Ciphers and Constellations, In Love With A Woman by Joan Miró and the most famous chamber in all of art – Van Gogh’s The Bedroom.
Phew, that was quite a bit of art! I hoped you enjoyed this round-up and that it gave you some ideas for your future travels! Please tell me in the comments if you want to see more round-up travel articles like this and make sure to let me know some of your favorite art museums so that I can add them to my list!
+ For more recommendations in one of the world’s art capitals – read my London City Guide.
+ Wandering around art galleries is essential for me to maintain my creativity.
+ On the other side of the pond, Austin has a vibrant art scene.