Famed Spanish artists such as Picasso, Dalí and Velázquez, among others, run the gamut of the 'isms' - Cubism, Impressionism, Modernism and Post-Modernism (to name but a few). But in Barcelona's museums you'll also find plenty of collections that span medieval times to the 1990s. Contemporary works by established and lesser-known artists are omnipresent too; and almost every museum organises temporary exhibitions that fill in the gaps (momentarily at least) in their permanent collections. Here is our list of suggestions...
Josep Lluís Sert, who spent the years of the Franco dictatorship as dean of the School of Design at Harvard University, designed one of the greatest museum buildings in the world on his return. Approachable, light and airy, these white walls and arches house a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró's graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings.
When it opened in 1963, the museum dedicated to Barcelona's favourite adopted son was housed in the Palau Aguilar. Nearly five decades later, the permanent collection of some 3,800 pieces has now been spread across five adjoining palaces, two of which are devoted to temporary exhibitions. By no means an overview of the artist's work, the Museu Picasso is rather a record of the vital formative years that the young Picasso spent nearby at La Llotja art school, and later hanging out with Catalonia's fin-de-siècle avant-garde.
If you're used to being soft-soaped by eager-to-please art centres, you'll have to adjust to the cryptic minimalism of the MACBA, where art is taken very seriously indeed. Yet if you can navigate the fridge-like interior of Richard Meier's enormous edifice, accept that much of the permanent collection is inaccessible to the uninitiated, tackle shows that flutter between the brilliant and baffling, and, most important, are prepared to do your reading, a trip to the MACBA can be extremely rewarding.
'One museum, a thousand years of art' is the slogan of the National Museum, and the collection provides a dizzying overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. In recent years the museum has added an extra floor to absorb the section of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection that was previously kept in the convent in Pedralbes, along with the mainly Modernista holdings from the former Museum of Modern Art in Parc de la Ciutadella, a fine photography section, coins and the bequest of Francesc Cambó, founder of the autonomist Lliga Regionalista, a regionalist conservative party.
Antoni Tàpies exploded on to the art scene in the 1950s when he began to incorporate waste paper, mud and rags into his paintings, eventually moving on to the point where his works included whole pieces of furniture, running water and girders. Today, he's Barcelona's most celebrated living artist, and his trademark scribbled and paint-daubed pieces are sought after for everything from wine bottle labels to theatre posters.
The Mapfre Foundation, founded in 1988 with two offices in Madrid, opens its first space in Barcelona and moved to the emblematic Casa Garriga-Nogues. From the funds of the Foundation, which brings together works of art from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, they include the collection of works on paper and photography.
Opened in 2007, the foundation's two floors house the contemporary art collection of businessman Josep Suñol. There are 100 works on show at a time, including painting, sculpture and photography, shuffled every six months (in January and July) from an archive of 1,200 pieces amassed over 35 years. The collection includes historic – and predominantly Catalan and Spanish – artists of the avant-garde: Picasso, Miró and Pablo Gargallo, with international input from Giacometti, Man Ray and Warhol.
Spain's largest cultural centre was opened in 1994 at the Casa de la Caritat, a former almshouse, built in 1802 on the site of a medieval monastery. The massive façade and part of the courtyard remain from the original building; the rest was rebuilt in dramatic contrast, all tilting glass and steel, by architects Piñón and Viaplana, known for the Maremàgnum shopping centre. The CCCB's exhibitions can lean toward heavy-handed didacticism, but there are occasional gems.
Can Framis was just another Poblenou factory at the end of the 18th century. In 2009 it was converted into a museum of contemporary painting, thanks to the Fundació Vila Casas. The walls of Can Framis hold some 300 works by Catalan native or resident artists, dating from the 1960s to the present day. Temporary exhibitions are held in the Espai A0.
In a controversial move, the Generalitat appointed new director Vicenç Altaió to pump up the lacklustre visitor numbers for this contemporary art space. Altaió has created 'a multidisciplinary centre for art, science, thought and communication', although detractors fear that the governmental hijacking of the management will mean diluted programming. After remodelling, the museum reopened to the public in spring 2009.