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The Tower at LUMA looms over the town, with light from the setting sun reflecting off the stainless steel tiles that cover the structure
Photograph: Adrian Deweerdt

14 cool museums and other culture spots that opened around the world in 2021

Not everything was closed this year – lots of new venues actually opened their doors for the first time. These are our favourites

Sophie Dickinson
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Sophie Dickinson
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It’s unlikely that 2021 is going to be remembered for things opening, let’s be honest. The headlines were dominated by the pandemic, of course, and most of us were locked down or avoiding crowded places. So it’s not exactly like cultural institutions had the best environment to start experimenting in. And yet, some really very cool new museums and galleries did open their doors for the very first time.

As part of this year’s Time Out Love Local Awards, we asked you to name the best cultural spots that you heard about in 2021. Here are all the award winners, along with a handful of other standout places that cropped up across the globe this year. Whether it’s a tiny comedy club in New York or the spectacular LUMA exhibition space in the south of France, 2021 has actually been an incredible year for culture.

RECOMMENDED: 12 spectacular public artworks that brightened up our cities in 2021

Most incredible new culture spots of 2021

Okay, we’re starting with a reopening, not an opening, technically, but this building is so gorgeous… it’s worth it. Hosted in one of the UK’s oldest surviving synagogues (the oldest is Bevis Marks in London), this £6 million refurb was long overdue. Open since 1874, The Jewish Museum was created by the Sephardi Jews who came to Manchester from Spain and Portugal. It’s now a spectacular exhibition space, but the real draws are the exterior, which is clad in stunning, shimmering bronze, and the Moorish-inspired art inside. 

For the ultimate creative night out, you’re going to want to head to 1b Gallery Bar. Designed by Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer, this space acts as a party venue but all the furniture – down to the brilliantly twisty candles on each table – is part of an ongoing art exhibition. Sounds extremely fun. 

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Practise your best screaming face (it’s not like you haven’t been doing that for a while now, let’s face it) at the new Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo. Norway’s favourite artist is given the hero treatment, with a whopping 13 floors of his works on display. Visitors to the gallery can also take in temporary exhibitions by a range of Norwegian and international artists influenced by Munch’s work, including Tracey Emin. 

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This art collective takes the word ‘underground’ literally. The group rocks up in the most secret parts of Tokyo – its sewers,  abandoned buildings, etc – and puts on dance performances inspired by traditional Japanese butōh (dance theatre). It’s eerie and beautiful and genuinely unlike anything else in the city. 

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This looks like a stylish alien spaceship, but it’s actually a library in Haikou, China. Overlooking the ocean, the building is all concrete curves and seamless white walls. Large cutouts let in the natural sunlight, which visitors can bask in as they work. We can’t think of a more glamorous place to read a paperback. 

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Arles, in the south of France, is best known as the place van Gogh sought refuge from hectic city life. These days, the small Provençal city is a pretty buzzing place itself; it’s now home to a twisting, shimmering, stainless-steel tower filled with contemporary art. The Frank Gehry-designed LUMA has a permanent collection featuring the likes of Olafur Eliasson and Diane Arbus, and it hosts blockbuster temporary shows too.

MUSAN asks quite a bit of its visitors. No joke: it’s a big collection of sculptures that can only be visited by scuba divers. Peer into the waters around Ayia Napa in Cyprus and you’ll now spot stone children playing with cameras and families watching TV. Best of all, it’s hoped plants will soon grow all over the statues, creating a new habitat for marine animals.

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Finally, there’s a big fuck-off museum dedicated to all things Hollywood. Next time you’re in L.A., you need to pay a visit, film buff or not, to see Dorothy’s red slippers, the only surviving shark model from Jaws and all kinds of other legendary props and costumes. You can also step up to the podium to receive a fake Best Picture Oscar (sadly, the little man has to stay in La La Land).

A staggering 94 percent of art that museums own is in storage and can’t be put into their exhibitions – but Rotterdam is bucking the trend. The Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is making its archives accessible to the public. All (well, technically 99 percent) of the Boijmans’s 151,000 works are now on display, making it the first fully accessible art depot in the world.

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