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The best art museums in the U.S.

No vacation is quite right without an infusion of art at these top U.S. museums

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Every good vacationer deserves a trip to an art museum. These bastions of revolutionary thought and constantly evolving mediums draw our surprised attention and admiration—and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the old masters and mistresses either. The idea that an art museum is a static place of boring two-dimensional artwork is an outdated viewpoint: today’s art museums incorporate a wide array of experiences and engagement with the work, from art viewed by VR goggles to electronic works to audio sound gardens and more. Experimentation has always been the path forward for artists, and work that we now consider mainstream was once visionary and even rejected by the gatekeepers, like Impressionism and Pop Art. Come see what today’s artists are doing!

RECOMMENDED: The weirdest museums in the U.S.

Amazing art museums in America

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Midtown West

Established by three women in the 1920s, the Museum of Modern Art, along with MoMA PS1 in Queens, attracts millions of visitors annually. It displays some of the most impressive artworks from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Its permanent collection encompasses six curatorial departments: architecture and design, drawings and prints, film, media and performance, painting and sculpture, and photography. Highlights include Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory and masterpieces by Giacometti, Hopper, Matisse, Monet, O’Keeffe, Pollock, Rothko, Warhol and many others. The Philip Johnson-designed Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, which dates to 1939, contains works by Calder, Rodin and Moore. Don't miss the on-site Michelin-starred restaurant, The Modern, which overlooks the garden.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Central Park
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Not only does this massive institution—comprising 17 curatorial collections and more than 2 million objects—preserve treasures such as an Egyptian temple from 10 B.C.E., but it is also in a state of constant self-improvement. By 2025, the $70 million renovation of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing should be completed, with collections focused on the arts of sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and the ancient Americas. The 19th-century and early 20th-century European galleries contain some of the Met’s most famous works, namely the two-room Monet holdings and a colony of Van Goghs that includes his oft-reproduced Irises. Don’t miss the Cloisters, with a chance to experience the art, architecture and gardens of medieval Europe, or the selection of modern/contemporary art by artists such as Kara Walker, Louise Nevelson and Helen Frankenthaler.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Grant Park
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You could spend the next four years getting to know this comprehensive institution, which owns nearly 300,000 artworks and artifacts from all over the world and from every era. Our favorite pieces include Japanese prints, blueprints and furniture by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Meanwhile, the light-filled Modern Wing is the perfect place to enjoy the architecture and design collections, modern and contemporary art, and, to top it off, gorgeous views of Millennium Park. Several of the most famous paintings in the world call this museum their permanent home, including Van Gogh’s The Bedroom, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and, a favorite of Ferris Bueller’s, Georges Seurat's massive Pointillist masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • National Mall

Pittsburgh investment banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon donated the National Gallery’s neoclassical West Building to the nation in 1941. His son, Paul, commissioned the East Building, designed by I.M. Pei, which opened in 1978. The former’s sky-lit main floor covers European and American art from the 13th to the early 20th centuries, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, and Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation. The sculpture galleries contain the world’s largest collection of Edgar Degas’s wax and mixed-media sculptures. An underground concourse connects the two buildings via a moving walkway through Multiverse, a starry installation by American artist Leo Villareal. After three years of construction, the East Building reopened in the summer of 2022, boasting two spectacular towers and a roof terrace outdoor sculpture garden overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Miracle Mile

LACMA is truly a multi-day destination, given the size and scope of its collection. From Chris Burden’s iconic entrance installation Urban Light, a piece made up of 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around L.A., to the Pavilion for Japanese Art (temporarily closed for repairs), a day at LACMA can include works spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Highlights in the collection include Diego Rivera’s Portrait of Frida Kahlo, 17th-century artist Georges De La Tour’s The Magdalen With The Smoking Flame, and Henri Matisse’s La Gerbe. Exhibitions at the Renzo Piano-designed Resnick Pavilion have included retrospectives by artists such as Alexander Calder, James Turrell and Tim Burton.

Whitney Museum of American Art | New York City, NY
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Meatpacking District

Another woman-established art museum, the Whitney began as a studio in Greenwich Village and hopped to several different spaces before its current siting in the Meatpacking district at the foot of the High Line. Officially founded in 1930 by sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the institution holds more than 25,000 pieces from approximately 3,600 artists, including Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Claes Oldenburg. Yet, its reputation has rested primarily on its temporary shows, particularly the prestigious and controversial Whitney Biennial. Today’s nine-story, steel-and-glass building was designed by Renzo Piano with space for a comprehensive display of the collection, including iconic works such as Alexander Calder’s Circus and Jasper Johns’s Three Flags. The dramatic, asymmetrical structure features a series of outdoor terraces: on the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors, you can take in alfresco sculptures and installations while admiring sweeping views of the Hudson River and the city.

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The Smithsonian’s spectacular, aggressively modern cylindrical building by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill was completed in 1974 to house the 20th-century painting and sculpture collection of self-made Wall Street millionaire Joseph Hirshhorn. Today, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden presents all types of art, including paper works, painting, installation, photography, sculpture, digital, and video art. The galleries on the third level are home to the permanent collection, including one of the largest public collections of works by Thomas Eakins in the world. There is also a significant Giacometti collection and a pair of Willem de Kooning’s rare “door paintings” (the museum, too, boasts one of the largest public arrays). Located on the side of the gallery facing the National Mall, across Jefferson Drive, the Sculpture Garden features art by Rodin, Matisse, Koons, Calder and more.

Getty Center | Los Angeles, CA
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Westside

L.A.’s hilltop acropolis is a home for the contents of the J. Paul Getty Trust, but that’s the only straightforward thing about it. Architect Richard Meier started designing the museum in 1984, but it took 13 years, several additional designers (to work on the interior and landscaping), and a cool $1 billion to complete. The result is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that resembles a monastic retreat with panoramic views that James Bond would dig. The Getty’s colorful, tranquil gardens are a highlight. The lobby is also a show-stopper, an airy, luminous rotunda that opens to a fountain-filled courtyard surrounded by six pavilions housing the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. You’ll view everything from medieval art to furnished rooms in the French decorative arts style to modern and contemporary works. Fun bonus: the visit starts with a light rail tram ride from the parking structure.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Ben Franklin Parkway - Kelly Drive
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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest museums in the United States, with 200 galleries containing some 240,000 objects from the first century A.D. to the modern era. Its broad holdings include renowned American painting, sculpture and decorative arts collections, particularly 18th- and 19th-century American furniture and silver and Pennsylvania German art. The museum also houses the most important works by American realist artist Thomas Eakins. What has made the PMA a mecca for generations of artists is the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection of Modernist Masterworks—including Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass, which the couple donated to the museum in 1950. In May 2021, 90,000 square feet were added to the historic Frank Gehry building. It’s worth noting that the price of admission also gets you into the Rodin Museum, which PMA administers.

  • Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a longtime art anchor with more than 45,000 objects in its collections covering 6,000 years of art-making within 16 departments. It’s one of the most wealthy and most visited art museums in the U.S.; its endowment means admission is free. Renowned for its deep Asian and Egyptian holdings, it’s also strong on medieval art and boasts a growing collection of postwar masterpieces. The North Wing was designed by mid-century Modernist Marcel Breuer, while an expansion designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly doubled the museum’s floor space to a staggering 592,000 square feet. The myriad treasures on view range from a copper and iron ancestral commemorative head (uhunmwunelao) from mid-1500s-early 1600s Nigeria to Morning Glory with Black by Georgia O’Keeffe.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 2 of 4

The Museum of Fine Arts’s globe-spanning collection encompasses nearly 500,000 objects. The collection of American art is impressive and includes Paul Revere’s silver Sons of Liberty Bowl and paintings by John Singleton Copley. The Egyptian collection—much of which was acquired through excavations in conjunction with Harvard University in the first half of the 20th century—is also fantastic. Additionally, the exceptional array of Japanese art is the largest collection of such work outside of Japan. Finally, there are the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including one of the largest collections of Monet’s work in the U.S. There are also seven galleries devoted to Dutch and Flemish art. Our best recommendation? Walk through the contemplative space of the Japanese Tenshin-en, the 'Garden of the Heart of Heaven.'

  • Art

Set on a 30 acre campus and housed in one of Renzo Piano’s earliest and most serene museum buildings, The Menil Collection exhibits the private collection gathered by John and Dominique de Menil. The museum’s holdings comprise approximately 17,000 pieces ranging from Byzantine icons to Surrealist paintings, and all follow the couple’s deep belief in the spiritual or transformational power of art. Thus, galleries of works by Duchamp, Warhol and Twombly are accompanied by such permanent exhibits as “Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision,” a display of the sort of anthropological objects and other curiosities that fascinated and inspired the Surrealists. Also on the Menil campus is the interfaith Rothko chapel, which contains a suite of 14 canvases by Latvian-American painter Mark Rothko, and the Menil Drawing Institute, which furthers the study of modern and contemporary drawings. A number of bungalows in the area have been painted ‘Menil gray’ and add to the campus look.

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The Museum of Contemporary Art | Chicago, IL
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Streeterville

Housing one of the nation's largest collections of modern art, the Museum of Contemporary Art also hosts major touring exhibits, film screenings, and performing artists. Busy bees. The museum opened in 1967 as a kunsthalle, a non-collecting art gallery focused on novel and experimental work and education programs. We're talking dance, theater, and music on the MCA stage, Edlis Neeson Theater, or the Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden, as well as community meetings, panels, and artist projects at The Commons. When you need a break from the extensive network of galleries, get some air in the picturesque sculpture garden, but don't forget to exit through the gift shop—the museum boasts one of Chicago's best selections of offbeat tchotchkes. Bragging rights: it’s the first building ever wrapped by Christo in the U.S.

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  • Art and design

As the country’s largest and most inclusive museum dedicated to American art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum showcases work from the Colonial period until today. The primary collection displays more than 7,000 artists, including famed portraitist John Singer Sargent, painter Mary Cassatt, multi-media innovator Nam June Paik, and pieces by lesser-known artists. The museum’s vast jumble of classic works and unusual museum fare (like video games and VR apps) can be interpreted as a reflection of modern-day America. SAAM’s separate Renwick Gallery, known as “The American Louvre,” now showcases craft objects and decorative arts created in the past two centuries; its 1858 building was the first in the US organized as a public art museum.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Downtown

Founded on the principle of making contemporary art more accessible to the public, The Broad offers free general admission to view their permanent collection of artwork which features 2,000 works by over 200 artists, including Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman and Takashi Murakami. The building itself, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, is distinctive for its ‘veil and vault’ concept. The veil, designed by architect Liz Diller, is a honeycomb-like structure that provides filtered daylight for the galleries and wraps around the vault, which holds The Broad’s storage. Rather than hiding off-exhibit objects as most museums do, the Broad offers viewing windows into the vault so visitors can peer right in. Of course, given all of the iconic pieces and exhibits on view—including several works from Jean-Michel Basquiat—you’ll barely miss the pieces not on display.

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  • Art and design

One of the five most visited contemporary art museums in the U.S., the Walker Art Center was founded in 1879 by lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker. Since then, it has evolved into a 17-acre campus with multiple buildings. Many well-known artists have debuted here with their first major exhibition, such as Joseph Cornell, Frank Gehry, and Kara Walker. Reflecting the museum’s commitment to art in all mediums, the Walker also offers an acclaimed performing arts program in the state-of-the-art McGuire Theater. You’ll recognize (and love) the Instagrammable Spoonbridge and Cherry installation in the adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Golden Gate Park
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The most prominent feature of this futuristic-primitive building is the massive perforated copper tower that emerges from the surrounding canopy of trees, making those who approach from the Ninth Avenue entrance to Golden Gate Park feel like they’ve stumbled across an abandoned mothership. The de Young’s impressive holdings include some 27,000 paintings, sculptures, objects, crafts and textiles from Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Rotating exhibitions cover a wide swath, ranging from the treasures of King Tut and the Impressionists to Keith Haring and the current Hung Liu’ exhibition Golden Gate. The de Young is one of the top 10 most visited US art museums. Bonus: the observation tower, which can be entered without paying admission and commands excellent views of the park, is worth the trip alone.

  • Museums
  • Midtown

The High’s first home was Mrs. Joseph M. High’s former mansion on Peachtree Street, donated by her in 1926. Since then, it’s grown into a world-class institution housed in structures designed by Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, totaling over 300,000 square feet of space. The permanent collection of more than 18,000 works is heavy in American 19th- and 20th-century fine and decorative arts. In addition to its growing contemporary art and photography holdings—including a peerless stash of Civil Rights era photographs—the High has assembled one of the most significant collections of American self-taught and vernacular art worldwide. The Rodin sculpture The Shade outside the Stent Family Wing was given to the museum by the French government in memory of 122 Atlantans who died in a plane crash at Orly Field after touring European capitals.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Dupont Circle

Duncan and Eliza Phillips, son and mother, opened this mansion-turned-gallery in 1918 to overcome grief from the loss of Duncan’s father in 1917 and his brother in 1918 from the flu pandemic. Duncan and his brother had been gathering contemporary American paintings for two years with a $10,000 annual budget granted by their parents. Duncan married artist Marjorie Acker, in whose hands the directorship fell after his 1966 death. Subsequent extensions added airy galleries dedicated to contemporary art, an outdoor sculpture terrace and café, a library and archives, and spaces for education programs and community exhibitions. The museum’s signature painting, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, enjoys pride of place in the permanent collection galleries. You’ll also find a solid selection of works by Klee, Rothko, Lawrence and O’Keeffe—if a traveling show hasn’t borrowed them, that is.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Greater Philadelphia
  • price 3 of 4

At the turn of the century, a white American chemist Albert C. Barnes collected and displayed French Impressionist paintings next to African masks and Native American jewelry, a believer in social justice and the idea that art, as well as people, should not be segregated. In 1927, he established a scholarship fund to support Black artists, writers and musicians and continued a lifelong commitment to racial equality. Today, the collections include works by Impressionist and Modernist masters—among them, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and Rousseau—as well as Native American ceramics, Greek antiquities, Pennsylvania German furniture, African art and decorative ironwork. The works are grouped in ‘ensembles’ based on color, light or motif echoes rather than geography or era.

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This fun museum has an installation on its rooftop called ‘Burke Brise Soleil’ with winglike structures that open when the museum opens, close and reopen at noon, and close when it shuts its doors for the night. The collections are diverse, with work from antiquity to the modern day and contain more than 32,000 objects of all mediums. Some highlights include German Renaissance master clocks, 20th-century Haitian art and works by the Ashcan School (who documented everyday life in New York’s poor neighborhoods), the turn-of-the-century American painters group called The Eight, and Georgia O’Keeffe. There are also folk and self-taught art collections, inspirational for those who want to create work but haven't been trained.

Following Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 and thanks to its revitalization plan, the Baltimore Museum of Art was established in 1914 with a single donated painting. The BMA owns more than 95,000 objects spanning from today all the way back to ancient Egypt. With a holding of American art encompassing the Colonial era to the late 20th century, the museum is notable for its long history of collecting works by African American artists. Its Cone Collection was assembled in the early 20th century and donated to the museum by the adventurous Baltimore sisters Claribel and Dr. Etta Cone in 1949. The siblings visited the Paris studios of Matisse and Picasso, met Gertrude Stein, and eventually amassed a collection of some 3,000 objects, including 600-plus works by Matisse—the largest array of the artist’s pieces in a public institution. And while the building for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. is being renovated, BMA will display 10 works from its permanent collection, through summer 2023.

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Founded in 1933, the Seattle Art Museum owns approximately 25,000 works spread over three separate facilities. In the main building in downtown Seattle, you’ll find the museum’s collections of ethnic, modern, and contemporary art. The cornerstone of the contemporary holdings is the Wright Collection of more than 200 works, documenting major art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism and Light and Space. When you build up an appetite, visit the Seattle Market Fishmonger & Eatery now housed in the museum: grab a lobster roll, Dungeness crab or oysters with a beer. A 20-minute walk away is the museum’s nine-acre waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park with monumental contemporary sculptures by the likes of Calder and Serra. It also features spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. To visit the museum’s renowned Seattle Asian Art Museum, you’ll have to hop in a vehicle or ride a bike; it’s more than 2 miles away in a 1933 Art Deco building that was SAM’s original home.

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  • Art and design
  • Mission Hill

As remarkable as its eccentric socialite founder, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a lavish reconstruction of a 15th-century Venetian palace, complete with an exquisite interior courtyard. Conceived by Gardner and her husband to house their growing collection amassed during their extensive travels, the museum opened in 1903. Every item in the 16,000-piece collection—which spans European, Asian, and Islamic art from classical times to the turn of the 20th century— is meticulously placed according to Gardner’s instructions. The downside is the empty frames that once contained priceless paintings, stolen in 1990. The museum’s tragic history is documented as being perhaps the only one whose website includes a tab called ‘Theft’ in which $10 million is offered to recover the 13 stolen works. Among the many still-there highlights are John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo and Titian’s The Rape of Europa. The 2012 New Wing, designed by museum maestro Renzo Piano and separated from the original building by a glass corridor, houses gallery space for special exhibitions and other facilities.

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  • Art and design

Founded in 1885 but now housed in a 1927 Beaux Art building termed the ‘Temple of Art,’ the Detroit Institute of Arts offers a show-stopper across east and west walls in its vast open court: Diego Rivera’s modernist Detroit Industry Murals fresco cycle. The DIA is also known as holding the first Van Gogh painting to enter a US museum collection, his Self-Portrait from 1887, acquired in 1922. With a diverse collection of 65,000 works–including the General Motors Center for African American Art curatorial department tasked with expanding the museum's collection of African American art, the DIA is in the top six of art museums in the nation.

Located in a converted 19th-century factory complex in a former mill town, MASS MoCA is one of the country's largest centers for contemporary visual art and the performing arts. As such, visitors can expect 250,000 square feet of exhibition space, 5,000 square feet of rehearsal space, a black box theater, and workshop and art fabrication facilities–along with a sandwich shop, brewhouse, cafe and retail shopping. The center’s primary focus is on presenting large-scale and complex installations that can’t be realized in more conventional exhibition spaces. An exhibition of more than 100 monumental-sized wall drawings and paintings conceived by Sol LeWitt will be on view through 2043 (yes, that year is correct: wall drawings ‘til we drop!).

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Much of the work here is sited outdoors in Marfa’s desert landscape, making it one of the most unusual places in the world to view art. Established by minimalist artist Donald Judd in 1986, the Chinati Foundation is dedicated to permanent large-scale installations by a small number of artists. Located on 340 acres of land on the site of Fort D.A. Russell, it was initially conceived to display the work of Judd, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin but has expanded to include sculptures and installations by 10 others, including Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. These are displayed in converted military buildings (each structure devoted to a single artist) and on the grounds. On your way out of town, check out the fake Prada store erected in 2005 by Elmgreen and Dragset, endlessly Instagrammed for its solitary boutique anchored on the desolate roadside.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Civic Center
  • price 1 of 4

While it is now the country’s largest showcase for Asian art, the older section of the Asian Art Museum once served as San Francisco’s main library at Civic Center. The 1917 structure was beautifully adapted by Gae Aulenti, the architect responsible for the Musée d’Orsay conversion in Paris, and retains remnants of its previous role, including bookish quotes etched into the fabric of the building. The institution holds one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and Southeast Asian art, spanning 6,000 years of history with more than 18,000 objects. Artifacts range from Japanese Buddhas and Indonesian shadow puppets to sacred texts and porcelains from the Ming Dynasty.

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  • Art
  • Covenant Blu

Established in 2001, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation is a non-collecting institution. Its permanent collection contains only three works—one sculpture each by Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Scott Burton. Instead, the museum hosts an impressive array of temporary exhibitions. Past exhibitions have featured art from around the world including ‘Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work.’ The impeccable minimalist building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando is one of the loveliest places in the country to look at art. The foundation also offers participatory programming for visitors.

This museum is housed in three buildings that seem to be an artwork in themselves, such as the reflective glass-tiled Martin Building designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti (his only U.S. build) and architect Daniel Libeskind’s Hamilton Building which resembles the mountainous peaks around Denver and its rock crystals. Plenty of public art is scattered around the 70,000 square-foot campuses, such as the beloved 35- foot-tall broom and dustpan installation called Big Sweep by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, so you don’t even have to enter to enjoy a visit. Yet inside is a massive collection worth exploring, of African art, architecture and design, Indigenous arts of North America, Asian art, modern and contemporary art, photography, and Western American art.

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The museum’s People’s Collection actually belongs to the residents of North Carolina, thanks to the state’s 1947 decision to set aside $1 million to start purchasing art: the first state in history to do so. And the beneficence continues: the museum is free. Surrounded by a 164-acre park (with artwork and trails galore), the museum’s initial acquisition of 185 pieces has grown into an impressive collection that spans over 5,000 years and includes everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to 14th-century Italian paintings and 21st-century works. Of particular note is the Rodin collection, containing 30 sculptures beautifully installed in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Court and Garden, as well as a celebrated collection of European paintings from the Renaissance through Impressionism. Additionally, NCMA hosts one of only two permanent displays of Jewish art in an American art museum.

One of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States, The Brooklyn Museum’s history began with the 1823 Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library, with Walt Whitman as one of the first librarians. The library-turned-institution offered early exhibitions of painting and sculpture. (However, the massive structure that we know today was built between 1893 and 1927, opening in 1897.) The expansive collection seeks to display artistic traditions found across the globe, including work from Egypt, Europe, the Pacific Islands, the Americas and Africa. The museum began collecting African art in 1900 and was the first US museum to display African objects as works of art, in a 1923 exhibition. The Brooklyn Museum also initiated the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, an exhibition space and education center dedicated to showcasing feminist art, including Judy Chicago’s monumental installation The Dinner Party.

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Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened its doors in 1933, with lines to enter stretching down the street. Not only does the original building–featuring beautiful Beaux-Arts architecture—remain intact, but you’ll also find the striking Bloch Building which was compared to a Walmart and which museum officials even said looked like a 67-story skyscraper resting on its side (but at night, it does glow luminously!) Altogether, this sprawling museum is home to over 40,000 objects, including an impressive collection of Asian art and works dating back 4,000 years to ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. In the 22-acre Donald J. Hall Sculpture Garden, you’ll find Robert Morris’s Glass Labyrinth and four giant shuttlecocks helmed by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coojse van Bruggen—selfies are strongly encouraged. Oh, and did we mention the museum offers free admission?

The SMoCA is all about architecture, design and—of course—contemporary art. A permanent installation worth lingering in is James Turrell’s Knight Rise, one of only 14 skyspaces in the U.S. that is open to the public. Housed in a former movie theater and now a Minimalist built by architect Will Bruder, the museum’s four galleries follow the footprint of the movie screening areas with ample space for large-scale installations. There’s also an outdoor sculpture garden.

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Always showing thrilling and provocative art, this museum's permanent collection has four themed areas: Altered Landscape Photography, Art of the Greater West, Contemporary Art, and the (interestingly named) Work Ethic, which focuses on imagery of people...working. The museum dates to 1931 when it was run by a small group of landscape painters, and today’s impressive four-story building by architect Will Bruder harks to the love of landforms, as it is intended to evoke the geology of the Black Rock Desert. 

This institution is half art museum, half history museum, but the part that is focused on art is worthy of its own structure. The standout of the permanent collection is the work of J.C. Leyendecker, an early 21st-century illustrator popular for Saturday Evening Post covers and advertisements for Arrow Collar and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. There are also 12 paintings by early American artist Albert Bierstadt, including a Yosemite Valley landscape once on loan to the White House, as well as several works by painter Rosa Bonheur, given new fame by her mention in 'The Queen’s Gambit.' In the historical area, objects focus on Native American and early Gold Rush history, agriculture, shipbuilding and firefighting. Bonus haunted artifact? The blood-stained trunk of Emma LeDoux, who murdered her husband and stashed him in it.

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Half of this museum is an 1872 National Register mansion with grand foyers and staircases, filled with European art from the globetrotting and railroad-financing Crocker family, while the other half is a thoroughly-modern pavilion that doubles the gallery space and focuses on contemporary and antique art. A large Chihuly Golden Teal Chandelier graces the entry, while the museum has a close association with Wayne Thiebaud, who lived nearby and occasionally tinkered with paintings in situ until his 2021 death (fortunately, he had already visited the Crocker’s exhibition ‘Wayne Thiebaud: 100’ on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2020). The Crocker’s is also known for its stellar collection of work by Californians from the Gold Rush to today, one of the largest international ceramics collections in the U.S. and its collections of Asian, African and Oceanic art.

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