Favorite Museums

I mentioned earlier that the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum are doing a joint exhibit of works from the Albright-Knox Gallery (DAM) and a reimagining of Clyfford Still’s 1959 show at the Gallery (CSM). I’m excited about these exhibits: Modern art is one of my favorite periods (along with Spanish Baroque) and I feel many people have a misunderstanding of the process and method behind modern painting. These exhibits are accessible to the entire spectrum of art inquirer to enthusiast, and I hope you’ll take advantage of this incredible collection if you live in the area.

Intersection of Clyfford Still & Denver Art Museums
Intersection of Clyfford Still & Denver Art Museums

When Frank and I were dating and sharing travel stories, I was shocked that he went to Europe, to Rome and Paris and London, and had not gone to any museums. How on earth could he experience the culture without seeing the art?! He pointed out that I may overestimate the number of travelers who seek out museums in new cities.

As an Art History student in Paris, we would spend our lectures in museums. I went to the Louvre and the Orsay on a weekly basis. We would visit the Picasso Museum and the Rodin as a class. Once a semester, each class would go on a study trip to another city to look at the collections and museums there. I experienced London, Rome, Bruges, Ghent, Munich, Basel, all through the eyes of my professors and the time period we were exploring. While I certainly haven’t been to most museums (Art Institute of Chicago…), I thought I would share my Top 5 favorites (so far!) in no particular order:

1. Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA
Frank and I first went to the Barnes when it was still located in Marion, outside of Philadelphia. The original house still functions for classrooms and gardens, but the art collection has moved into the city. I’m so glad our first experience was at Dr. Barnes’ house. The intention behind each placement and attention to detail is incredible. Because everything from the Manet to the molding is carefully thought through, I would highly recommend getting the audio-guide. After much controversy, the Barnes was moved into the city, just a couple blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was skeptical of the recreation and we put off visiting the new space. We decided to go last Christmas, and I was amazed: The museum looks exactly like the house but better suited for more visitors and much more accessible. If I could only visit one museum again, I think it would be the Barnes. The diversity of the collection and the attention to education make each visit dynamic and the collection itself is incredibly accessible to the most novice of art lovers.

2. Foundation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland
I first went to the Beyeler in college as part of a modern art class. We spent the weekend in Munich and Basel, studying the work of pre-World War II artists. I loved the Beyeler in the same way I do the Barnes and the Getty: It’s always interesting to see the types of pieces an individual will collect and equally interesting to see how the collection is presented to the public. My favorite pieces in the Beyeler were the Rothko paintings and the Giacometti sculptures. I remember sitting on a bench, surrounded by the deep colors of Mark Rothko and feeling at peace.

3. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY
I think I’ve been to the MoMA every time I’ve visited New York. It’s an amazing collection and easy to navigate. They also have a whole (small) room of Italian Futurists, one of my favorite movements. I love Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, and it’s always fun to spend some time with it. My last visit was especially memorable, as it was the day Frank proposed. I had wanted to see their special exhibit of Van Gogh’s night scenes. It was the first time I had traveled to a city specifically for an exhibition. Frank suggested I fly into Philadelphia and we drive up to the city together. The Van Gogh exhibit was amazing – such a unique way to look at many of his famous paintings (Starry Night, The Potato Eaters) next to lesser-known works to create a story. Frank intended on proposing at the exhibit, but it was so crowded, he switched plans to Central Park. I look forward to when Bea is old enough to visit.

4. Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy
I was first introduced to this gallery on a visit to Rome with a class about collecting called Princes and Patrons. We visited various personal collections around Rome and learned about the importance of the taste of collectors to the history of art. I went back by myself on a spring break trip to Italy and loved it even more. Bernini is one of my favorite sculptors, and this gallery is worth visiting just to see his David and Apollo and Daphne. Another private collection, the paintings and sculpture are diverse and span the centuries. The surrounding park is equally amazing and worth a picnic lunch, if you’re ever in Rome.

The park at the Villa Borghese
The park at the Villa Borghese

5. Musée Rodin, Paris, France
Located about a five minute walk from my college, I used to take my books and a lunch and study in the gardens. I love house museums, as you get such a feel for the artist beyond the works he produced. This one is crammed with sculpture and sketches and is so amazing to think of Rodin creating molds and casts in the middle of Paris. The gardens are perhaps my favorite, just to wander around. I would sit under a tree by the Gates of Hell, reading about the very artist who created it. Some days, when living in a city seemed overwhelming, I would bring a novel, journal, and sit in the peace of the garden.

As I began thinking about this list, I realized I have so many “favorite” museums for a variety of reasons. I decided to stick with 5, so as not to overwhelm, but had to include these Close Runners-Up: Tate Modern in London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Musée Picasso in Paris, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.

Do you visit museums when you travel? What are some must-see museums you’ve been to?

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2 thoughts on “Favorite Museums

  1. Annie!!! I’m a museum traveler too. I MUST go to a museum or gallery anytime I travel. I haven’t been to ANY of these you mentioned (which means I have to travel to these places now.) Here are my faves:

    1.) Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid Spain… the Goya paintings were amazing
    2.) Van Gogh Musuem, Amsterdam – Such a lovely experience. So much info about VG and his life and so many amazing paintings of his
    3.) National Gallery, London … I spent an entire morning staring at Rembrandts – They are breathtaking.
    4.) The Getty Center, Los Angeles … I went here on my honeymoon, so my experience may be happily skewed, but I just remember it being a really cool place
    5.) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – although this was a simple museum, I had a “Rothko” experience here. The blue and orange Rothko that is at this museum is worth visiting San Francisco for

    I dream of going to The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to see The Return of the Prodigal Son. But I don’t know that I can justify a trip to Russia to see one painting. But it might be worth it!!

    1. Love the National Gallery! And, I have been to the Hermitage – my first big museum experience! Amazing!

      Aren’t Rothko experiences incredible? I’d love to go to his chapel in Houston.

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