~ / Dan Schlosser / lists /
Museums

Published on August 24, 2019.

One of my favorite things to do, both at home and while traveling, is visiting museums. As a kid, I hated them, because I always felt pressured to learn and understand the story behind everything I saw. In fact, I sort of thought that was the point. Over the years, I've found a new joy in just walking through museums (especially art museums) aimlessly. And I love it! This is a running collection of my favorites, roughly ranked:

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Hobart, Tasmania (Map)

I quickly fell in love with MONA for its architecture. Built mostly underground into the side of a hill, the building is at once unremarkable from the outside and stunning on the inside. Even more impressive was the exhibition and curation. My favorite pieces were several by James Turell, an American MacArthur Genius Grant-winning artist that works mostly with light and space.

The Louvre

Paris, France (Map)

I mean, it's the freaking Louvre. I have spent entire days wandering the halls of the Louvre and still left feeling like I had only seen a fraction of the museum. While there are many other reasons to travel to Paris, the Louvre alone is reason enough. I especially love the west wing, where five massive rooms are filled entirely with sculpture.

D. T. Suzuki Museum

Kanazawa, Japan (Map)

The D. T. Suzuki museum is more experience than museum. While there is a small exhibition space that offers a historical look into this Japanese Zen philosopher, what pulls me back to Kanazawa to return here is the large outdoor contemplative space. Several times larger than the exhibition space indoors, this outdoor pool and walking area is intended for contemplation of Suzuki's writing and work.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Tel Aviv, Israel (Map)

Visiting Tel Aviv, I did not expect to be as impressed with the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as I was. Not only does the museum feature a striking exterior and a mind-bending interior design, it also featured compelling contemporary and modern art. The collection, while smaller, was impressive to me and made for a fantastic visit.

Musée d'Orsay

Paris, France (Map)

Just meters from the Louvre Museum, the Musée d'Orsay is a far less overwhelming yet still quite impressive collection of impressionist painting, sculpture, and more. Plus, the view of the Seine from the top floor is excellent.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY (Map)

The only museum in my mind that can try to rival the Louvre is the Met. Having spent time living in the Upper East and Upper West Sides of New York City, getting to casually pop into the Met on an afternoon or evening is a privilege. Newcomers will flock to the Greek and Roman collection or to the preserved and recreated Egyptian tomb, but even after several visits I'm still finding new corners of the American Wing or enjoying temporary exhibitions.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Kanazawa, Japan (Map)

While the D. T. Suzuki Museum wins "best in Kanazawa, Japan" for me, I remain quite impressed with the collection of contemporary art in the 21st century museum. I still think about one exhibit that still has me theorizing how it was created. While that exhibit did not allow photography, this underwater pool exhibit did. See how they did it?

Dia:Beacon

Beacon, NY (Map)

New York City has no shortage of fantastic museums to explore within its limits. But just a few miles north of the Bronx sits Beacon, New York, home of Dia:Beacon, an art museum on the banks of the Hudson River that houses a massive permanent collection of massive artworks, as well as a few special exhibitions. The museum occupies a Former Nabisco box-printing factory, which means awesome high ceilings, beautiful lighting, and even a creepy basement.

MoMA PS1

New York, NY (Map)

While most New York tourists and locals alike have been to the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street, far fewer have made it across the East River to MoMA PS1, a branch of the museum situated in a former Long Island City elementary school. While I've thoroughly enjoyed the rotating set of exhibitions (the permanent collection is quite small), their summer Warm Up concert series is a big draw.

MoMA

New York, NY (Map)

The New York MoMA was the first modern art museum I visited as a conscious adult. While I firmly believe the MoMA is a must-visit for tourists and first-timers, I've been occasionally less lucky with some temporary exhibitions, but most of the time MoMA nails it. With exhibitions like their Charles White retrospective and the curious handcrafted cityscapes of Bodys Isek Kingelez, MoMA has a lot to offer.

The Tate Modern

London, United Kingdom (Map)

When I think of the Tate Modern, it's hard not to jump straight to the fantastic view of London that you can get from the observation deck. But aside from the stunning view, the Tate Modern has also impressed me with striking installations and exhibits. I'm looking forward to returning to London with enough time to give this museum a proper visit; in the past I've only had the opportunity to visit one or two floors.

Whitney Museum of American Art

New York, NY (Map)

New York's newest major art museum is also one of my favorites. I first heard about the Whitney when the New York Times did its interactive profile on the building shortly before it opened. And when I first visited the museum, situated at the southern terminal of the High Line, I was impressed. Not with the art per se, as much as the building, the placement in the far West Village, and the experience of walking between its many balconies. Since then, I've enjoyed a few of the Whitney's exhibitions across of a few visits. It's not the place I'd spend an entire afternoon in, but it's definitely fun to visit, especially with first-timers or friends.

Storm King Art Center

New Windsor, NY (Map)

This outdoor sculpture complex definitely stands out on this list as one of the stranger museums. Located just a twenty-minute drive away from Dia:Beacon, this outdoor space is designed to be walked, biked, and explored in any order you so choose. Storm King is home to many massive sculptures that wouldn't fit in any other museum or space, and for that reason alone it's worth a visit. Especially on a day with good weather, Storm King is an outdoor afternoon worth experiencing.

Acropolis Museum

Athens, Greece (Map)

It's hard to weigh the experience of visiting the Acropolis Museum alone. When visiting Athens, there isn't a single tourist that doesn't make it to the Parthenon, the ancient ruin on a hill located in the center of the city. However, many don't talk about the museum at the foot of that hill dedicated to the history and art of the Parthenon and Acropolis. Contemporary architecture and ancient artifacts are a great combination, and a coffee on the balcony is a great way to top it off. The main attraction, however, is the Parthenon gallery on the third floor, where you can see a full recreation of the Parthenon's frieze (sculpted walls) that combines real artifacts with replicas.

Sydney, Australia (Map)

Located in downtown Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has a great set of free exhibitions as well as some paid ones. The highlight for me was definitely the large collection of Australian artists, although I also enjoyed CHINESE BIBLE, an exhibition about revolution and art in China.

The Vatican Museum

Athens, Greece (Map)

If you visit the Vatican, you'll most likely end up spending time in the Vatican museum, a large collection of European, Asian, and African art collected (stolen?) by the church over the years. The collection is damn impressive, although the presentation is quite overwhelming. Visitors pack the hallways, making the museum feel more like one long line than something to be taken at your own pace.

The Frick Collection

New York, NY (Map)

For me, the Frick is very hit or miss. I absolutely love the building and grounds, especially during member events when it's less crowded. I also really enjoy the curators and staff; every tour I've gone on has been very personalized and engaging. Much of the Frick collection is made up of fantastic pieces that you can't find elsewhere, but there are also those that don't do much for me. I tend to camp out on the museum listserv and watch out for interesting events or talks.

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

New York, NY (Map)

While I love so much about the Cooper Hewitt, I sometimes feel like there's a bit of a generational divide when I visit. When I think of design, I think of the kinds of problem solving that has made its way into everything in our lives: architecture, technology, kitchen appliances, door handles, clothes, tools, and more. In many ways, it's the 99% Invisible definition of design. While Cooper Hewitt understands this definition on paper, I often get the sense that the curators still hold the 1960s / 1970s sense of the definition. I often find fantastic textile design pieces or interesting architectural models, but I rarely find the connection to my everyday life. I'm not asking for more touchscreens or video projectors (Cooper Hewitt has those), just a more modern approach. That said, for what it is, Cooper Hewitt really hits with some fantastic exhibitions that are hard to find elsewhere.

The Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo, Japan (Map)

The Tokyo National Museum is definitely impressive. It has an excellent collection of Japanese historical pieces, from screen paintings to samurai armor and weapons. On my first visit, I hung onto every detail. Status, pottery, and numerous artifacts fill two stories of this sizable building. I especially enjoy the architecture of the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, which stands in front of an ultra-reflective pool. Repeat visits have been less exciting, as the collection does not change frequently, but it's absolutely worth a visit for first-timers in Tokyo.

The Australian Museum

Sydney, Australia (Map)

My first impression of the Australian Museum was not entirely positive. It has a bit of natural history blended with earth science, and felt like it was primarily targeted at kids. While I wasn't thrilled by the permanent collection, I thoroughly enjoyed an exhibition of Australian photography contest winners.

The British Museum

London, United Kingdom (Map)

The British Museum may be one of the most impressive museums in the world, but I haven't had quite enough time to explore and enjoy it. On my first and only visit, I saw the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian wing, and a visiting exhibition about prescription drug use, but overall did not leave impressed. I think a redo is in order.

SF MoMA

San Francisco, CA (Map)

If you're in San Francisco, the SF MoMA is certainly worth visiting. In my opinion, it's the best art museum in the city. That said, no piece in the collection makes the museum unmissable. I enjoyed my first afternoon there, and have been less inspired on return visits. The outdoor terraces are a welcome counterbalance to the gallery spaces, and the more memorable parts of the museum.