There is a plethora of amazing museums out there, but the best art museums in the world have become destinations in themselves. Being home to the vast majority of the world’s most valuable paintings, sculptures, and artifacts, art museums are a chest of knowledge, providing a unique chance to navigate through the history of creative expression throughout the ages.
Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a home of the Medici family holdings of Renaissance painting and sculpture, was the first European publicly owned museum. Yet, it wasn’t until 1765 that it was opened to the public. Thus, the British Museum that opened its doors in 1759 is officially regarded as the first museum, and Hermitage in St. Petersburg, opened in 1764, as the first specialist art museum. Today, there are more than 55,000 museums in 202 countries in the world. Since it is impossible to check them all out, we have compiled a list of the best art museums in the world that you should definitely put on your bucket list.
All twenty of them are respected leaders in their field of work, with an extraordinary and profound task of collecting, preserving and exhibiting the most important artworks created by the biggest names in the art world throughout time. One could easily get lost in each one of them for at least a day!
Featured images: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, via Most Beautiful Places in the World; The Louvre, via Wallpaper Abyss; Museu Inhotim, via Lufthansa magazin; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, via museem.
The Brandhorst Musem is a rather new but highly respectable German museum of contemporary art. It was opened in 2009 by the German state of Bavaria in order to house and showcase incredible contemporary art collection of Anette Brandhorst and her husband Udo Fritz-Hermann, heirs of Fritz Henkel, founder of the famous German chemical company. Brandhorst’s extraordinary collection, which was donated to the state after the death of Anette Brandhorst, includes a comprehensive selection of groundbreaking artworks created by artists such as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Alex Katz. The museum’s unique two-storey building, with its multi-colored facade composed of thousands ceramic louvres glazed in different colors, houses three separate exhibition areas which are connected by stairs.
Featured image: Courtesy of Brandhorst Museum.
Centre George Pompidou, Paris
The Centre George Pompidou has amazed and delighted visitors ever since it opened in 1977. Designed inside out, the architectural team ensured that the building itself was just as much of a conversation piece as the works inside. The dynamic and vibrant arts center organizes cutting-edge exhibitions, hands-on workshops, dance performances, cinemas and other entertainment venues. This ultra-contemporary artistic hub designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers displays France’s national collection of art dating from 1905 onward that is is housed on the 4th and 5th floor, as well as 100,000 international works by fauvists, cubists, surrealists, pop artists, contemporary artists and much more. South of the museum on place Igor Stravinsky, there are fanciful mechanical fountains of skeletons, hearts, treble clefs and a big pair of ruby-red lips, created by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle.
Featured image: Centre George Pompidou, via Brianna Sommer
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Designed by Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was hailed as the most important building of its time when it was opened in 1997. Gehry’s use of cutting-edge computer-aided design technology enabled him to translate poetic forms into reality. The resulting architecture is sculptural and expressionistic, with spaces unlike any others for the presentation of art. Located in Basque city of Bilbao in northern Spain, this spectacular structure made of titanium, glass, and limestone features exhibitions organized by the Guggenheim Foundation and by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, as well as selections from the permanent collection of the Guggenheim museums. As part of the permanent collection visitors can see an installation by Fuyiko Nakaya, Louise Bourgeois‘ sculpture Maman, Jeff Koons’ kitsch whimsy sculpture Puppy, among others.
Featured images: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, via Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is an internationally renowned art museum and one of the most significant architectural icons of the 20th century. Founded on a collection of early modern masterpieces, the Guggenheim Museum today is an ever-evolving institution devoted to the art of the 20th century and beyond. The museum has one of the largest collections of Wassily Kandinsky‘s paintings in the world and features many modern masters such as Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Robert Delaunay, Marc Chagall and Fernand Léger. Today, it shows much more contemporary art, and has even done encyclopedic exhibits of the traditional arts of China and Africa. An ongoing series of exhibitions draws on the permanent collection of more than 6,000 works as well as loans from other institutions.
Featured image: Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, via Guggenheim Museum
Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart (Museum for the Present) is a renowned contemporary art museum, part of the Berlin National Gallery, and the largest of six buildings housing its extensive holdings. It was opened in 1996 in a former railway station building, after Erich Marx, Berlin entrepreneur, donated his exceptional private collection of contemporary art to the city of Berlin. Since then Hamburger Bahnhof museum, considered as one of the world’s leading exhibition spaces for contemporary art, has been exhibiting modern and contemporary art through variety of temporary and permanent exhibitions, with works of great artists like Beuys, Kiefer, Rauschenberg, Haring and Warhol being on permanent display. Over the years the Hamburger Bahnhof expanded significantly, especially after Friedrich Christian Flick offered his comprehensive contemporary art collection, comprising of works by artists of the latter half of the twentieth century, as a long-term loan to the museum in 2004.
Featured images: Hamburger Bahnhof Installation View
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Located in the former Winter Palace of Russian Tsars, the Hermitage Museum is a palace marvel of Baroque architecture. The museum was founded in 1764 when Catherine the Great purchased a collection of 225 paintings from the Berlin. Today, it boasts over 2.7 million exhibitions and displays a diverse range of art and artifacts from all over the world. Among pieces spanning from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century, the collection includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, a unique collection of Rembrandts and Rubens, many French Impressionist works by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and several sculptures by Rodin. The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each artwork on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all.
Featured images: The Large Italian Skylight Room. Courtesy of Hermitage.
The Louvre, Paris
Located in a former royal palace on the Right Bank of the Seine in Paris, The Louvre is certainly the world’s largest and most famous museum and a historic monument and landmark of the city. Housing one of the most impressive art collections in history, it is a must-visit for anyone with a slight interest in art. The collection was first established in the 16th century as the private collection of the King Francis I. Among the first works he ever purchased was Michelangelo’s famous Mona Lisa. After the French Revolution in 1793, the museum became a national art museum and the collection was opened to the public. It now holds over one million works of art, of which about 35,000 are on display. This impressive and diverse collection spans from the Antiquity to the mid-nineteenth century.
Featured images: The Louvre Pyramid, via ArchDaily
Moderna Museet Stockholm
Moderna Museet (or the Museum of Modern Art) Stockholm is a state funded contemporary art museum located on the island of Skeppsholmen, a setting of natural beauty in central Stockholm. Opened in a former drill hall in 1958 and later moved to its new building, the museum collects and exhibits all forms of contemporary art. Moderna Museet houses one of the world’s finest collections of Swedish and international modern and contemporary artworks, from the early twentieth century to today, including pieces by Dali, Picasso, Rauchenberg, Duchamp and Matisse. The museum’s first-class collection comprises of over five thousand paintings, sculptures and installations, some 25,000 drawings, prints and watercolors, and almost 100,000 photographs dating back to 1840. In addition to permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, Moderna Museet Stockholm also organizes various learning activities and children workshops relating to contemporary art. In 2009, Moderna Museet expanded to a new branch in the city of Malmö.
Featured image: Moderna Museet Installation View
MOCA Los Angeles
Founded in 1979, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, or MOCA, is a widely praised, ground-breaking museum with one the most renowned permanent collections, which is steadily growing and today consists of almost seven thousand pieces of primarily American and European contemporary artworks. From its opening MOCA has been extremely committed to collection, preservation and presentation of all-media artworks dating back to 1940, and its work, especially its inventive programming based on multi-disciplinary approach, has been so influential that it defined museums of contemporary art we know today. The museum is housed in three separate and unique facilities in greater Los Angeles, with its main branch located on Grand Avenue, the Geffen Contemporary in the Little Tokyo and MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.
Featured image: MOCA Los Angeles Installation View
Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, or simply MACRO) is a renowned municipal museum active since 1999. The museum is situated in two separate venues, the first in a former slaughter house in Testaccio, and the second, larger one in a former brewery in Salario district. The MACRO’s permanent collection includes an overwhelming selection of some of the most significant artists of the Italian art scene since the 1960s, with a respectable addition of artworks created by influential international artists. The collection is so elaborate that its sheer size prompted the expansion to the second venue in 2010. With its cutting edge modern interior design and highly innovative approach to representation of contemporary artworks, MACRO is an extremely active museum of rather daring kind, rarely seen anywhere else in the world.
Featured image: MACRO Installation View
Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai
The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai was founded in 2005 as the non-profit, independent contemporary art institution focused on the promotion of domestic and international contemporary artists. The museum organizes diverse exhibitions that include both established and emerging contemporary Chinese artists, as well as retrospective exhibitions of the world’s leading artists and designers. MOCA Shanghai’s exhibiton space of 1,800 square meters is situated on the ground floor and first level of the museum which are connected by a sweeping steel ramp. ‘MOCA on the Park’ is a restaurant situated on the museum’s third floor, used for opening ceremonies and private events and populated by various artworks created by renowned contemporary artists. In addition to exhibitions, MOCA Shanghai successfully organizes various seminars, talks, and educational programs throughout the year, for both adults and children.
Featured image: MOCA Shanghai Installation View
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Opened in 1995 and situated in Metropolitan Kiba Park, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), is dedicated to systematic research, collection, preservation and showcasing of post-WWII artists and designers from Japan and abroad. The museum holds almost five thousand pieces created by renowned contemporary artists, exhibited on rotation in its permanent collection gallery which occupies museum’s two floors, while three more floors of gallery space are used for temporary exhibitions. MOT’s building, made of stone, steel and wood, and featuring highlights such as V-shaped structural support, water and stone promenade and beautiful sunken garden, is a work of art in its own right. Many of the exhibitions utilize MOT’s extremely high ceilings and the opportunity to show large-scale works, while the Atrium, which is part of the collection exhibition space, is used to showcase spectacular installations which are displayed over the course of one year.
Featured image: MOT Installation View
Museu Inhotim, Brumadinho
Located in Brumadinho in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Inhotim Museum is a home to one of the most important contemporary art collections in Brazil. Conceived in the mid-1980s by the businessman Bernardo de Mello Paz, this parcel of private land in the middle of the jungle was transformed into a unique place that blends art and nature. This incredible art-studded wonderland of tropical vegetation provides the perfect setting and working conditions for high-carat artists from all over the world. It holds work by both famous Brazilian artists, such as Cildo Meireles or Miguel Rio Branco, and international ones including Chris Burden, Matthew Barney, Paul McCarthy or Olafur Eliasson. Apart from the extensive contemporary art collection, the museum has a remarkable botanical collection containing rare species from every continent.
Featured image: Museu Inhotim, via inhotim.org
The Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid
Located in a remodeled 18th-century hospital in Madrid, The Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) was founded in 1992. Many of its artworks were initially transferred from the nearby Prado, and it’s now a treasure-house of contemporary and modern art. Two of the floors are devoted to temporary exhibits, while the other two are for the permanent collection which also covers Abstract, Pop, and Minimal Art movements. It holds some of the most important pieces of Spanish and international modern and contemporary art such as Picasso’s Guernica and Woman in Blue, Miró‘s enigmatic Portrait I, Dali‘s Landscapes at Cadaqués, Solana’s The Gathering at the Café del Pombo, Bacon‘s Reclining Figure, and a serene sculpture by Henry Moore. Additionally, the museum has a library specializing in the 20th century with over 10,000 volumes and approximately 1,000 periodicals.
Featured images: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, via theculturetrip.com
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Colloquially called The Met, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been collecting and exhibiting work by living artists since its founding in 1870. Today, it holds over two million works from every category of art in every known medium from every part of the world during every epoch of recorded time is represented here and thus available for contemplation or study — not in isolation but in comparison with other times, other cultures, and other media. Some of their curatorial departments are Ancient Near Eastern Art, Arms and Armor, Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, The Costume Institute, European Paintings and Modern and Contemporary Art and many more. Located in three iconic sites in New York City—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters, the museum also provides a comprehensive art history experience online.
Featured image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Betty Woodman Installation view, via David Kordansky Gallery
MoMA, New York
New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, located in Midtown Manhattan and established in 1929, is widely considered as the world’s most influential modern and contemporary art museum, crucially important in developing and collecting modernist artworks, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, books, films, architecture and design. The idea for the creation of MoMA was put to motion by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, daughter in law of John D. Rockefeller and Anson Conger Goodyear, American businessman and philanthropist. MoMA’s holdings of more than 150,000 pieces of art and approximately 22,000 films is probably the best and most comprehensive collection of modern Western masterpieces in the world. It includes some of the most legendary artworks created by a wide range of highly influential European and American artists such as Bacon, Dali, Cezanne, Ernst, Gauguin, Kahlo, Lichtenstein, Picasso, van Gogh, Warhol, Mondrian, Monet and Pollock.
Featured image: MoMA Inside View
Palais de Tokyo, Paris
Palais de Tokyo (Site de création contemporaine) is a Paris-based museum of contemporary art situated in the western wing of the building of the same name which it shares with the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, located in the building’s eastern wing. Since its opening in 2002 Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum grew to become the meeting place for contemporary art lovers in Paris and one of the largest venues devoted to the art of our time in Europe, with its 22,000 square meters and three different levels of exhibition space, including its cavernous underground level. It is a truly vibrant place deeply committed to urban and graffiti art, that allows its audience to see cutting edge artworks in an up-to-the-minute, complex-free way.
Featured image: Palais de Tokyo Installation View
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Founded in 1935, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first museum on the West Coast dedicated to modern and contemporary art. With a goal to embrace the challenging and unexpected and encourage fresh ways of seeing, it showcases the most innovative art of its time. It collects and exhibits pieces by both modern masters and emerging talents. Presenting eight exhibitions each year in its main gallery, the program consists of solo, group and thematic shows, and represents a diverse range of art practices. Reflecting the Bay Area’s tradition of technological innovation and forward thinking, the museum was one of the first American art venues to recognize photography and film as art forms, and it championed architecture, design, and media arts before they were focuses of museum collecting.
Featured image: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, via San Francisco Chronicle
Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington
Located beside the National Mall in Washington DC, Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was initially founded in the 1960s with the permanent art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, it holds important pieces of modern and contemporary art. Designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft as an open cylinder elevated on four massive legs, the building itself is quite impressive. It is focused on exhibiting work from the post-World War II period, putting a special focus on art made during the last 50 years. Its collection includes Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Rothko and Bacon, and the sculpture garden features pieces by Rodin, Calder and Koons, among others.
Featured images: Installation view of Thom Browne Selects at the Smithsonian, via Arts Summary
Tate Modern, London
Tate Modern is a Britain’s national museum of modern art, and one of the most visited modern and contemporary art galleries in the world. Founded in 2000 as a new and fourth branch in the Tate group of art museums, and located in the former Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the river Thames in London, Tate Modern holds the national collection of British art from 1900 until today, with an respectable collection of international modern and contemporary art. This rather comprehensive collection includes such treasures as Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Judd and Beuys. The building still resembles the twentieth-century factory, both outside and inside, with five of its levels used as gallery space. The main collection is displayed in four wings, each with a different theme or subject.
Featured image: Tate Modern Installation View. All images used for illustrative purposes.
Edited by Elena Martinique.