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My Ten Favorite Art Museums In The United States

Updated on September 6, 2012

American Gothic

American Gothic, one of America's most iconic paintings, can be found (sometimes) at the Art Institute of Chicago
American Gothic, one of America's most iconic paintings, can be found (sometimes) at the Art Institute of Chicago | Source


First of all this list is by no means inclusive, as I have not visited every major museum in the country, nor do I intend to. Rather the list is compiled from various places I have lived and visited. In some form or shape that includes the lower 48, but not Alaska and Hawaii. In the U.S., almost every major city has a large art museum, worth visiting. Therefore, I have mentioned just a few of these wonderful institutions, so I could also include a few noteworthy places from off the beaten track. Also note that this review is random, so there is no hierarchy or opinion as to which museum is the best. That my friends depends on your taste in art, among other things.

Portland Museum of Art

I have to start somewhere, so it might as well be in the northeast corner of the country and a state called Maine, which for years has been a prime summer destination for many visual artists. Very important in the artistic history of this state is the dynasty of Wyeths, which includes grandfather, father and son (N.C., Andrew and Jamie). Today, only Jamie is alive, but he owns his own lighthouse and island near Tenants Harbor. Who could ask for a better studio than that.

Portland is my hometown and has been for the most of the last 20 years. So I will start here with the Portland Museum of Art, where a good introduction to the Wyeth's can be had, along with anyone else of any importance in the art history of Maine. Be sure to check out Rockwell Kent's, The Wreck of the Sheridan, one of my favorite American paintings.

Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Located just down the coast from Portland is the small seaside community and tourist destination of Ogunquit. Here stands the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, just a few yards from the rocky shores of the famed Maine coast. Along with the fabulous location, visitors will find a very intriguing collection of American artists that includes Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Wolf Kahn, Charles Burchfield and Rockwell Kent. Definitely worth the trip.

George's Shack

The George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.
The George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. | Source

Eastman Kodak House of Photography

Every city in upstate NY has at least one first-rate museum. Since I can't list them all, I will have to go with my favorite the Eastman Kodak House and International Museum of Photography in Rochester. This museum was once the home of George Eastman the film pioneer and founder of America's primary film manufacturer. Not only does this stately building hold an extensive and first-rate photograph collection, but also its display of cameras and related paraphernalia is captivating as well as fascinating. Visitors should plan on spending the better part of a day here.


Portrait of Isabella Gardener by John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Isabella Gardener by John Singer Sargent | Source

Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardener was quite the unusual art patron. Young, vivacious, attractive and incredibly rich with her father's inheritance, she set out to bring the Old Masters to Boston. Eventually she created the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. Despite an embarrassing and costly art heist in 1990 that has never been solved, this museum shows a thorough collection of classical European art covering many countries and different periods. Come here to view a fascinating Venetian Revival Building and an extensive collection, noted for its paintings by Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Botticelli, Sargent, Whistler and Fra Angelico.

Santa Fe Southern RR

The opening of the railroad hastened the arrival of artists in New Mexico.
The opening of the railroad hastened the arrival of artists in New Mexico. | Source

New Mexico Museum of Art

Today, Santa Fe is a very artsy town. Of particular interest are the numerous of art galleries clustered along Canyon Rd. Art museums abound in this mountain town, including the newly-opened Georgia O'Keefe Museum. I still enjoy visiting the western-styled New Mexico Museum of Art, located right on the main square in town. Come here to see works by artists who made this town famous as an artist's destination. There are even a few Georgia O'keefe paintings here.

The Menil Collection

Oil-rich Houston is home to many impressive art venues, including several specializing in visual art. My favorite is the recent newcomer, the Menil Collection. Come here if you like the Surrealists, especially the works of Rene Magritte. This place is good for European art between the wars and American art after WWII. Best of all admission is free.


Boston has many interesting buildings, some of which house art collections. This particular building is the Christian Science Center.
Boston has many interesting buildings, some of which house art collections. This particular building is the Christian Science Center. | Source

The Fogg Museum

The Fogg Museum and its in-house companion the Busch-Reisinger Museum are standing testimony to what a well-endowed university can produce in the way of a visual art experience. Housed under the same roof on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, MA, these two art institutions provide a wide window to late 19th and early 20th century European modern art. The Fogg also has an outstanding collection of older European and American works. Come here to see the German Modernists and French Post-Impressionists....but not before the latter part of 2013, for both places are being renovated.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Even though I haven't seen the new version of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I enjoyed the collection in the old building enough to include it with the other art spaces. I still prefer this institution to its NYC cousin, based primarily on its inclusion of West Coast and Latin American art. Being in the "City by the Bay" is a big plus here.

Cranes at the WTC Site
Cranes at the WTC Site | Source

Whitney Museum

New York is still the American art capitol and so it is filled with many fine art institutions. The Metropolitan is a must see for anyone who likes the older art periods, but for those who prefer American art in the 20th and 21st century the Whitney is the place to be. This square Manhattan building has many floors where viewers can see its fine collection and excellent selection of rotating shows.

Art Institute of Chicago

Perhaps I am saving the best for last, but no matter how you look at it, this downtown loop museum holds one of the country's most revered art collection. Besides Woods's American Gothic, you'll find Seurat's Grande Jatte and scores of other great paintings and sculptures. Don't skip the Art Institute, if you are visiting Chicago.

Where I Would Like To Go

There's so much I haven't seen that putting together this list seems a little futile. Almost nothing is mentioned in Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., so here is a quick survey of where I would like to go, but never been. The Hirshhorn (part of the Smithsonian) and National Museum of the American Indian in the nation's capitol are a definite important exclusion. So are the J. Paul Getty Museum, the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art and the L.A. County Museum in Los Angeles. In Fort Worth, I would definitely visit the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and in Florida, the Ringling Museum of Art would be my first stop. Finally there is the big city stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a mountain retreat to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. I'm sure there are many other worthwhile places to visit, but this will have to do for now.

Painting by Marsden Hartley.
Painting by Marsden Hartley. | Source


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