By Elizabeth Valerio
Art is global and viewing the right collection can offer a unique view of a culture or destination. But with so many forms and artists to sample, how do you go about choosing the galleries to browse and the ones to skip?
Laura Kidder, the editorial director at Fodor’s Travel, said that in order to pick the museums that you will like most, you must first define what art means to you. “You need to find what kind of art or which artist really interests you because that’s really what’s going to make your art experience worthwhile,” she said. “Art isn’t just painting and sculpture, art can also be something that is part of a place – furniture, décor, or the building itself.”
The Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Los Angeles (neonmona.org) seems relevant in this category. The gallery collects old neon signs from Las Vegas and from other U.S. locations and displays them. “This isn’t just art,” explains Kidder, “this is also pop culture and tourists are really into that.”
Another that’s off the beaten path is the Petersen Museum
(petersen.org), which showcases automobiles from all different periods. “Someone would see that and say, ‘Well, this isn’t really art,’ but I would undeniably argue otherwise, these are works of design.”
On a larger scale, some tourists may find the Louvre (louvre.fr) appealing, being one of the largest and most visited museums in the world. The Louvre houses Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “Madonna of the Rocks.” The Louvre fits into what Fodors calls the “biggies.”
“The biggies — The Louvre, the Uffizi galleries in Florence (uffizi.firenze.it), the Vatican in Rome (vatican.va), the National Gallery in D.C. (nga.gov), the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern in London (tate.org.uk), Museo Prado in Madrid (museoprado.mcu.es), the Guggenheim in Bilbao (guggenheim.org), and these are all great,” said Kidder. “But people feel like they have to do them, and that can be overwhelming.”
As an alternative to larger museums, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is a more manageable stop than the Louvre, with much of the same categories of art, while the Borghese Gallery in Rome (galleriaborghese.it) offers a shorter glimpse of Renaissance painting, drawing and sculpture — what you would experience at the Vatican galleries. Some of Raphael’s work and Bernini’s “Portrait of a Man” hang in the Borghese.
Some tourists however, may have a clearer idea of what they like, and may not want to brave long lines and crowded rooms at these massive museums, which often hold a wide variety of art. Private galleries may be more their speed as they usually focus on a particular artist or art form.
According to Kidder, there are many private art collections open to the public. These smaller collections are popular in Europe and many resemble Manhattan’s own Frick Collection (frick.org) on the Upper East Side – a timeless, small collection always in the shadow of the nearby Met (metmuseum.org) and Guggenheim (guggenheim.org).
The Duke of Wellington’s house in London is one example of one of these galleries. “Here, you have hundreds of years of well-to-do royalty who collected art and now, their home is open to the public,” said Kidder. “So you get to see world-class, beautiful art as well as a beautiful residence, a piece of artwork in itself.” The home is now a gallery, Apsley House (english-heritage.org.uk), and houses painting and sculpture. Much of the furniture and décor is still in place from its original use.
One artist’s gallery worth noting is the Helmut Newton Gallery (smb.spk-berlin.de) in Berlin. Newton was a well-known glamour photographer throughout the later part of the 20th century. Though he did a great deal of work for Vanity Fair and throughout the U.S., he was from Berlin, and now, the city has a museum dedicated to him and his work. “He was very outrageous, he took a lot of risks,” said Kidder. “I wouldn’t miss it if I was in Berlin.”
No matter where you travel, there’s sure to be a museum worth your while. The key is identifying what you like to browse and locating the galleries that have it.
By Elizabeth Valerio