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No matter your artistic preferences, or geographic coordinates, there are a handful of contemporary museums that everyone should visit in their lifetime. Whether you’re travelling across the globe or simply looking for weekend plans, chances are there’s a nearby museum ready to take your breath away. But by the same token, narrowing down the seemingly endless options can be an equally challenging affair.
From New York to Qatar, and everything in between, read below a list of our picks for the top 10 most exciting contemporary museums from around the world.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
There are many great contemporary museum buildings around the world that are themselves as iconic as the artworks within their walls. But there is only a handful where the architecture is more celebrated than any piece in its collection, and the Guggenheim, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is surely at the top of this list. So go for the illustrious Frank Lloyd Wright–designed spiral, then stay for the rotating exhibitions of exquisite modern works from artists the world over.
Musée Picasso, Paris
With over 5,000 works of art and thousands of more archived pieces—many of which were donated by Picasso‘s family following his death—the contemporary museum includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, prints, and notebooks from when Picasso was just a teenager, all the way into his old age. If you can feel overwhelmed by a museum with thousands of artists’ works, the Musée Picasso allows you to deeply explore the work of one of the art world’s most renowned figures.
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York
This contemporary museum was established in 1870 and has an impressive range of art, sculptures, and paintings across a diverse group of cultures, from Islamic to African. To date, it showcases 5,000 years of art and is the largest art museum in the United States. There’s also a rooftop garden bar that’s open seasonally—it’s a lovely spot to end your day.
Louvre Museum, Paris
The Louvre may be known for the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory, but you may not know that it was once a royal residence. Off the beaten path in the Richelieu Wing, you’ll find the swanky former chambers of Napoleon III. From gilded crystal chandeliers and marble fireplaces to frescoed ceilings and Baroque panel moulding, these over-the-top rooms are our favourite to explore.
Qatar National Museum, Doha
The new Jean Nouvel designed the Qatar National Museum in Doha, Qatar was over a decade in the making. No wonder: the elaborate structure, which resembles a “desert rose” (not a flower, actually, but a mineral structure found in the desert) is composed of 250,000 different steel elements bolted together in curving sections and covered in glass fibre-reinforced concrete. The exhibitions inside this contemporary museum, which tell the story of Qatar through dynamic films projected on the undulated walls, are just as impressive.
The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is the kind of unpretentious, joyful contemporary museum that you can casually meander through all day, whether you’re a design lover or someone who enjoys it much more casually. It’s the Netherlands’ most famous modern art museum—with over 90,000 pieces of art—that has a focus on Bauhaus, Pop Art, and Neo-Impressionism. Plus, it’s right around the corner from the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, if you’re trying to get your museum fix all at once.
The Neue Galerie, New York
The Neue Galerie is New York’s answer to the Musee Nissim de Camondo, Rodin, or Picasso in Paris—a true contemporary museum (brilliantly restored by Ronald S. Lauder with the architect Annabelle Selldorf)—that boasts one of the country’s best-known masterpieces: Adele-Bloch Bauer, by Gustav Klimt.
The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is truly a spectacular display of art. The permanent collection—all impressionist and post-impressionist pieces originally collected by Albert Barnes for his private home—includes the world’s largest collection of Renoir (nearly 200 of them) and Cézanne, with literally every wall covered in masterpieces by artists like Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, and Matisse (Matisse even custom-painted a huge mural in Barnes’s home, which is also on display.) There’s such a visual glut of riches that walking through can be a little overwhelming, but the eye-overload is more than worth it to see such an unparalleled collection.
Fondazione Prada, Milan
A ‘haunted house‘ clad in 24-karat gold leaf. A cluster of old factory buildings and warehouses renovated by starchitect Rem Koolhaas. There are multiple reasons to head to Milan’s Porta Romana district to visit Prada’s contemporary museum, but the best reason of all is the spectacular arts programming, with temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection that ranges from Jeff Koon’s candy-coloured metallic Tulips to Carsten Höller’s Upside Down Mushroom Room.
The British Museum, London
The British Museum houses a vast collection of world art and artefacts and is free to all visitors. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It was the first public national museum in the world.
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