The Hermitage, Louvre, and Orsay: 1997.
The Metropolitan (NYC): 2003.
The Prado* and the Getty: 2004.
The Art Institute of Chicago: 2006.
The Uffizi and the Vatican: 2012.
The Tate Modern: 2015.
This was my list of the Top Ten art museums in the Western world, culled from several online lists. While some lists had other museums (such as the National Gallery in DC or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam), these ten seemed to be consistently praised.
I am now done.
I saw the Tate Modern on Sunday, for far too short a time. I was in a rushed and distracted frame of mind, so I am sure I did not do the museum justice. I was also resistant to its charms because, quite frankly and somewhat sadly, I am not a fan of most art since about 1950 or so. (There are notable exceptions: I love Chagall, so much that I nearly named this computer Marc when I got it 2012. And Jasper Johns. And Edward Hopper, although the Tate Modern had no Hopper. There are a few others.) I like surrealism, however, and they had some great surrealist works, and I enjoyed the way that they grouped the paintings by concept rather than strictly chronologically. I can see that for people who like those genres of art, this would be a fantastic museum.
I have seen a great many other art museums, of course: the aforementioned National Gallery in DC, and the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery in London**, the Pompidou in Paris, and the Frick and MOMA in New York, Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museums in Amsterdam, the Thyssen-Bornemizsa in Madrid, museums dedicated to Franz Hals in Den Hague and Salvador Dali in St. Petersburg, Florida***, and the Bilbao Guggenheim, and so on….
But I worked my way through seeing all of my ten, my “bucket list,” if you will. Of the ten, I love most of them, but for different reasons. The Met has two of my favorite paintings, and visiting it means seeing old friends. The Prado, while showing me paintings I always wanted to see (Goya’s “Third of May,” among others) gave me an appreciation for classic paintings that had never moved me before I was able to seem them first hand, rather than in pictures (Velazquez’s “Las Meninas”). The Vatican, Ufizzi, and AIC, likewise. The Getty introduced me to art that was totally new to me, and generated a love for early photography (Julia Cameron Mitchell’s work, for example).
I loved the Hermitage for its architecture and decorations as much as for its art. (The have a room with columns tiled in malachite! And a basin large enough to be a bathtub tiled over in lapis!) And while its art is not my proverbial cup of tea, I appreciated the way the Tate Modern arranged its work.
I was fortunate enough to visit several of the ten more than once: the Louvre, the Orsay, Prado and Met. I see chances in the future to visit several again: the American museums and the Prado. Then there are the museums that were not on the list: the National Gallery in DC and the Rijksmuseum, which have paintings I love, and the Bilbao Guggenheim, which I love not for its collection of art, but for Frank Gehry’s architecture which beggars description. It may be the most… amazing? exciting? I run out of words for it… building I have ever been in.
I feel a bit sad about coming to the end of this journey. Yes, I accomplished what I set out to do, and I feel happy about that, but I feel wistful about not having any more museums to work towards visiting.
I will no doubt continue to go to museums. Art matters too much for me not to.
I do need a new bucket list, however. In a previous post, I talked of seeing national parks. That seems both unattainable, and incomplete. Maybe I could whittle it down to seeing a national park in every state… That would take a while , but I could certainly do it…
Let’s see: I’ve already gotten California, Tennessee, Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Virginia, and Maryland, and if I count National Historic sites, I can include Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Tennessee… Should I include National Historic Sites? and National Battlefield Sites? So many decisions….
*I mentally include the Reine Sofia in with the Prado, pretty much since before it was split off several very important paintings such as Picasso’s “Guernica” hung in the Prado.
**Several lists included the British Museum, which is wonderful, but which focuses on archaeology rather than art. (I know the line between the two is sometimes blurry…)
***I have always thought that having a major museum dedicated to Salvador Dali in a rather odd place like St. Petersburg (which, although I love the place dearly, is not a well known hub of artistic activity) would please Dali. (The reason the museum is where it is is because one of Dali’s chief patrons lived in St. Pete.)