The Top 20 Art Museums in the U.S.

by Contributor on Apr 10, 2012

Being an artist and learning about art can meet two different goals — because an art educator doesn’t need to learn the skills involved in creating art. But both goals require individuals who appreciate art, including sculpture, photography, painting, and drawings, and who can view many historic and current works firsthand at a number of museums. The largest and most visited museums often contain the most art learning experiences, because they have the funds to offer educational venues as well as exhibitions. This list contains 20 of those “hot spots,” which hold collections of ancient to modern examples of the finest art on earth.

  1. Cleveland Museum of ArtCleveland Museum of Art: The Cleveland Museum of Art is coming up on its 100th anniversary in 2016. Within the past century, this museum has built an internationally-renowned collection of Asian and Egyptian art and has built an international reputation within its special exhibition galleries, classrooms, lecture halls, Gartner Auditorium, and the headquarters of the education department.
  2. de Young Museum (San Francisco, CA): The de Young Museum re-opened in a state-of-the-art new facility that integrates art, architecture, and its natural landscape in one multifaceted destination that inspires audiences from around the world. They showcase the museum’s priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, textile arts, and art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
  3. Field Museum (Chicago, IL): Although this museum focuses on anthropology, botany, geology, paleontology, and zoology, it’s exhibits are a mix of sculptures, natural displays, and art. Past exhibits included synergies between conservation and design, photographs of Arctic towns, Chinese rubbings, and mummies, among other delights.
  4. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY): An internationally renowned art museum and one of the most significant architectural icons of the 20th century, the Guggenheim Museum is at once a vital cultural center, an educational institution, and the heart of an international network of museums. Founded on a collection of early modern masterpieces, the Guggenheim Museum today is an ever-growing institution devoted to the art of the 20th century and beyond.
  5. High Museum of ArtHigh Museum of Art (Atlanta GA): With its renowned collection of classic and contemporary art and award-winning architecture by Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, the High Museum of Art has grown from its origins in a stately home on Peachtree Street to become the leading art museum in the southeastern United States. “The High” has more than 12,000 works of art in its permanent collection, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American art.
  6. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC): Part of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum collects, preserves, and presents international modern and contemporary art in all media, distinguished by in-depth holdings of major artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and with over 12,000 pieces.
  7. J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA): The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu opened on January 28, 2006, and it is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria, the Getty Villa serves a varied audience through exhibitions, conservation, scholarship, research, and public programs.
  8. Metropolitan Museum (New York, NY): “The Met” has its roots in a 1866 gathering of Americans in Paris, France, who agreed to create a “national institution and gallery of art” to bring art and art education to the American people. The work of the Metropolitan Museum reflects the global scope of its collections and extends across the world through a variety of initiatives and programs, including exhibitions, excavations, fellowships, professional exchanges, conservation projects, and traveling works of art.
  9. Milwaukee Art Museum: From its roots in Milwaukee’s first art gallery in 1888, the Museum has grown today to be an icon for Milwaukee and a resource for the entire state, containing 30,000 works of art and opening its doors to 350,000+ visitors a year. Central to the Museum’s mission is its role as a premier educational resource, with educational programs that are among the largest in the nation, involving classes, tours, and a full calendar of events for all ages.
  10. Morris Museum of Art (Augusta, GA): The Morris Museum of Art, located on the Riverwalk in downtown Augusta, Georgia, is the first museum dedicated to the art and artists of the American South. The collection includes holdings of nearly 5,000 paintings, works on paper, photographs, and sculptures dating from the late-eighteenth century to the present.
  11. National Gallery of ArtMuseum of Fine Arts (Boston MA): The original MFA opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876, the nation’s centennial. Today the MFA is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world; the collection encompasses nearly 450,000 works of art. We welcome more than one million visitors each year to experience art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary, special exhibitions, and innovative educational programs.
  12. Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX): The MFAH is a dynamic cultural complex comprising two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, visitors center, library, movie theater, gift shop, café, two art schools, and two house museums. The MFAH collections fill the galleries year-round with art spanning every era of history across the globe.
  13. Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY): MoMA is a New York icon, and the grand dame of American museums as it is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. Considered by many to have the best collection of modern Western masterpieces in the world, MoMA’s holdings include more than 150,000 individual pieces in addition to approximately 22,000 films and 4 million film stills.
  14. National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC): The National Gallery of Art was created in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of Congress, accepting the gift of financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon. The paintings and works of sculpture given by Andrew Mellon have formed a nucleus of high quality around which the collections have grown.
  15. Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Museum began as a legacy of the great Centennial Exhibition of 1876, held in Fairmount Park. At the conclusion of the celebrations, Memorial Hall, which had been constructed as the Exhibition’s art gallery, remained open as a Museum of Art and Industry “for the improvement and enjoyment of the people of the Commonwealth.” As one of the largest museums in the United States today, the Philadelphia Museum of Art invites visitors from around the world to explore its renowned collections.
  16. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: SFMoMA was founded in 1935, and was the first museum on the West Coast devoted to modern and contemporary art. In 1995, SFMoMA was one of the first museums to launch an institutional website. Since then, they have developed a longstanding reputation for leadership in the online arena, both for their innovative design sensibility as well as their award-winning curatorial and educational programming.
  17. Seattle Museum of ArtSeattle Art Museum: From its early 20th-century roots as the Seattle Fine Arts Society to its growth into an internationally renowned museum with three distinct venues, SAM has evolved into a vital Seattle institution. Ever expanding, the future downtown SAM will someday occupy 450,000 sq. ft.
  18. The Art Institute of Chicago: For nearly 150 years, the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have worked together to bring creative expression to the public and students of all ages with a world-renowned art collection and exceptional arts education. The Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879 as both a museum and school, now encompasses more than 5,000 years of human expression from cultures around the world, and the school’s graduate program is continually ranked as one of the best in the country.
  19. The Phillips Collection (Washington, DC): The Phillips Collection opened to the public in 1921 and is America’s first museum of modern art. Encounter superb works of modern art in an intimate setting at this internationally-recognized museum in Washington’s vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood.
  20. Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY): As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. It was the first museum dedicated to the work of living American artists and the first New York museum to present a major exhibition of a video artist (Nam June Paik in 1982).